It’s Rankings Season – Top Colleges in the US and the World

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Welcome to the fall. It’s not only the start of college classes, but also typically marks the release of major college rankings. As we’ve discussed before, rankings are controversial, and each methodology has strengths and weaknesses. Rather than make a big deal about each new ranking, we’re just going to link you to two of the most well-known, and let you use them as you see fit (or take some cues from the New York Times).

1) US News and World Report Best Colleges 2012
Winner: Harvard University, Princeton University (tied for #1)

2) QS World University Rankings 2011/12
Winner: Cambridge University (the top U.S. university was Harvard University at #2)

Also worth looking at: the Washington Monthly rankings released at the end of August, which aim to be “a different kind of college ranking” based on how much value the college creates. Their #1? The University of California – San Diego.

How 2 Weeks in San Francisco Made Memories and Inspiration

by Guest Post - Posts (70). Posted Monday, September 12th, 2011 at 9:28 am

Daranita is a student in Cambodia, where she is majoring in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and Business Management. This summer she came on a short exchange program to San Francisco to learn about entrepreneurship and innovation, and shares this story about her experience visiting some of the most famous companies in America.

Daranita in San Francisco

After three years in high school, and two years in university, I have realized that there is no limitation of choosing my path in life. Everyone is being brought to the world with unique talents, which for me include my strong determination to be part of development for the community where I was born and raised.

This summer, I was selected to go to San Francisco with a group of students from different universities in Cambodia for a program focused on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, which fit with my major of Business Management and focused that determination.

The selection process was very tough because most of the students were from the top universities, but I was a shortlisted candidate last year, so I had a good chance for this year. The toughest thing for me was the visa interview with the U.S. Embassy, because we could encounter the failure anytime if we didn’t have enough documents for proof.

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Does 9/11 Hold Meaning for College Students?

by Sebastian - Posts (17). Posted Sunday, September 11th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

This September 11 marks ten years passed from a sad event that has had effects around the world. But how does it affect today’s college students? They were in elementary school at the time – too young for many to understand what had happened – and, among University of Kansas students at least, much of the real impact was far away in New York.

“Well, everything kind of died out quicker than I could really understand it,” says Maci Boe, a sophomore from Colorado at the University of Kansas who was nine at the time. “I noticed that patriotism was kicked up a lot but it took a while for me to understand why.” Afterwards, she says, her life went on as normal and nowadays she only thinks of the attacks when an anniversary approaches.

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On Vacation This Week, But…

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, September 5th, 2011 at 8:10 am

We’re taking the week off this week, but we’ll be back next week ready to start the new school year, and hopefully with some new writers to introduce you to!

In the meantime, two quick announcements:
1) If you’re interested in writing for us this year, but haven’t sent in an application yet, now’s the time. Send your resume and a writing sample to jstahl [at] voanews [dot] com. You should either be currently studying in the US or applying to study in the US next year.

2) Please join us in a project marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and other events that have changed lives around the world. The What’s Your 9/11? project is creating a living archive of the events that will most define our generation, as seen through the eyes of the people who lived them.

Visit to see the stories submitted so far from young people all across the world. And consider sharing your own. Submit your story about the news event that most shaped YOUR life on the What’s Your 9/11? website, or using the form below.

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A More Exciting Way to Apply for Your Student Visa

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, September 1st, 2011 at 3:51 pm

This video from the U.S. Embassy in London lays out the procedures most students will follow to get their student visa – in the form of a blockbuster spy movie!

Sure we know it’s not really that exciting to register for SEVIS, but maybe pretending to be James Bond will help. Just make sure you’ve dropped the spy act by the time you go for your interview – international super spies definitely don’t get visas.

Top Colleges for Foreign Students

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 at 10:44 am

Finally! After complaining that previous rankings don’t take into account the differences for international students (and taking some time to create a ranking of our own), we’ve finally found a ranking specifically for foreign students. Newsweek has come up with a list of its top colleges for international students.

Newsweek‘s top 10 schools for international undergraduates:

1. Mount Holyoke College (women-only school)
2. Yale University
3. Macalester College
4. Princeton University
5. Swarthmore College
6. Grinnell College
7. Brown University
8. Wellesley College
9. Babson College
10. Williams College
(see numbers 11-25 on their website)

The ranking is determined on the basis of the school’s diversity (including percentage of international students), average financial aid for international students, and percentage of spending on student services.

