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Setting Out in Search of Education

27/03/12

origin: Setting Out in Search of Education (http://www.nytimes.com)

PARIS — Ekta Golchha started preparing for university early.
She moved from Biratnagar, Nepal, to Pune, India, just to be able to attend an International Baccalaureate secondary school that would eventually allow her to study in Britain.
“If I had stayed in Nepal, I would have probably not made it here,” said the student, who is now studying for a master’s degree in mathematical computational finance at Oxford University, after finishing her bachelor’s in mathematics at the University of Warwick last year.
More students are leaving their home countries during the transition to universities, or even earlier, and it is not always an easy move.
Students or their parents have to fill out complicated visa forms, set up bank accounts, book plane tickets and find cellphone plans. And before that, they have to work to achieve top grades, get diplomas recognized and take supplementary admissions tests.
The International Baccalaureate, or I.B., system is especially popular in countries like Nepal, where national education diplomas are not easily recognized by foreign universities.
It has become “international currency,” according to Judith Fabian, the International Baccalaureate’s chief academic officer.
According to their own figures, there are 1,836 universities worldwide that recognize the system.
“The recognition it has been given by universities is a measure of success of creating of well-rounded individuals,” Ms. Fabian said by telephone.
The American S.A.T., which formerly stood for the Scholastic Assesment Test, is now considered by hundreds of universities in more 60 countries, according to Leslie Sepuka of the College Board, the nonprofit association that runs the exam.
More than two million students worldwide took the S.A.T. each year, according to Ms. Sepuka.
Also coordinated by the College Board is the Advanced Placement, or A.P., program, which allows high school students to get college course credits.
More than 1,200 secondary schools outside the United States offer A.P. courses and exams. Though largely an American system — only 5 percent of students taking A.P. exams do so outside of the United States — more than 600 non-American universities recognize them for credit, placement or admission credential, according to Ms. Sepuka.
Since universities in different countries have different standards, students are well-served in knowing where they will ultimately apply, according to Shaun McElroy, a high school counselor at the Shanghai American School, who runs the blog International Counselor.
According to Mr. McElroy, his students choose to pursue either the I.B. diploma or take A.P. classes, depending on where they hope to study.
“Choosing a college is like choosing a spouse — you want to be attracted to the person you marry, but at same time there has to be more than physical attraction,” said Laura Vincens, a college counselor at the American School of Paris.
Most of the school’s graduates will continue onto university, with many of them going abroad. While some have visited their future campuses, others will be heading to distant and unknown locales.
Students who come from Paris usually look toward big cities, Ms. Vincens said.
Many of those who choose the United States will be looking at New York, Boston or Los Angeles.
“One factor that tends to be a major starting point for most of students is location,” Ms. Vincens said.
Many English-language universities require standardized language testing. Students whose mother tongue is not English will take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, for admission to U.S. and Canadian universities, or the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, exam for British schools.
The British Council in Hong Kong runs workshops for students who are headed to universities in the United Kingdom.
For many students and families who have never set foot in Britain, the key is managing expectations, said Sophia Chan-Combrink, the council’s education manager.
“A lot of parents and students want to know more about the culture and about interpersonal relations,” she said. “Parents want to know that their kids are safe.”

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