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TOEFL Tip #164: Guest Post — Merit Scholarships For International Students

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 14, 2012

Today’s post is from Megan Dorsey, the founder of College Prep, LLC, and an expert in the college admissions process.

International students face additional financial challenges when applying to American universities. Before the U.S. consul will grant a visa, students must document their ability to pay tuition, room, board, and fees. While many American students are counting on money from grants, loans, scholarship, and work, international students find many financial alternatives closed.

International students are not eligible for some types of financial aid including federally subsidized student loans, grants, and some scholarships. While the opportunities are limited, there are chances to qualify for merit scholarships, awards based on talent and ability rather than need.

I recommend my international clients take two approaches to finding merit aid:

1. Research individual scholarship programs and apply for as many scholarships as you qualify.
2. Seek specific colleges and universities offering scholarships for international students and add some potential scholarship schools to your list.

By applying both strategies, you can maximize your chances of receiving merit aid.

Individual Scholarships
There are a number of independent programs offering scholarships to international students. Corporations sponsor some of these scholarships to support students from a particular region or to encourage study in a specific field. There is no single source for finding this type of sholarship, but you may try using the search features provided by organizations such as IEFA and

Before you spend hours working on an application, check with the program directly to make sure they are still offering awards. In the past, some groups have discontinued scholarships due to lack of funds.

Additionally, take care to avoid fraudulent businesses that guarantee to help you find scholarships – for a fee. You should never have to pay to apply or accept scholarships and no organization can guarantee results.

School-based Scholarships
Often the best sources of scholarships for international students are the colleges and universities themselves. First, school-based scholarships can cover a large portion of annual tuition and are often renewable each year providing students meet the set academic standards (often a set GPA and number of hours completed.) Second, aid from your college or university is automatically added to the calculations of your financial status, making it one less thing you need to provide as documentation. Finally, competition for school-based merit aid can be less competitive than that for large, independent scholarships, which draw applicants from around the world.

Some international students initially become discouraged when they see how many scholarships for which they cannot apply. Understand you will not be considered for National Merit, ROTC, and a variety of other programs, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t scholarships specifically for international students.

Many colleges and universities offer a limited number of scholarships for highly qualified or talented international applicants. In some cases you will need to demonstrate your talent in athletics, music, or art, but most often your academic abilities will be evaluated based on the information you submitted for admission.

Schools Offering Scholarships for International Students
Not every school offers money for international applicants, but many do. Here is a preliminary list to show you the range of school-based scholarships available. This is by no means a complete list. It is meant to illustrate the variety of schools offering merit scholarships.

Boston University
California State Long Beach
Iowa State
Johnson & Wales
St. Edwards
University of Chicago
University of Houston
University of Richmond
University of Vermont

Start with the schools you’ve already considered and see what scholarships are offered. Often you can find information on the admissions websites under the “international applicants” page.

Private Schools Versus State Universities
In many ways international applicants will find private colleges and universities offer more scholarship opportunities. But this doesn’t mean you should overlook state universities if you are currently living in the U.S. If you meet requirements for in-state tuition where you live, a state-university could be your least expensive option.

I live in Texas where it is possible for some non-citizens to qualify as in-state residents. Residency is significant in admissions because the state legislature limits the number of non-residents to 11% of the student body, so international and out-of-state applicants are competing for a restricted number of spaces.

Beyond the issue of competitive admission, you should learn more about your residency status because it will affect your tuition. Most international students are charged the out-of-state tuition rate, which can be double or triple what residents are asked to pay. You may find some schools will offer in-state tuition to non-citizens based on the domicile requirements of that state. In Texas, undocumented students can qualify as residents; the University of Vermont distinguishes between resident and non-resident international applicants. If you can qualify for in-state tuition where you live, it is effectively the same as earning a tuition scholarship from that school.

Level of Competition
Because international applicants have fewer options for financial assistance, competition for available scholarships is fierce. Don’t let this deter you, but do set realistic expectations. If it is a reach for you to simply gain admission to Rice or Vanderbilt, you are unlikely to meet scholarship consideration. However, you may be more competitive at a school such as St. Edward’s or University of Rochester. To improve your odds of earning scholarships, look for schools where your qualifications are above average and you will stand out as a top applicant.