Glossary of Confusing Words: End of Summer Treat

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, August 29th, 2011 at 5:50 pm

dictionary and thesaurusI wanted to do something a little different for the last Glossary post of the summer. We’ve defined a whole lot of words this summer (check the glossary tag to see all of them), and hopefully it has been useful and informative.

But there was one word submitted that we couldn’t define – or rather, for reasons of modesty we avoided defining: the infamous “f word.”

Just because we won’t take a stab at it, though, doesn’t mean we can’t point you to some places that will. So here are some online resources for learning a whole range of slang words, curse words and internet speak.

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#my911: How the Sept. 11 Attacks Changed one Iranian’s Path to a US Education

by Guest Post - Posts (70). Posted Thursday, August 25th, 2011 at 9:38 am

As part of VOA’s What’s Your 9/11? project, Sam from Iran shared this story about how the September 11th attacks influenced his plans to study in the U.S. It’s just one of many stories from young people and students around the world about the news events that have shaped a generation. Add yours and join our growing community at

Stories of the days that changed young lives

I had just came back home after taking a TOEFL test that I heard the news. I had planned for months to study in an American university. After learning about the news I told to myself they – US embassy – is not going to give me a visa even though i was sure none of those terrorists were Iranians. Yes it had a big negative impact on my education.

In Tehran people held candlelight vigil in the memory of the US victims and signed a book in the Swiss embassy. We were angry at those who carried out that attack. President Khatami, a reformist denounced the attack on the US. We were angry that some arab and perhaps pakistani nationals were celebrating this yet it was Iran who was labeled the axis of evil. This is a general sense of iranians at that time, not just my personal opinion.

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3 Truths and 3 Lies About Studying in New York City

by Guest Post - Posts (70). Posted Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

This post comes from friend-of-the-blog Jose Navarro, who studies at Berkeley College in New York and writes the very good Berkeley College Life blog.  He has been home in Spain for the summer, and shares some of the most common questions people back home have asked him about New York.

Empire State Building

These two months that I have been around here, I have met with a lot of people. It’s funny how many people ask the same questions about New York. This city has so many stereotypes! I’m going to make a [list] with the “Frequently Asked Questions” about the big apple. Some of them make me laugh a lot, some others are actually true! Let’s see what many Spaniards wonder about the city:

Are there celebrities in the street?
I must say that’s the one I get asked the most. Why are people so concerned about celebrities? Well, the answer to this one is YES. I was actually surprised of how ridiculously easy it is to find celebs around the city. To be honest with you, most of the times I recognize them because some of my friends do. At first I never know who they are!

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Building Skills and Friends Through Language Exchange

by Chris Wong - Posts (9). Posted Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 9:34 am

The library at NTU

The library at NTU

This summer I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of months in Taipei, Taiwan studying Mandarin Chinese at the International Chinese Language Program. It was a great experience and probably one my best summers ever – meeting new people, exploring a new place, and really improving my Chinese through intensive study.

Some of my cooler experiences from Taiwan involved language exchanges with local friends. I met with two Taipei residents, Angela and Lynn, separately usually once a week, and we would alternate between English and Mandarin conversation for a couple of hours.

It turns out that language exchange is a pretty common practice at National Taiwan University (NTU), where my language program was located. The language center on campus had tons of flyers from people seeking exchange partners, as did the bulletin board in the lobby of my dormitory (although it was actually a mutual friend who initially introduced me to Angela and Lynn).

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New in the Glossary: Clearing out the Queue

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, August 22nd, 2011 at 8:43 pm

dictionary and thesaurusAs our Glossary of Confusing Words winds down for the summer, I want to take care of all the words and phrases that are still waiting in the queue.  So if your word hasn’t been addressed yet, it will be in this hodgepodge, omnibus (two good words!) post.

1) What’s the correct preposition?

…graduated secondary school vs …graduated FROM secondary school

It is technically correct to use the preposition and say that someone “graduated from” their school.  “I graduated from college in 2008.”

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What’s Your 9/11? Join the Global Community Sharing Life-Changing Stories

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, August 19th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Stories of the days that changed young lives

Everyone has had in their life that one moment that will be forever imprinted on their memory, and that breaks their personal story into a before and after. For many Americans, including myself, it happened on September 11, 2001.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we want to gather and share stories of those events and those moments that changed lives all around the world.

We’ve collected experiences from Armenia to Pakistan to Kenya to America about everything from 9/11 to the Salvadoran Civil War. Will you join us in this exciting project and share yours?

