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OIS extends abroad invitations

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, February 26, 2009

Earlier this month, the Office of International Studies (OIS) invited students to participate in study abroad programs after thoroughly reviewing applications.

“Everything went out on February 6, all of our letters,” Kathleen Opel, director of the OIS, said.

The OIS received 384 applications from students whose first choice was to study abroad in the fall, 515 who hoped to go in the spring, and 56 who wanted to go for an entire academic year, totaling 955 first-choice applications. Including first, second, third and fourth choice applications, the OIS received 1551 total applications from students, according to Opel.

Students who applied to study abroad programs may have been accepted, placed on a waitlist or not invited to a program.

“Being on the waitlist means you’re eligible to go, and we have to see how many spaces become available,” Opel said.

The number of openings for students depends on the host university, budgetary constraints and living accommodation spaces, she said.

“We want to give as many as possible the opportunity to go to a study abroad site that is appropriate for them,” she said.

For each site, a committee of three people reviews applications and makes decisions, Opel said.

In evaluating applicants, the OIS must first consider the guidelines and requirements set by host institutions, Opel said. Some institutions may have minimum GPA or course requirements that students must meet.

After determining whether an applicant meets specific requirements set by the host university, they are screened to determine how well a program fits their needs and interests.

Selection committees consider how a site fits into a student’s curriculum, major or career plans and whether internship or study opportunities would be available, Opel said.

Another aspect considered are a student’s interests and reasons for wanting to study in a site and how the student plans to be involved in their community abroad, she said.

“What are students looking to do while studying abroad?” Opel said.

Applicants write essays as part of the application.

“For me, the most important piece of a student’s application is the essay,” she said. In the essay, students present an argument for why they would be good candidates for a study abroad site.

Two academic references provide insight into applicants as students, she said. A reference from a rector helps the committee get an idea of how a student will adjust to the living accommodations of an abroad site and may help determine whether a student would thrive in a dorm, an apartment or with a host family, Opel said.

Applicants also need academic approval from the Office of Undergraduate Studies or the Office of the Dean, depending on the student’s college, to show the selection committee that the student can study abroad and still meet graduation requirements on time, Opel said.

Parental consent and transcripts are also reviewed.

“We evaluate each file in its entirety,” she said. “No one part is the deciding factor.”

The selection committee then decides which students are qualified, and then, depending on availability, the most qualified students are invited to study at the site, according to Opel.

Once OIS determines which students to select and where to send them, a list is sent to the Office of Residence Life and Housing for review, she said.

“They’ll tell us which students they might have reservations about or [which students] might not be appropriately placed.”

The selection committee and Office of Residence Life and Housing consider the student’s past behavior when making decisions.

“Having an offense that you have learned from does not disqualify you, but a pattern of behavior does concern us,” Opel said.

When the OIS goes through its first round of considering applicants, it only looks at the programs students select as their first choice, she said.

Typically, after acceptances are sent out, OIS starts to see how many spaces will be available and may offer them to students who selected the program as a second choice if there are no other students who selected the program as a first choice on the waitlist, Opel said.

In order to increase the likelihood of being accepted into a program, she said it helps if students apply to multiple programs.

Despite current economic troubles, the OIS received about as many applications from students this year as last year.

“It was fairly similar,” Opel said. “I believe that we came out just as we did last year. We didn’t see growth, but we didn’t see a decrease.”

She said she was still not sure whether conditions will change and cause students to withdraw from an abroad program, but feels confident that students will be able to participate.