Merit scholarships for international students may be limited, but they are available. Take time to research your options, improve your credentials (TOEFL, SAT, etc.), and apply for a variety of scholarships.

It is more competitive than ever to gain college admission and earn scholarships. Get help from a former high school counselor and independent college advisor who knows the system. Megan Dorsey is a nationally recognized expert in test preparation and college admissions who has helped thousands of students earn the test scores and scholarships they need and get into the schools of their dreams. To receive free college planning and test prep resources visit

TOEFL Tip #121: Guest Post: Preparing for the New Revised GRE

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 23, 2011

Here’s a guest post from Jill Muttera, a tutor with Grockit

Use Your Fall to Prepare for the New Revised GRE: What to Expect and How to Prepare for the Verbal Section

Fall is here, and for some lucky people that means trips to go apple picking or to enjoy the season’s brightly colored leaves. But for those of you taking the new revised GRE later this fall or winter, now is the time to buckle down and put in those hours studying for the big test!

It can be easy to feel like there is tons of time to study for the GRE — until suddenly, weeks have turned into months, and the test is just around the corner. To avoid this procrastination disaster and use your available time effectively, create a study plan for the test right away. Most students start studying for the GRE about three months in advance. Set a goal for hours of studying per week and make a schedule of when you will fit in these hours. Some people learn best by studying a short amount daily, while others benefit from longer sessions and having a day or days off. Play around with different schedules until you find what works best for you. Make sure to take practice tests throughout your preparation time so you can get used to the length of the test, as well as gauge your progress in different areas. It is also a good idea to have a reading program set up in addition to your regular GRE practice time. Reading is the best way to learn new vocabulary, especially for non-native English speakers, because you are seeing the word in context. Vocabulary learned this way is more likely to stick with you than vocabulary memorized from a list of definitions. Well-written novels or articles in newspapers are both great options. Many people find that reading one article per day from a newspaper’s website is a nice supplement to their regular GRE practice.

For students taking the new revised GRE, preparing for the test may seem especially overwhelming. Fortunately, a little knowledge about what to expect will allow you to perform your best on these new sections. The new verbal section of the GRE focuses more on vocabulary in context, rather than standing on its own. This is good news for you since context offers clues to the meanings of words. The antonym and analogy questions have been eliminated, and text completion and sentence equivalence questions have been added. If you have taken the TOEFL exam, these new questions will be familiar already. Text completion questions consist of short paragraphs with one to three blanks. Each blank will have three possible choices, or five if there is only one blank. A choice could be one word or a phrase made up of a few words. Sentence equivalence questions contain one sentence with one blank and six answer choices. You must select two answer choices that could complete the sentence. Both of these types of questions do not get partial credit–if you miss one part of the question, you miss the whole thing. An effective strategy for these sections is predicting a word or phrase that would fill in the blank and then trying to find a matching meaning in the answer choices.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed about the GRE, especially with a new format and the rush of activity that fall often brings. But armed with a clear study plan and an understanding of the new elements of the GRE, you can make the most of your fall and go into your test confident and prepared!

TOEFL Tip #120: Test Taking Anxiety?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on

Test taking anxiety?

This is a guest post from Renee Hoekstra, Psy.D.

There are several reasons that people get anxious about test-taking, and here are a few things that you can do about it.

First of all, figure out what it is that makes you anxious. There are many reasons why people are anxious in testing situations, and the reasons vary. Some people have a hard time speaking openly and in public. Some people get really self-conscious about their accents and are afraid of saying the wrong thing when learning a new language. Some people are highly self-conscious and are afraid of being made fun of. The idea of taking a test in a different language can be intimidating.

Other people may get anxious in test taking conditions. People who have a history of poor academic performance may get anxious in any situation in which they are graded. Some people grew up in environments that were demanding or critical when they did not perform well. Competitive environments often foster the belief that a person’s worth is based on success. Anxiety can get in the way of a person’s ability concentrate, to organize information coherently, and to pay attention to something long enough to come up with the correct answer. Sometimes just being in a testing situation or classroom is enough to get people anxious.