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What to Pack for Your First Trip to the United States

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, August 18th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

In anticipation of the start of the new school year, bloggers from across the internet are sharing their tips for coming to the U.S. for the first time, and a lot of them are talking specifically about what to pack in your suitcases:

Here's one thing you definitely shouldn't pack (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ClintJCL)

Here's one thing you definitely shouldn't pack (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ClintJCL)

- Make sure you know the weight limit for checked bags on your flight, and stick to it if you don’t want to pay overage charges, says a contributor to Happy Schools Blog.

- Pack the clothes you feel comfortable in, not what you think is in style, said Senzeni based on her experience last year. And bring dressier clothes too, she suggested – you can’t always wear t-shirts and jeans.

- Bring some key things from home that won’t be available in America, said Tara in that same post. For Chinese students she recommended BB Cream and maybe a rice cooker.

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Write for the Student Union!

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Don’t forget, if you currently study in the U.S. or are applying to study in the U.S., we’re looking for new bloggers to join our returning writers for the coming school year.

If you are fluent in English, creative, insightful and not shy about talking about your life (even the embarrassing parts), we want you to apply.  You will come away with a portfolio of professional writing, and we will work closely with you throughout your internship to help perfect your writing and storytelling skills.

You must:

- Have exceptional English writing and speaking skills. Multimedia skills (video, audio, photography) would also be an asset
- Be a current college/university student (or be applying to college/university this year). We’re looking for people from a range of backgrounds, majors and degree levels (grad and PhD students included)
- Be willing to contribute at least once a month when school is in session
- Be able to commit for at least a semester, preferably for the full year

To apply, send your resume, cover letter and a writing sample to

Side by Side Comparison: Top 10 Cheapest Colleges for Foreign v US Students

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 at 10:29 am

Screenshot from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center

Screenshot from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center

The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a great new website, the College Affordability and Transparency Center, designed to help students get information about the cost of an undergraduate college education.

One of the neatest features is a little tool that lets you look at lists of institutions with the highest/lowest tuition and highest/lowest net prices. The net cost lists are particularly interesting – they take into account all the costs of attending university (tuition, fees, housing, books, etc.) and subtract the average amount of aid received in order to find out the true average cost for a student.

But international students beware. That list of net costs only applies to domestic students – and for public colleges, it only applies to in-state or in-district students. Some colleges DO offer a lot of aid to international students, and make an effort to keep the net cost low, but they may not be the same colleges that offer a low net cost to domestic students or state residents.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the top 10 highest and lowest net cost lists you’d get using the college cost tool, and the top 10 for international students, based on our calculations.  You can see right away that the results are quite different for international students.

1) Lowest Net Cost

4-year Private Non-Profit Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Universidad Teologica del Caribe 82 Berea College* 209
Talmudical Academy – New Jersey 469 Gettysburg College 2972
Colegio Pentecostal Mizpa 1776 Skidmore College 3268
Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary 1876 College of the Atlantic 3790
John Dewey College – University Division 1956 Paine College 3820
Turtle Mountain Community College 2031 Southwestern Christian College 4033
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico – Ponce 2208 Yale University 4449
Southeastern Baptist College 2699 Kentucky Mountain Bible College 5024
Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America 2839 Trinity College 6507
Our Lady of Holy Cross College 2874 Wayland Baptist University 6585


4-year Public Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Sitting Bull College 938 Alabama State University 263
Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico 996 Fort Lewis College 6199
South Texas College 1317 University of West Alabama 7386
University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla 1591 Haskell Indian Nations University 7760
University of Texas Pan American 1646 Alabama A&M University 7998
Indian River State College 2138 The Citadel 8243
University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon 2345 South Dakota State University 9474
California State University – Dominguez Hills 2451 University of Science and Arts at Oklahoma 9478
California State University – Los Angeles 3263 Kentucky State University 9991
Elizabeth City State University 3335 Missouri Southern State University 10174


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The Student Union is…

A place to hear stories about studying in the U.S. Our bloggers have come from all over the world to U.S. universities, and they'll be sharing their experiences, advice and more.

Learn more about this blog »

Share your own story!
Tell us about your experiences applying to the US, studying in America, or doing an exchange, and we may include it on the blog.


Glossary of Confusing Words

Find definitions of confusing words and terms about studying in the U.S. in our Glossary of Confusing Words.

All the words were submitted by YOU, so visit the glossary to see the words that have been defined already and to suggest your own.