Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Prior College Coursework & University Applications

Quite a number of international students come to DVC having attended a college or university in their home country. When it comes time to apply for transfer from DVC to a university, such students often fail to report their prior college coursework, for various reasons. Some have the mistaken notion that foreign college coursework is not valid in the U.S. Others believe that, since they are studying a major that is different from their former program of study in their country, their prior foreign college coursework is irrelevent. And others, like many U.S. students, did not do well academically their first year in college, so they do not want their grades to affect their admissibility to a U.S. university.

Whatever the case may be, transfer applicants are REQUIRED by the universities to report ALL college-level coursework completed, whether in the U.S. or in another country. Failure to report all prior college coursework can result in the student's application becoming invalid. There have even been cases where a student got admitted to a university, but when the authorities of that university discovered that the student had failed to report prior college coursework, the student's offer of admissions was rescinded, or taken back.

So one may ask, How would the university know that I completed college coursework in my country if I do not report it on the application? The application asks the applicant to account for each semester after high school completion until the time of the application. Any breaks in the student's academic history...a semester or two or three, for example...will raise flags of suspicion, and university admissions officers may ask the applicant to provide documentation to prove what the applicant states on the application. For example, if the applicant reported that s/he was working, the university may ask to see copies of payroll receipts for those dates to verify the employment.

The best advice is for each applicant to be completely thorough and honest on their application. College admissions is as much art as it is science. Of course, the universities are looking for strong academic achievement demonstrated by a high GPA, but they are also looking for much, much more than mere numbers. They want students who are leaders, who show community-mindedness, who overcame challenges and obstacles in their lives to succeed academically and personally. A bad first year in a college in another country can actually be turned into something positive, especially if the student's academic performance since then clearly demonstrates that the student is capable of doing well.

The old adage "Honesty is the best policy" holds true when it comes to university admissions applications. Put all of who you are and what you've done out on the table for the universities to see. Your accomplishments will shine even brighter next to challenges and obstacles that you may have faced earlier and overcome successfully.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

GPA: Myths and Realities

I don't know how many times I've heard statements like the following: "I have to make all A's!" or "If I don't have a 4.0, I won't get in!" My heart breaks each time I hear a student making that claim because I can't imagine the kind of pressure that student must be feeling to make perfect grades. While no one will deny the fact that the higher the GPA, the greater your chances of being admitted into a selective major, the reality is that there is much more to the admissions process than simply having a high GPA.

For those of you who are numbers-driven, though, I refer you to the official website of the University of California system to see those numbers for yourself: Look at the table for California community college transfer students, and you will see that not all of those students admitted had perfect GPA's. In fact, the tables don't even indicate how many students had a perfect 4.0!! I looked at the statistics for UC Berkeley, for Fall 2007 (the most recent data available). For that semester, there were 1,536 community college transfer students enrolled for the first time. Of those students, about 85% had a transfer GPA of 3.4 or higher, and about half had a GPA hovering somewhere around 3.7. So, what about that 15% with a GPA less than 3.4? What did they have that UC Berkeley wanted?

While it's difficult to answer that question without having been a fly on the wall in the rooms where those admissions decisions were made, we can surmise that a student's other qualifications are considered in the admissions process. Any university wants to admit students who display leadership qualities. This doesn't mean that you have to be the student body president, or the founder of a new club or organization; it just means that you are self-guided and self-motivated, that you know how to lead others while being a good follower, yourself. Your extra-curricular activities should reflect these qualities. Also, universities want students who are community-minded and have a global perspective, so performing acts of community service will help you gain these qualities. Don't choose an activity simply because you think it will look good on your application; if you do that, your heart won't be in it, and therefore you'll learn little from it. Instead, consider what you feel passionate about, and find an opporunity to make a difference in your community in that context. Are you passionate about the environment? Participate in a recycling program! Do you love children? Volunteer in a shelter for homeless families! Are you an animal-lover? Offer your time to a local rescue association or animal shelter. There's something for everybody out there. Finding the opportunities might be difficult, but just ask around. You can also search online. [] is a good resource when looking for volunteer opportunities in the Bay Area.