Other people are afraid of the consequences of failure. If the consequences are very meaningful and limit options for the future, this makes sense. However, if one becomes overly focused on the consequences of failure this can “kidnap” attention that is needed to concentrate on the exam itself.

Here are a few ideas for handling test-taking anxiety:

1) Find out what you are afraid of: What is the “worst case” scenario? Share your “worst case scenario” with a trusted peer. Sometimes saying things out loud and talking openly about fear can help it to diminish. If thinking about your “worst case scenario” is enough to spike your anxiety, you may want to re-visit your scenario over and over again until your fear goes down. If you don’t know of anyone who can work with you on your “worst case scenario,” you may want to find a psychotherapist trained in exposure therapy (such as myself) to help you. The intended result of this exercise is to be able to imagine feared situations with less anxiety. When you can bring to mind the feared situations without your brain shutting down, you will have more control of your anxiety.

2) Develop a plan to cope with the worst case scenario. Figure out a Plan B. If there is a realistic chance that you will fail, accepting and tolerating the moment- your current life situation- will enable you to handle the situation better. This does not mean you have to accept failure or approve of your expectations of yourself. It does not mean that you have to give up, and it does not mean that other alternatives won’t make themselves available to you. It just means that you’ve got to get through a tough situation the best way that you can. A refusal to acknowledge and accept reality on the terms of reality can actually make your life worse. Remember that many successful people have failed. Tolerating the consequences of potential failure does not mean that your life is over. It just means you have to look for alternative paths.

3) Do everything you can to practice being in situations that make your anxiety go up. Usually, people avoid situations that make them anxious. This increases the belief that what they are avoiding is actually fearful. This increases anxiety. When forced to confront such feared situations, people are faced with flat out panic. Don’t let this be you. If being in a classroom makes you anxious, find a classroom and sit there until your anxiety goes down. If your anxiety doesn’t go down, then plan on a specific period of time- with a beginning and an end- to sit there. If going to a testing center makes you anxious, go sit in a testing center. If the click of a keyboard makes you anxious, record keyboard-clicking noises and listen to them over and over again. If the exam center allows you to take a practice test, by all means- take the practice test.

4) Know what is ahead of you. Don’t go into an exam “blind” because you were so busy avoiding taking the exam! Know all the components of the exam and know how long the exam will take. Know how many breaks you have. Know where the exam center is and anticipate problems with traffic or public transportation. Go to the exam center on a day before your exam and time how long it takes you. Talk to people who have taken the exam to get their impressions. Take practice exams and get feedback. Most anxiety can be decreased by being fully aware of- and planning for -anything that can go wrong on exam day. Get adequate sleep, take snacks to the test- taking center, eat well, don’t change your diet or make any big plans right before the exam. Stick to your schedule and your routine to the best of your ability. And be willing to accept that things don’t always go according to plan.

TOEFL Tip #118: How The TOEFL Helps You At Business School And Beyond!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 9, 2011

Today’s post was written by our guest, Harriet Murdoch, a journalist at, a business school news, networking and jobs site. Helping business applicants choose a b-school and business students find a job.

Business schools place great emphasis on oral and written communication. This makes the TOEFL especially important, not only do you need to pass but having a good score will make life easier for you once you are studying for the MBA.

Bennet & Olney’s survey of Fortune 500 Vice Presidents showed that 97.7 percent of them “believed that communication skills had affected their advancement to a top executive position.” Whilst you are preparing hard for your TOEFL it may seem a pain, but bear in mind this is an investment that will continue to pay off throughout your career.

At most top business schools the MBA is taught in English. At the McDonough school of business at Georgetown University they offer a pre-term course, Communication Tools for Success, offering the “edge you need to be ready for your MBA program.”

English language coach Bruce Cooper, said that while doing his MBA at France’s EMLYON he was constantly presenting and was surprised at the start of the year that many people in the class were ill at ease speaking in front of the group. However, they did improve over the year: “Because you give presentations on a weekly basis, you can see the changes over the course of the year!”, he says.

