English language textbook

Years ago I worked as an International Student Advisor at an independent English language school in Boston. Our students ranged in their language skills and abilities; some simply hoped to improve their conversational English while other students, university-bound hopefuls, studied hard to improve their TOEFL scores. Their goal was to enroll at one of the many universities in the area. If you’re considering an intensive English program, it takes time to narrow down options and do your research. For many international students who want to pursue a degree in the United States, an English language school (ELS) is often the first step.

In thinking about what program is “best” you will want to consider your short term and long term goals. Programs are either run by independent English language schools or offered directly by a U.S. college or university. Some programs focus on basic language learning and some provide more of a cultural experience to students. Since there are so many available options, the challenge falls to each student to make decisions that will best meet their personal and professional goals.

If you are considering a program directly offered by a U.S. university, there are several factors to consider, like the size of an institution and its setting (urban, suburban, or rural). Also, what resources will be available on campus to help with the adjustment to your new environment? For the college-minded international student, enrolling in an ELS program may be a good option as you continue your education, especially for students with lower TOEFL scores who eventually want that U.S. college experience.

Finding the Right Program

Texas Global, University of Texas, Austin

“Did you know that the city of Austin has more yearly visitors than Rome?” Kate Gavancho, Marketing Coordinator at the Texas Global Office at the University of Texas, Austin, offered me this fun fact. She stated that there are many reasons approximately 600 students a year enroll in Texas Global, which offers English language instruction. Word of mouth often guides the decision-making process and international students have an easy choice to make according to Gavancho. Students who attend the school “remark on the kindness and caring of our teachers.” Additionally, students are attracted by “the rank and status of the university and the opportunities that it affords such as cultural excursions and activities, ability to join a UT student organization, attend campus events, meet professors, and get to know American students. The city of Austin is a major draw between the warm weather, music scene, tech, and recreation available.”

Texas Global offers two principal programs: the Academic English Program (AEP) for students preparing for graduate studies in the US, and the English Language Program (ELP) for undergraduates, professionals, or those seeking to improve their English at all skill levels. Note: Gavancho emphasized the uniqueness of the graduate program and stated that many more students go on to enroll at UT Austin graduate programs.

While there is no official bridge program under the diversity of options for students who hope to gain easier admittance to the competitive university, there is a partnership with a local community college. Gavancho shared that there are advisors on hand that provide interested students 1-1 counselling services and guidance about the admission process, resume building, and college essay development.

English Language Services, Illinois Institute of Technology

A big draw for students who enroll at the English Language Services Program at the Illinois Institute of Technology is being fully integrated into this STEM-focused university campus. Students get access to all facilities from the gym to the library and everything in between. A full taste of a US college experience combined with all that the city of Chicago offers with some of the world’s best restaurants, museums, live music, and theater, English Language Services is a great fit for students looking to pursue the fields of engineering and architecture.

Tracey McGee, Director and Senior Lecturer at English Language Services said that most students have either been accepted at Illinois Institute of Technology or have plans to enroll after program completion. All classes are taught by experienced program staff who are university faculty members. True beginning language learners will need to look elsewhere however, as ELS only accepts “high beginners” into their English programs, students with a minimum two years of formal English study. There are several program offerings, the newest being a pathway program where students take both English and for-credit classes at IL Tech. The Intensive English program is small in size – roughly 25 to 30 students.

Haggerty English Language Program, State University of New York, New Paltz

The Haggerty English Language Program is well established, with 40 years of experience in the peaceful learning environment of New Paltz. Students love that the campus in this small town is only 90 minutes north of New York City. Advisor Jason Serrano said that “students studying here get the best of both worlds.”

The program serves a variety of students with a range of interests in short-term language courses, summer sessions, or a pathway program with the goal of enrolling in a degree program (undergraduate or graduate) at SUNY New Paltz.  One exciting new venture is a joint effort with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), less than 30 miles from New Paltz campus. The Haggerty English Language Program is considered the preferred pathway program allowing the English Program to not only serve pathway students to SUNY New Paltz but to culinary programs at the CIA. Serrano shared that they are currently working on a “New Paltz Peace Initiative” in tandem with their Humanistic/Multicultural Education program to leverage their proximity to peace-building NPOs/NGOs, the UN, and the annual Mohonk Peace Conference that takes place in town. Check out the schools website for more information.

In terms of how students learn about this program, Serrano admitted that it really runs the gamut. Similar to the English language school I worked at, there is an international recruiter who travels abroad to school fairs, arranges agent visits and school visits, etc. And, like anything, “word of mouth” from friends and relatives of former students help drive new learners discover all this program has to offer.

Options for Covering Costs

All international students must provide documentation demonstrating adequate financial resources. All three schools said the majority of students are self-paying and cover costs through family and personal funds. Many other students enroll as sponsored students through special programs offered by their home governments, such as those who come to the US through the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission.

As international students there may be the opportunity to find “institutional money” that will help cover your costs. This will vary from program to program and is not the type of aid you can rely on up front. At Texas Global, students who are continuing in the program for subsequent sessions may apply for a small tuition scholarship. Teacher recommendations and an essay are required. There are currently no scholarships available for students enrolled at the English Language Services Program at the Illinois Institute of Technology, though students are considered for automatic scholarships once they enroll at the university level. Similar to the ELS Program, there are currently no scholarships offered at the Haggerty English Language Program. However, students who go on to a degree program have access to several major-specific scholarships (with new ones being added or cycled through each semester). There is also an emergency scholarship that was established for international students experiencing sudden financial hardship to help them complete their degree program.

Best of luck as you start this exciting stage of your educational journey!

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Written by Robyn Stewart
Robyn Stewart is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Prior to joining College Coach, she worked as a former financial aid officer at College of the Holy Cross. Visit our website to learn more about Robyn Stewart.