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So You Want to Study in the States?

I positioned my desk strategically so that I had a clear view of all the people entering the room. Some strode in purposefully like executives on their way to a Global Economic Forum. Others slid in and slunk into the unoccupied seats closest to the door. An exasperating few knocked, and knocked, and knocked until, with a sigh, I stopped my people-watching to attend to them.

It was the last Friday of April at EducationUSA Bulawayo and the monthly “So you want to study in the States” lecture was going to begin in ten minutes. I was the office intern responsible for the logistics of the lecture, but instead of embarking on a frantic search for clipboards, pens and projector cables, I returned to my seat and studied the people engaged in chatter around me.

Given that this was Zimbabwe, where society is fairly homogeneous, the diversity of the people in the audience was appreciable. No three people could attest that they had the same academic background, upbringing and social class. It was amazing that vastly different people, from dissimilar walks of life, could have a common life objective. Every person in the room was present for the same reason: self-empowerment through the attainment of a quality education.

The “So you want to study in the States?” lecture is where all those considering working with EducationUSA advisors on their US applications are familiarized with what to expect, what the American education entails and an outline of the application process. In each of these lectures, we would feature a returning student who would lead the Q&A section of the lecture. The thought that I will be doing the same when I return home fills me with excitement!

The EducationUSA advising center where I interned this summer is one of the more than 400 advising centers in the world where any international student can receive professional advice on applying to American institutions. Help offered ranges from the specific (“How much is the SAT registration fee?”) to the general (“What is it like in the United States?”).

Most EducationUSA Advising Centers around the world have a membership policy. For every member, the advising center keeps a record of progress in the application process. Workshops are held at each stage of the application so that the member does not get inundated by large volumes of paperwork all at once.

Workshops and presentations offer practical information on topics such as how to fill out the Common application, how to create a Collegeboard account, how to fill out immigration forms, or how to write a personal statement. Each presentation is timed to take place when you will be at about that point in the process.

The minimum requirements for membership include certified English language proficiency as well as demonstrated capability to successfully enroll in a local institution of tertiary education. There is also a membership fee of $40 charged per individual per annum.These requirements, however differ from one Advising center to another depending on the dominant education system of the country in which the advising center is situated.

Through the membership policy, I met a lot of intellectually-stimulated youths determined to explore the vastness of their potential. We became a strong network of support for each other, held together by our advisor, Miss Mabhena, who designed innovative activities for us to do. Saturdays, for example, were set aside for members who were willing to join Miss Mabhena and I in reviewing classic American novels such as Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Those who were to sit for their SAT examinations found these to be very useful in providing relevant examples to select from when answering the essay prompt.

I found that EducationUSA is not only a valuable resource for the application process, but it is also a place where you can meet people who are equally nervous about their personal statements or who, like you, have not yet started applying but are just gazing longingly at the lush, green grass across the fence.

Of course, the EducationUSA program is not a one-way ticket into America. It cannot decode the mystique of the admission process (no one can, sadly), nor will it give you a scholarship. It is just an organ that seeks to see you sail smoothly through your application process, journey to the States and transition to American life. Whether or not you will be admitted into that Engineering program that keeps you awake at night is entirely up to the admissions office of the school that you apply to. Whether or not you will obtain sufficient funding to see you through your academic career is up to the financial services office, the prevalent economic climate, the school's budget, the amount of money you require.

I know that when the U.S. school year started, some of the students who I was watching start their journey at the “So you want to study in the States” lecture were left behind, with a letter of rejection in their hands, to start the application process again or to resign themselves into their local university. However, for each unsuccessful applicant, another achieves their goal and embarks as a starry-eyed freshman across the ocean and into the unknown.