College for a tibetan refugee girl
November 20, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

My sister, a Tibetan refugee girl from India applying to US colleges. Since the recession many schools have stopped need-blind admissions for International students. Are the Ivy league schools a good choice?

Its my sister and she is applying to colleges now. So far she has decided on Middlebury, Williams, Berea, Colby. She is really passionate about wildlife and ecology. She is one of the top five students of her class. She is an athlete and a star musician and singer with her own band at school (which is quite hard for a girl in a Tibetan school in India.) She has studied traditional tibetan music for more than 9 years of her life. I am just wondering what her chances are for getting into one of the above mentioned schools and also wondering if she should submit applications to Ivy League schools. Just to give it a shot. Can you recommend some schools that might be good for her? And not too hard to get into?
posted by snowliontiger to Education (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
She sounds like a great fit for a liberal arts college. I would recommend, among others, Oberlin (environmental studies, music, ethnomusicology, are all strengths), and Hampshire. Many of the places that don't have need-blind admission still offer a tremendous amount of financial aid.
posted by bardophile at 1:19 PM on November 20, 2010

Applying to Harvard/Cornell/Brown etc. - why not? If she can afford the application, I think she has a chance, and those schools tend to have more money and therefore her financial need is less of a factor.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:27 PM on November 20, 2010

I'd also suggest checking out Emory, which has an explicit relationship with Tibet.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:29 PM on November 20, 2010

Berea (IME) is sort of this weirdo place full of kids from developing countries. I have NOT heard very good things about the quality of education.

Is your sis merely looking for a degree or is her long term goal to stay in the US?

Here's a guide to schools that offer help to international students:

I'd focus on regional SLACs that want to increase diversity.
posted by k8t at 1:30 PM on November 20, 2010

Ivy League schools are doing better than ever on need-blind admissions. If she is absolutely set on being in a rural setting, let me suggest that she think about Dartmouth College, which has an excellent musicology department and lots of ecology-related coursework. Similarly Cornell, although it is a giant school and she might feel more lost there than at Dartmouth.

Williams has some excellent merit-based scholarships that aren't solely focused on grade-point averages; one of my BFF got one and it also paid for part of her graduate school. So it's also a good choice. As are Oberlin and Hampshire.

Smith and Wellesley also have very good music and environmental sciences offerings, and strong funding for undergraduate aid. If she feels like a single-sex educational environment would work for her, I would recommend both colleges very highly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:31 PM on November 20, 2010

I'm not sure about the need-blind / financial aid status, but here are some more small liberal arts schools which might fit based upon some of the other ones you listed: Bard, Vassar, Bates, Skidmore.

Best of luck to her.
posted by sharkfu at 1:33 PM on November 20, 2010

and like that linked doc says - focus on FULL NEED not full tuition.
posted by k8t at 1:35 PM on November 20, 2010

Response by poster: Is it OK to send in a dvd of her performances in the application packet?
posted by snowliontiger at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2010

Macalester. They are really focused on international affairs, and they're strong in environmental stuff, and they give good scholarships.

Sure, she should apply to some Ivy League schools if her test scores and English are good enough. But if her English lacks, I think that it would be better for her to go to smaller place that will help her get up to speed.
posted by yarly at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, absolutely include a DVD with her application, unless the particular school expressly forbids it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on November 20, 2010

Is it OK to send in a dvd of her performances in the application packet?

Yes but here are some caveats:

1. Be sure to label it with contents, her name, her program of application and the school
2. See that you can ensure it would work on both Mac and PC format or something independent - test it on a variety of machines
3. Ideally, can you set up a password protected upload on a video or multimedia hosting website/social network (i'm sure others can recommend better than I) as the admissions process can be such that CD's may not always get played or full attention so adding an URL as well can be of great help.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:09 PM on November 20, 2010

I go to Macalester right now and heartily second yarly's recommendation. I have a lot of friends majoring in Environmental Studies who say it's a great program; we also have plenty of international students who really enjoy their time at Mac.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 2:13 PM on November 20, 2010

Response by poster: Sidhedevil She doesn't really care about being in a rural setting. But with her interest in studying wildlife and ecology, I am guessing a college with a rural setting and a good wildlife or biology program would be good.

J. Wilson I am assuming there are application fee waivers for that. Do you know how to apply for them? Or do you just send an email to the admissions committee saying you can't really afford the application fees. Sending in the application materials by DHL is already costing us a lot.

yarly, her SAT scores were out and they were around 1200 which I guess is not that good. I was surprised because her english is really good and she did really well in her TOEFL. Does that make her application weaker? She is going to take is again sometime in January. Would that be too late since the deadline is Jan 1.