For those for whom English is not their first language it is obviously a larger task, and Cooper believes these people are very courageous as they can be “out of their comfort zone as it is such an intensive course with so much reading, writing and many assignments”. Throughout the course you are taught the quality of eloquence and rhetoric, “they teach you how to approach your audience”. You can read more in Bruce Copper’s recent interview about his business school experience on

Carmine Gallo, communication coach for business leaders of some of the world’s largest companies, said that “as a business student, manager, leader or aspiring leader, you need to know what very few people will ever tell you—you are being judged by how well you speak in public and how persuasively you deliver a presentation”. He says “your Harvard degree might get you in the door but starting on day one you’ll be judged by how effectively you communicate your ideas.”

An MBA student blogging about starting at IFL, Stockholm School of Economics, said “the first week has been truly intense and it is quite clear that you need a high level of English on an MBA Program. At the beginning of the week I was worrying about where my English had gone, but the longer the week went on – the better it became”.

If your grasp of the English language is good to begin with, you’ll do well. However, if you go to business school with underdeveloped linguistic ability you may find yourself struggling to stay afloat.

Also worth noting is that for entrance to an MBA program the TOEFL is not like the GMAT: a higher score will not boost your chances for being admitted. Most schools ask for a score over 100 (out of 120), a few ask for scores over 110 e.g. Harvard, but most schools are happy with anything that meets their cutoff scores.

TOEFL Tip #93: Guest Post: In Praise of the GMAT Official Guide

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 1, 2011

This week’s guest post is from Jim Jacobson,’s expert on the Verbal section of the GMAT. Check out their site if you are planning to take the GMAT, LSAT, or GRE exams.

Jim Writes:

One question I hear often is “what sources should I use?” The answer isn’t entirely straightforward — as always, exact tactics can vary as much as GMAT students can vary — but the Official Guide to the test should be at the heart of every single study plan, especially for GMAT aspirants whose native language is not English. What does the OG do for you?

It provides authentic test questions. The GMAT is not published after the fact the way the LSAT is; all makers of prep materials must model their questions after the ones published in the Official Guide. This means that only the OG has real, recent questions, and any other test prep source risks coming up with something the GMAT itself wouldn’t do, even on the same test topic.

The quantitative overview is comprehensive. The section that lays out what topics they want you to know is quite extensive; if you are wondering what math you will need to know/review/learn the first time to get a top score, that section gives it to you.

The verbal questions and their explanations are a priceless guide. This is the part that is useful for everyone, but particularly useful to non-native English speakers. The GMAT’s idea of English deviates a bit from standard written English, in that some things that are grammatically correct are still considered wrong on the test for stylistic reasons. The ONLY way to get a good feel for GMAT English is by careful study of the Official Guide.

It provides a basis for comparison with other test prep materials. If you use GMAT materials from any other source, you run the risk of inaccuracies (and occasionally outright incorrect information). Familiarity with the OG will enable you to better evaluate other sources, and settle disputes for yourself when sources contradict each other.

The Official Guide isn’t without any drawbacks, however:

If you have a substantial study program, you will run out of questions. The number of questions is finite, as is the number of official CATs. This leads many people to other sources. The Official Guide should still be your basis, however.

The quantitative questions do not test all the topics covered in the overview. If you struggle with Interest questions, for example, or Permutation/Combination, there are not many questions of those types in the OG. If those trouble you, you’ll need to get more practice elsewhere.

The verbal questions cannot possibly adequately test all verbal idioms. This is just a fact of human language. If idioms are a problem for you, begin a program of reading perhaps even before you start doing practice questions.

The OG is by its very nature retrospective. Because it is entirely based on previous test questions, you will not be prepared for questions that are “new.” While new question forms are tested in advance as experimental questions, they do not show up in the OG. This is perhaps the best argument in favor of supplementing with other test prep sources, not just in spite of their potential to deviate from the OG norm, but because of it! If you’re forced to see an old idiom or formula in a new way, it can help keep you flexible. Too much emphasis on simply recognizing OG patterns on the real GMAT can hurt you.

TOEFL Tip #34: GUEST TIP: The College Admissions Essay

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 6, 2009

Although Strictly English works exclusively with TOEFL preparation, we often get questions about how to write the College Admissions Essay.  Here’s a good blog entry sent to us from Adam R. Goldberg, Educational Consultant.