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SMC, ND see increase in abroad apps

Kathleen McDonnell | Wednesday, December 6, 2006

With 938 applicants applying to 27 programs spanning the globe, Notre Dame is poised to continue its climb among top universities for study abroad programs in the 2007-08 school year, after being ranked sixth in the nation for participation percentage by the Institute for International Education.

Down only slightly from the 959 who applied to study abroad this academic year, next year’s number of applicants is typical in the trend that finds 50 percent of Notre Dame students spending either a summer, semester or year overseas (or in Washington D.C), according to Peggy Weber, assistant director of operations for off-campus programs.

Three hundred forty-eight applicants listed London as their first-choice destination – the most popular program. But London is also the largest program, hosting 130 students each semester.

Julia Douthwaite, assistant provost for international studies, named Oxford as the most competitive program because students must be invited to apply and the numbers are very limited. Rome, Toledo and Dublin are also in high demand, she said.

Each July, the department of international studies plans to predict student interest in each of its programs.

“We try to predict interest,” Douthwaite said, “but it’s always unpredictable.”

Other than in London, where the number of students is fixed by the facilities available, the budgeted number of available spaces for most programs is up for negotiation. Spaces remain consistent for both fall and spring semesters, as rooms in dorms or with host families need be filled for the entire academic year.

Students more commonly list the spring semester as their first choice – a trend Douthwaite considers “a new phenomenon in the past couple years.”

A competitive program like Toledo received 23 fall applicants and 52 for the spring – a disparity which Douthwaite deemed “unfortunate for those students” because “it will be more of a challenge for them to be accepted in the spring than in the fall.”

Combining the program at University College Dublin and the other option at Trinity College, Notre Dame’s Dublin program has 79 applicants for the spring semester and can only accept around 40. Douthwaite said the department often invites students turned down by their first choice to consider studying in the fall, an offer students “would be wise to accept if they had chosen a program as oversubscribed as Dublin.”

The 2007-08 applications saw surprising increases in the programs in Kampala (Uganda), both Chinese programs and Cairo, Douthwaite said.

While the “policy is to do the utmost best to get students into their first choice program,” she said, the budget allocations will not allow all students to be placed in these relatively newer and less traditional choices.

Douthwaite named this fall’s academic forum and the Kroc Institute’s emphasis on bringing noteworthy speakers to campus as reasons for increased interest the new study abroad program in Uganda.

“Undergrads want to do something to help change the world and they’re curious about Africa,” she said. “I really credit our student body with the number ready to go to these challenging locals.”

Cooperation with the Center for Asian Studies and the Asian language and literature department may have helped recruit students for the East Asian programs, which include Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, she said.

The only program with more spaces than applicants was the yearlong opportunity for five fluent Italian speakers to study Bologna, Douthwaite said. She also expressed disappointment in that only two students applied for the same number of openings in the Paris program that offers students a year at the Science Po, “the Harvard of France,” Douthwaite said.

“I’m disappointed about that – two elite programs for the very fluent language learner should have sparked more interest,” she said.

Students who have submitted applications for the 2007-08 school year will receive notification letters sometime in February.

“Our policy is to let every student get their first choice if at all possible first,” Douthwaite said, and added that those who are not immediately admitted will be notified of their position on a waiting list.

“There is a complicated and energetic process,” Douthwaite explained, as students confirm spaces in programs and other students are offered open spaces after the initial round of acceptance letters. She pointed out that a student could be dropped from the program any time before departure if his or her academic record fails to live up to the program’s standards.

While the number of applicants may seem daunting, Douthwaite said her office has a desire to accommodate as many students as possible. A price cannot be affixed to the experiences gained by studying abroad, she said.

“The opportunity to learn in a totally new way, to have the opportunity to walk through the streets of the city that you’re learning about, to read the newspapers, to be immersed in the cultural environment is just incalculable,” she said. “We don’t have the smells and the tastes and the sounds of these cultural locations here on campus.”