▸English Language Program
The United States is the most popular destination for international students seeking to learn English or to improve their English skills. There are over 400 educational institutions that offer English language programs, spread across the many geographic and cultural regions of the United States. These programs provide a variety of courses, from academic English for university-bound students to language and culture courses for travelers. Because there are so many choices, you will have to make some basic decisions first, such as the type of program and the locations that interest you. You will also need to understand how to choose a high-quality English language program. This chapter discusses the factors you need to consider in determining which program is best for you, and it directs you to additional sources of information.
English language programs of high quality can be found at a variety of U.S. educational institutions. High-quality programs have a professionally trained faculty, an excellent curriculum, and superior facilities for study. Such facilities may include classrooms, libraries, laboratories, computers, and other equipment. As a prospective student, you should examine the following criteria carefully and use them to help you decide whether a program is appropriate for you.
There are three main types of English language programs available in the United States:
Intensive English Programs (IEPs) : These programs generally require 20 to 30 hours per week in the classroom. Courses include classroom instruction, small group discussions, language labs, and out-of-class work. Intensive courses may or may not allow students to attend regular academic classes in subjects outside the English-as-a-second-language curriculum. Most programs are developed as pre-academic preparatory courses, designed to prepare students for admission into a U.S. college or university.
Semi-intensive English Programs : Like IEPs, semi-intensive courses include classroom instruction, small group work, language labs, and out-of-class work, but students usually also take academic courses in subjects other than English. A university may require you to take a few semi-intensive English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses if your Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores were sufficient for admission into a degree program at the university, but further proficiency is desired.
Professional English Programs : Many private English language programs and some university-based ones are tailored to fit the needs of professionals. These may include programs in business English or special certificate programs in fields such as law, engineering, education, medicine, architecture, computer science, aerospace, hospitality management, and travel. Internships with U.S. businesses are available with some programs, both private and university-based.
This chapter will focus on Intensive English Programs (IEPs) only.
Before you apply to a language school, you should make sure it meets accepted minimum standards. Accreditation is the process whereby standards are established and maintained for educational institutions in the United States. There are two specialized accrediting bodies for Intensive English Programs in the United States: the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) and the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA). Check to see whether the programs you are considering are accredited by either of these bodies.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) authorizes English language programs to issue the government Form I-20, which you will need to apply for your student visa. The INS will consider a program as an Intensive English Program only if it offers a minimum of 18 classroom hours (also called contact hours) per week for its students, and if it is accredited by a national or regional accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Therefore, if an Intensive English Program has approval by the INS to issue the government Form I-20, that is one indicator that the program is accredited. Read further information on accreditation and recognized accrediting bodies.
Two professional organizations for Intensive English Programs have established standards that all of their members’ programs must meet: the Consortium of University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP) and the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP). Ask whether the programs you are considering are members of UCIEP or AAIEP.
It is also important to know the academic standing of the faculty who will be teaching you. Look at the program’s brochure, catalog, or Web site to see what degrees the teachers of a particular program have earned. Look for institutions whose teachers have degrees in English as a second language (ESL) or in applied linguistics.
Lastly, you can ask whether the program’s faculty members belong to NAFSA: Association of International Educators or to Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). NAFSA has a Code of Ethics to which members are expected to subscribe. Both NAFSA and TESOL have established standards of good practice for their members.
Admission to Academic Program
It is very important to remember that admission to a language program does not mean that you have also been accepted into other academic programs offered by a university or college. However, some institutions in the United States offer conditional or provisional admission to academic programs. For international students, conditional or provisional admission most often will be granted to applicants whose academic or professional qualifications are very good but whose English language skills need some improvement. That is, you might be admitted to a program of study based on your academic or professional qualifications, but before enrolling in regular courses, you will be required either to complete additional English language courses or to submit acceptable scores on standardized tests that measure English language proficiency. If this applies to you, you should carefully read the letter or other documents that you receive from the admissions office to determine exactly what the conditions of admission are, and then contact them directly if you have any questions.
