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More information please

Jason Coleman | Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Last week the Notre Dame Office of International Studies (OIS)?posted its decisions for the current sophomore class regarding their junior year study abroad aspirations. As some of my friends excitedly tore open letters, I began to think back to the application process myself.

By any standard, the OIS is an overwhelming success. They successfully enroll nearly 40 percent of the student population into study abroad programs, and feature a wide range of programs across quite a few countries. U.S. News and World Report has given the Notre Dame OIS top marks for its study abroad. They have programs for students of every school, both undergraduate and graduate.

However, there are a few issues with the process of applying for sophomore undergrads that are overly complicated, confusing and hazy. First, the application process has come to resemble the arduous task that applying to college was in the first place. I have heard the terms “get in” and “have an edge” used far more frequently for the study abroad process than I think is healthy. While the need to evaluate the appropriateness of candidates for a program is necessary for the reputation of the department abroad and even just for space considerations, the confusion and stress inherent in the current process is not.

If OIS wants the process to be competitive in this way, however, then it should takes steps to level the information playing field for applicants. In thinking back to my experiences in applying the college, I can’t help but remember the magazines and books that included not only write-ups on the experiences that different institutions provide, but also the statistical data profiling their students bodies. This included any number of metrics, from standardized test score averages, to acceptance rate, mean GPA, etc. They also would include information concerning the application process and evaluation standards. This set of information was essential in deciding which schools were appropriate for me both personally and academically.

Simply providing this information would be the best way to improve this competitive application process. Right now, most of this information is supplied to prospective applicants through anecdotal situations and hearsay. This sort of information can be highly misleading, and for some students, fatal to their study abroad chances.

While I (unfortunately) cannot document this, I have heard that the popular Dublin, Ireland program is quite competitive. In one case, I heard that a 3.7 was the bare minimum to “get in.” In another, I heard it was a 3.2. Regardless, I was able to figure out, generally speaking, that Dublin was tough. A borderline student not privy to any of this information at all, may lead their application with Dublin or even put all of his eggs in just one basket. In my own case, I based my own evaluation of my chances of acceptance on the only student I could even find who had applied to the same program.

Cleverer students who are generally more aware of the gossip surrounding each location’s competitiveness maneuver differently, however, and exhibit a sort of flight to safety. With only one application and one chance this is the easiest way to ensure an experience abroad.

To its credit, OIS has attempted to eliminate some of these problems by allowing students to apply to multiple programs and then ranking them in order of preference. The issue, again, is lack of information concerning the consequences of these decisions. At the first big meeting of my sophomore year, someone asked how a program’s rank affects its chances of being accepted. The answer we were given was unclear and we came away with only a vague idea of what the best strategy for applying was.

Posting some measurements and statistics similar to those in a Fiske guide would eliminate many of these problems. Even just a GPA range and acceptance rate would help considerably. With this information, Notre Dame students already savvy in competitive application processes would be more self-selecting in their choices. Borderline students would know which programs offer their best chance of acceptance, and the most qualified applicants would be confident in their decision to compete in one of the tougher programs. This could also expedite the process by eliminating a number of applications for students who are not confident enough to apply to only one or two places, but instead work on five or six applications.

Ultimately, OIS does its best to try and sort everybody out into a predetermined number of spots. The department would help itself immeasurably if it acknowledged the necessary competition that arises from the scarcity of spots more openly, and provided more of the information necessary about the process and competition itself in addition to the great information already provided about the benefits and experience accrued from each program. This would enable students to be more self sorting and cognizant of their chances of success come February.

Jason Coleman is a junior accounting major. He can be contacted at


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