Does anyone know of any good SLACS wanting to increase diversity?


posted by snowliontiger at 2:14 PM on November 20, 2010

I am assuming there are application fee waivers for that. Do you know how to apply for them? Or do you just send an email to the admissions committee saying you can't really afford the application fees. Sending in the application materials by DHL is already costing us a lot.

Write and ask, I know that the school where I'd worked as Admissions Director had it as policy requirement from the University Registrar's office so was rarely able to do anything about it - the code *had* to be filled into the information system before the application would be considered valid type of set up.

Otoh, you are looking at far smaller schools and they may have far more flexibility in this regard.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:19 PM on November 20, 2010

I go to Williams and while it did stop being need-blind for international students last year, it also still gives out pretty great financial aid. I know some kids from that region (India and Nepal, mostly) who have really enjoyed themselves here.

We have some pretty good programs if she's interested in ecology and biology and getting out into the woods- we definitely don't lack woods around here. There are majors in Environmental Science, Environmental Policy, Geosciences, a concentration in Environmental Studies, and lots of classes within the Biology department that might be of interest to her. See here for lists of actual classes offered and details on the different majors and their requirements.

On the other hand, Williams is really hard to get into. I know that they will give less weight to not-so-great SAT scores if someone has a really outstanding story (like being a Tibetan refugee) and lots of extracurriculars and all that kind of stuff, but my sense is that 1200 is getting pretty low for here. Support for international kids who don't have a lot of financial resources can also be spotty- when the dorms close over winter break, for instance, there's a perennial problem of what to do for international kids who can't afford to fly home.

Also, someone above said that Williams offers non-need-based aid; that isn't true for undergrad. All undergrad aid is need-based, period. Sidhedevil's friend might have gotten something like a Mellon grant, which pays for grad school, or one of the Williams-specific fellowships for post-grad study. I've heard rumors of a scholarship given to like 10 kids a year that covers tuition regardless of need, but a) this is totally anecdotal and b) it's supposed to be for serious academic superstars only.
posted by MadamM at 2:39 PM on November 20, 2010

her SAT scores were out and they were around 1200 which I guess is not that good.

I think that's probably good enough to have a decent shot at a lot of the schools mentioned here.

Do you know about Early Admissions? That's where you pick one college to apply to early, and if they accept you, you have to go. The deadline is usually in November, and it makes it easier to get into that one college. It may be too late this year, but if your sister decides to take a year off she might consider it.

Does she have any of the guide books that give lots of information about how to apply to US colleges? If not, she should get some soon. There are many titles; this one is by a reputable publisher and is specifically for international students.
posted by yarly at 2:51 PM on November 20, 2010

On the Williams thing: my friend got a Tyng Scholarship, which is awarded to (per Williams) "six to eight students in each class." But it's not something you can apply for, apparently; on the other hand, I can imagine a Tibetan refugee who's an accomplished performer and who scored 1200 on her SATs in her third or fourth language being an attractive candidate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on November 20, 2010

tbh, I think that your friend would have been better advised not to take the SATs at all, but too late now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:00 PM on November 20, 2010

Can she spin her wheels for a year and get her English more up to snuff? Because if she can bring her SATs up (and most ESL students can, especially if they do test-taking workshops geared to ESL students) she'll have a lot more options.

Sorry, I typed "friend" above when I meant "sister" so there you go--being a native speaker of English isn't all it's cracked up to be.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:02 PM on November 20, 2010

Berea won't take anyone who has resources above a certain level, so the situation is probably different there than with the other schools you list.
posted by dilettante at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2010

That doc I linked has a list. I'd use that as a starting point and start emailing admissions offices and international student offices.

I did a lot of the calling-around-pounding-the-pavememt for an international kid a few years back. Similar SATs, from an authoritarian state.

I also helped a family in a developing country with a kid with much better SATs try to do this.

It isn't as easy as you'd think - in both of these situations.

As far as increasing diversity, the more rural the better.
posted by k8t at 3:20 PM on November 20, 2010

Oh, and think about what she can do during the school breaks. Summer she might be able to find something but winter break can be 2 months long at some schools and dorms aren't open. Friends might be ok with her coming over for a week at Thanksgiving but finding a place for longer breaks is a HUGE deal.

And what about spending money? During summer breaks? International students CAN work off campus but it eats away at their OPT and has to be approved as 'educational.'