Some institutions admit international students into an academic program without conditions, but require the student to take English language placement tests after they arrive on campus. Based on the results of the placement tests, students are permitted either to enroll in regular programs of study, to enroll in additional English language courses at the same time as enrolling in regular programs of study, or to enroll in and successfully complete additional English language courses before beginning regular courses.
In some schools, the additional language courses required carry credit and count toward the student’s graduation requirements. In other schools, the additional language courses may be given through an Intensive English Program and carry either no credit or credit that is not counted toward graduation.
▸High School Exchanges
In the United States, “high school” is the term used to denote the three or four years of education that precede college or university study. High school is equivalent to secondary school in many countries.
Exchange programs for high school students range in length from a few weeks to a semester or an academic year. Many include a “home stay” in which the student lives with a host family for the duration of the program. Students who participate in these exchanges are generally self-funded, and scholarships are rare. However, there are a few well-established international organizations, such as Rotary International, the American Field Service (AFS), and the Lions Club, that offer exchange programs that are partially or fully funded. If these organizations have a presence in your home country, contact them directly to see what programs are available.
Another option is to arrange for your own attendance at a U.S. high school. If you would like to do this, a good starting point is to contact the department of education for the state where you wish to study and request information on schools within that state or in a particular section of the state. U.S. educational information and advising centers are likely to have contact information for all the state departments of education. Information on private schools in the United States can also be found at information and advising centers or by doing Internet searches.
Note that unless you plan to live with relatives or to be part of an organized program, you will be responsible for arranging your own accommodations in the United States. In addition, while public high schools are free to U.S. taxpayers, you will be required to pay tuition. Under current visa regulations, if you make your own arrangements to attend a U.S. high school, you must enter the United States on an F-1 visa, not a tourist visa. If you are attending a U.S. public high school, you must show proof of having paid the unsubsidized cost of your educational expenses before an F-1 visa will be issued. The maximum length of time that you can attend a U.S. public high school is one year. If you attend a private high school in the United States, however, there is no time limitation and no prepayment requirement.
English language proficiency is usually a requirement for any U.S. high school exchange program. You may be asked to present a letter of support or evaluation of your English language ability from a teacher or other qualified individual, or to go through an interview in English with a local representative of the exchange program.
The U.S. educational information or advising center near you may have a list or directory of high school exchange programs between your country and the United States. In addition, some useful organizations in the United States to contact are:
American Institute for Foreign Study Foundation (AIFS)
9 West Broad Street
Stamford, CT 06902-3788, USA
Telephone: 203-399-5000 or 800-727-2437; Fax: 203-399-5588
Web site: http://www.aifs.com
455 Market Street, 17th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
Telephone: 888-552-9872; Fax: 415-986-4620
Web site: http://www.ayusa.org/
EF Foundation for Foreign Study
EF Center Boston
One Education Street
Cambridge, MA 02141, USA
Telephone: 617-619-1000; Fax: 617-619-1001
Web site: http://www.effoundation.org/
The Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI)
17 North Second Avenue
St. Charles, IL 60174, USA
Telephone: 630-377-2272; Fax: 630-377-2307
Web site: http://www.cci-exchange.com/
It is also a good idea to explore the World Wide Web, using various search engines, for the latest information on these and other high school exchange programs.
▸Vocational and Technical Programs
If you are interested in learning a new skill or updating an existing one, consider a short-term program offered at a two-year community or junior college, a vocational or technical institution, or a private training center.
Ranging in length from several days to more than a year, these programs are designed to meet specific, practical training requirements, and are intended to prepare students for immediate employment. Hands-on learning activities are a major component of vocational and technical education. Common fields of study include data processing, computer programming, construction, automotive mechanics, drafting, and secretarial services.
Technical education requires students to learn concepts, theory, and design in addition to practical skills. These programs may be found not only at community and junior colleges, but also at some four-year colleges and universities. Please read Undergraduate Study for more information about community colleges and universities.