Finally, while it's true that California residents get priority when it comes to admissions into the UC and CSU systems, all campuses of the CSU and UC value the unique contributions that international students make to the diversity of the campus community. Make yourself as competitive as possible in all ways, not just when it comes to GPA. However, to help you have as high a grade as possible, here are two suggestions: First, visit your instructors during their office hours to ask questions about the lectures and the assignments. Having that one-on-one connection might be just what you need to be successful in the course. Second, utilize tutoring services on campus. DVC tutors are well-qualified and trained to help you be the best student you can be, and tutoring in a variety of subjects is offered each semester. Visit the Tutoring Services website for more information:

Have a great Spring Break!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stress Management

It's that time of the semester: Mid-term exams are happening, projects are due, extra-curricular activities are eating up a lot of your time. Spring break is still a week away. The pressure to succeed is greater than ever. What's a stressed-out student to do?

Stress itself is neither positive nor negative; it simply "is." However, how we deal with the stress in our lives is what matters. Some people choose to deal with stress negatively; they smoke, overdrink, overeat or eat unhealthily, or otherwise engage in activities that are not helpful. There are, however, positive ways to deal with stress. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important ways to deal with stress. With homework and assignments piling up, it might be easy to rationalize "pulling an all-nighter." But good time management skills will solve this problem. Knowing when your assignments are due and when your exams are scheduled, and working/studying a little bit each day, will help you avoid the "all-nighter." Exercise is another positive way to deal with stress. You don't have to spend hours in the gym, or even break a sweat; just going for a walk or jog can help your body work out the tension caused by stress. Finally, eating properly is vital in maintaining your health in stressful times. Avoid fast foods and processed products. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, protein-rich foods, and other nutritious options. And drink plenty of water; dehydration will cause headaches and other aches and pains.

And on a final note, while over-socializing can contribute to poor time management, and thus cause you to neglect your responsibilities as a student, having a good social-support network can de-stress your life. A good time manager will schedule time for fun and relaxation; do something that you enjoy with someone whom you enjoy being with. You could even combine strategies by exercising or sharing a healthy meal with a friend.

For more information on stress management for college students, refer to this article on stress and students at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

W's and University Admissions

There seems to be a myth passed around by students that a W on your transcript will keep you from being admitted to a university. There might be some extreme cases in private or out-of-state universities in which a W negatively impacted a student's admissibility to that university. That could be attributed to the fact that some colleges and universities will indicate a W along with the grade that the student had earned at the time of withdrawal; in other words, if the student was making an F in the class and withdrew from it, the student's transcript indicated WF for the course, meaning that the student was failing at the time of withdrawal.

DVC, however, does not follow this practice. If you withdraw from a course, your transcript will merely indicate W. And, according to UC officers at a recent UC counselors conference, the UC system will disregard a W on an applicant's transcript. Therefore, W's have no impact on your transfer GPA. However, having a great number of W's on your transcript might have a negative impact on your admissibility, as admissions officers might consider a large number of W's as an indication that you do not complete what you begin. If you have extenuating circumstances, such as an illness, a disability, or other reasons for frequent withdrawals from courses, use the "Additional Comments" section of your university applications to explain why you have a large number of W's. Accentuate the positive: Point out that you have overcome your challenges to be successful in other courses, and that you didn't let your circumstances impede your progress toward your academic goal.

One final point to remember: F-1 international students are expected to complete a minimum of 12 semester units each fall and spring in order to stay in legal immigration status. PLEASE talk to an international student advisor in the ISAS office before you withdraw from any courses.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Financial Assistance for International Students

In these tough economic times, finding the money for college can be a challenge, especially for international students, as many financial aid programs are restricted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, there are some private sources of funding out there; finding them, however, is another story. Here are a few websites that might help you begin the arduous task of finding finances for your college education in the U.S.:
1. EduPASS is a non-profit organization with some useful tools and links on its website for researching money for college in the U.S. [].
2. The International Education Financial Aid website [] has a fairly comprehensive database of financial aid available for international students. Read all of the information carefully; some of the programs are campus-specific.
3. Peterson's, a reputable publisher of college guides, has information about financial assistance on their website []. Read carefully; some of the programs described might not be available for international students, but some will be.
You can find other websites by simply entering "international student scholarships" in a search engine.

Another source of information might be the embassy or consulate of your home country, as the government of your country might have financial aid available for its citizens who are studying in other countries. Also, if either or both of your parents work for companies, ask them to check with the Human Resources office of their employer to see whether or not the company provides scholarships or loans for the dependents of its employees.

As you research, keep in mind that even U.S. citizens and permanent residents have difficulty financing their college education. But, where there's a will, there's a way! It might take longer than you'd like, and you might have to choose a university that's not your first...or even your second or third...choice, but you CAN find an affordable option eventually.