As you can see, I've been there. It is immensely stressful. If you have ANY family in the States with whom she could stay on breaks, I'd look at schools within a close bus ride (or train ride) from there.
posted by k8t at 3:26 PM on November 20, 2010

It's entirely possible to leave her SAT score off applications; if she's already asked ETS to send it to certain schools, then she should include it in her applications for those schools. Otherwise I think she can safely omit it. That said, I don't think 1200 is that bad a score for someone who has a well-rounded and diverse set of interests and pursuits, as well as the kind of cultural/personal background that would make her attractive to colleges interested in maintaining or increasing the diversity of their student body. (Also, has she considered taking the ACT? Many smart people who're not great at the standardized testing machine do quite well on the ACT.)

She might also consider Bennington, Evergreen, Reed, and Warren Wilson. I've always wished I'd gone to Warren Wilson, or Berea (both residential colleges with mandatory workstudy programs that aim to equalize class disparity among the student body). I also like Quest University in British Columbia, though it's a very new university (in its third or fourth year), and so the student body is really active in shaping the culture of the school, rather than the other way around, plus they offer a lot of student aid and have quite a few international students (full disclosure: I had a temporary sessional appointment there in its 2nd year and loved the culture there, but I certainly don't have a sense of what it's like now, and Squamish can be a dire little town, especially if you're not into winter sports).

Also, it's entirely possible to waive application admissions. I'm not sure how--I've done it before when applying for postgrad fellowships and residencies, both of which are usually administered by smaller, less bureaucratic institutions than universities--but I bet there's already a well-established system in place. You'll probably have to make a lot of phone calls, though.
posted by soviet sleepover at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2010

The good news is, there are many, many good schools -- the bottom line is, she should apply to as many as possible, and apply to some that are lower-end so she has a very good chance of getting in. A strong personal essay can overcome a lower SAT score, so she should be certain to have a good essay that illustrates how her story is interesting, she is determined to accomplish things, and she is a person the college will be proud to have in their alumni newsletter ("our most interesting incoming freshman this year is ____, an accomplished musician who comes to us from India where she did such and such").

Every SLAC wants to increase diversity, and international students with compelling background stories are highly desirable applicants for that reason. She will get a good education at nearly any SLAC; faculties at all these places are good enough that a motivated student will be able to find good profs.

She will likely get better funding offers from lower-end schools, simply because the higher-end schools will get hundreds of applicants from similarly interesting backgrounds, but the lower-end places might have only one or two such applicants a year.

Even though the faculties are good at all these schools, there are some drawbacks to a lower-end place.

One difference among schools is in the attitude and intellectual level of her classmates. At higher-end schools (higher in the college rankings), generally speaking, she will find students who are more motivated and better prepared for college, than at lower-end schools. Obviously these are very, very general statements, and there are many good students at lo-end schools, and poor students at hi-end schools -- but still, there are some colleges where the lack of preparation and motivation of her classmates might become a real problem for her. This is worth taking into account when she's deciding, after she knows where she has gotten in and what the funding looks like.

Another difference is in name recognition of the school for graduate school applications, medical school, law school, and for hiring into certain kinds of jobs (for example high-finance or high-end corporate jobs) -- going to a recognized school makes a huge, huge, huge difference for these things. Personal networks of alumni, personal networks of professors (who write grad school recommendations) are important for some kinds of future plans, and she should take this into account when making her final decisions -- once she knows where she has gotten in.

Size of school -
Smaller schools like Williams etc will provide a lot more opportunity for individual interaction with faculty, and in general the faculty are more focused on teaching undergrads. A drawback can be that if she specializes in some field of research, a smaller place might end up not having the resources she needs to pursue it (eg if she wanted to do research with expensive scientific equipment). At larger schools like Cornell, she may not have much interaction with the faculty, but fewer limitations on how far she could go in pursuing a line of study.

Smaller schools have more limited, but typically more close-knit, social scenes. She will probably be one of only a handful of international students at a small school, and everyone will know her as the girl from Tibet. Whereas large schools have more fragmented social scenes, with more different things to do (a club for every interest) and there will almost certainly be a larger group of international students.

Where to apply?
I don't know about her SAT scores; you can look up college rankings like the US News and World Report college rankings, and they will tell you what the average SAT score is for a given school, so you can gauge if a place is a "reach" (she has less chance of getting in), "about right", or a "safety" (she is almost guaranteed to get in) school. She should apply to at least one school in each category - reach, about right, and safety - and if she can afford it, to several in each. Her interesting backstory may overcome her SAT score at some places and not others; different schools will make different decisions about how much financial aid to give her. You can also look at how much money a school has -- look at its endowment, that is roughly the amount of money a school has "in the bank". Rich schools (with large endowments) generally are able to give more money in student aid. (Not that they all do, but for the top liberal arts schools like Amherst, the last few years have seen a movement toward giving a lot of aid)

To find "reach" schools, look at the top ten or twenty in the rankings (colleges and universities are ranked separately), check them out and see if they have "international students" pages on their websites, see if they offer ecology classes and other specific things she's interested in. See if they're in an area of the country she might like, see if they're in a city or more isolated.