Technical and vocational programs lead to certificates of completion or diplomas, not to university degrees. Before you apply to a technical or vocational training program, check to make sure that your training program and any certificate or diploma you might earn will be recognized upon return to your home country. Most of all, it is important to verify that the college you are considering holds the appropriate type of accreditation. Accreditation is the system of recognition and quality assurance of educational institutions and programs in the United States. Accreditation of technical and vocational schools is carried out by national bodies, such as the Career College Association, or by the relevant divisions of institutional accrediting bodies. Specialized accrediting bodies also exist for some vocational fields such as allied health areas. See accreditation for information on its significance and a detailed explanation of institutional accrediting bodies and specialized accreditation.
Before you apply to a technical or vocational training program, find out as much information about it as possible. See the section “Factors to Consider” at the beginning of this chapter for further guidance on choosing a program. It is also wise to make sure that there are opportunities for employment in your country in the career that you are considering.
Many U.S. educational information and advising centers have information on technical and vocational education programs. In addition, further resources can be found under “Related Links ” and in the bibliography at the end of this booklet.
Accreditation is the system of recognition and quality assurance for institutions and programs of higher education in the United States. When deciding on a program of study, one of your main concerns should be whether the program is properly accredited.
This section explains what accreditation is, how it happens, who carries it out, and why it matters to you. Accreditation is a complex issue, so we recommend that you read the entire section to ensure you fully understand this important topic.
So how can you know if an institution or programs does meet an acceptable level of quality?
In the United States, institutions and programs that meet and maintain certain educational standards are said to be “accredited,” or to hold “accreditation.” Accreditation is carried out by organizations called accrediting bodies or accrediting associations, which determine and regulate these standards. Being licensed in a particular state is not the same as being accredited.
The U.S. Department of Education defines accreditation as “a status granted to an institution which indicates that it is meeting its mission and the standards of the association and seems likely to continue to meet that mission for the foreseeable future.” To be an accredited institution of higher education in the United States, an institution has to meet and adhere to the standards of a particular body or association.
Why Accreditation Is Important
In the United States, one of the major indicators of the quality of an institution is its accreditation status. If the school you attend is not properly accredited, you may find that your degree is not recognized in the United States or in many other countries around the world, or by other universities, professional associations, employers, and government ministries and departments.
Before you apply to study in the United States, it is very important to check with your home country’s department or ministry of education about whether there are any restrictions on recognition of U.S. degrees or U.S. universities. In particular, ask if there are specific requirements concerning the accreditation of U.S. institutions or programs.
Recognized Accrediting Bodies
There is no legal restriction on the use of the words “accredited,” “accrediting body,” or “accrediting association” in the United States. As a result, it is important that you check whether an institution and its programs hold accreditation from a “recognized” accrediting body or bodies. To be considered recognized, an accrediting body should meet one or both of the following criteria:
It is a member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA). To find out if it is, consult the organizations’ Web sites (http://www.chea.org or http://www.aspa-usa.org), or look it up in the directory Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education (see the bibliography). Copies of the directory are available at U.S. educational information and advising centers worldwide.
It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. While the department does not get involved in the process of accrediting institutions, it publishes a list of accrediting agencies that it recognizes as reliable authorities on the quality of education or training provided by institutions of higher education. For a full list, see http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSFAP/Students/closedschool/accred.html.
Recognition by the U.S. Department of Education or membership in CHEA or ASPA is an indicator of the reliability of an accrediting association.
What Accreditation Signifies
The specific requirements and standards of each accrediting body are unique. However, any institution or program accredited by a recognized accrediting body must:
– have an overall stated purpose (often called a mission) that defines the students it serves and the objectives of the institution’s or program’s activities;
– control the resources necessary to achieve its purposes; that is, the institution must control its own financial resources, employ adequately prepared faculty and instructional staff, admit only those students whose qualifications make them able to benefit from the programs offered, and present educational programs in a coherent and current manner;
– be effective in achieving its immediate objectives;
– give evidence that it will continue to achieve those objectives for the near future.