To find "about right" and "safety" schools: Look at the US News rankings of "A+ schools for B students", or look at any of the Colleges that Change Lives or just look further down the regular rankings. You could look at the website of every college in those lists to find 10 or so that offer ecology classes, see if they have information about international student aid, etc.

Pick a list of maybe 10 or 15 schools (again depending on budget it could be a shorter or longer list, but the more she can apply to, the better her chances of getting funding).

Do look at the women's colleges like Smith, they are a great place to get an education, the students are very motivated in my experience, and the high-end ones have big endowments and can offer a lot of aid.

To defend Berea, I know a couple of people who teach there and a couple of people (now both professors themselves) who graduated from there, and from them it sounds like a great education and no student debt. I think it is definitely worth applying there.

Hampshire is a nontraditional college, and she should look into its program and be sure that's what she wants before applying there.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2010

That said, I don't think 1200 is that bad a score for someone who has a well-rounded and diverse set of interests and pursuits

It wasn't back in the days when the highest score you could get was 1600. The highest score you can get now is 2400; the average score is 1500.

I bet she can get that up, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:05 PM on November 20, 2010

Response by poster: Should we not submit SAT scores to the colleges that we haven't sent the scores already through ets? Is that a good choice?
posted by snowliontiger at 4:42 PM on November 20, 2010

A couple of things:

- Some of the schools on your list -- Middlebury and Williams in particular -- are really, really tough to get into. If she's applying to those, there's no reason she shouldn't also apply to several of the Ivies -- if not Harvard/Yale/Princeton then certainly Brown/Penn/Cornell etc. Middlebury and Williams are not really any easier to get into.

- However, for those same schools, a 1200 SAT score generally is not going to cut it, even on the old 1600-point scale and especially not on the new scale. I say "generally" because it's possible that admissions standards tend to be different for international students in ways I don't understand. I'd advise some combination of three things here: apply to more safety schools, don't submit the SAT scores wherever possible, and/or retake the test.

- At the highly-ranked LAC I attended, there were a lot of international students, but I believe they tended to be wealthier on average than the domestic students because they weren't eligible for federal financial aid. This was an institution that had really good financial aid otherwise. I don't know much about international students' access to financial aid, but be sure you understand the ins and outs of the schools' policies; I believe that even some/most schools that are "need-blind" include federal loans, which, again, I think are unavailable to non-citizens.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:55 PM on November 20, 2010

Since the recession many schools have stopped need-blind admissions for International students. Are the Ivy league schools a good choice?

Given that the Ivy League colleges (and their peers) are wealthy enough to offer need-blind admissions and financial aid to international students, yes. Cornell sounds like a very good fit for someone interested in wildlife and ecology.
posted by deanc at 6:16 PM on November 20, 2010

She needs to be careful about whether she is fully prepared academically for the very top tier school. She will do better and be happier at a school where she can be successful, not pushed to her limits in every class. There are about 3000 colleges and universities with four year undergraduate programs in the US. The anything in the top 300 has the potential to provide her with an excellent education.

I know some very bright people who, if honest, would say they would have been happier if they hadn't gone to MIT or Dartmouth. They were smart enough to get in but they constantly struggling to do well in classes, especially the first year.
posted by metahawk at 7:53 PM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fairtest has a list of test optional schools. Some LACs on that list to check out are: Agnes Scott, Baldwin-Wallace, Bard, Bates, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Colby, Holy Cross, Colorado College, Connecticut College, Denison, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Goucher, Hamilton (NY), Hobart & William Smith, Lewis & Clark, Marist, Mount Holyoke, Pitzer, Smith, Union, Ursinus, Wake Forest, Wheaton (MA), and Whittenberg. Some of the aforementioned colleges may require AP/ IB/ SAT II scores and/ or essays in lieu of SAT I scores.

You/ your sister will then want to check out each school's webpage to see if they offer financial aid to internationals. It may also be helpful to google the college name and "common data set" to see how much scholarship money colleges give on average to international students and to how many students. (For instance, Smith's common data set says that it provides on average $42,860 in financial aid to 121 international students in 2009-10).

Has your sister tried the ACT? It looks like some locations offer a December test date.

Some colleges offer an early decision round II in early January. While she can get out of an ED agreement if the finances don't work out, she won't be able to compare financial aid packages.
posted by oceano at 12:04 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all...It was really helpful. Hopefully my sister gets into a college this year...I will let you know soon.
posted by snowliontiger at 7:20 PM on November 26, 2010

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