Trying to help a Japanese student apply for American colleges
January 15, 2017 10:30 PM   Subscribe

A student of mine just asked me to help her with applying to American colleges and universities. I'm essentially looking for recommendations for, schools with good musical theater programs, advice and best practices for applying to universities from overseas, and applying for financial aid for non-US students.

I haven't lived in the States since I was a student, and I haven't had anything to do with applying to college since four years before that. The student in question is a returnee who lived in the states for several years with a pretty solid command of English (grammar and writing aren't the best, speaking and listening are great, and she sounds like a Californian teenager) with middling grades (also kind of common among returnees). She's equivalent to a high school junior, so she would be applying in the fall. She is interested in studying musical theater, but doesn't really know what schools to look at, or much beyond the fact that she wants to go to school overseas. The school doesn't really have any support system for students applying to schools outside of Japan, so whatever I can do to help her out might end up being the only help she'll get here. This year she participated in a summer drama at Carnegie Mellon, and is a member of a theater troupe in Tokyo. She has said that she isn't interested in conservatory programs, she wants to be able to study other academic subjects in addition to musical theater, so she wouldn't be interested in a program like Carnegie Mellon, unfortunately.

What I'm looking for is ideas for where to apply, steps towards successful applications (as I said, I haven't done this in years, and don't know of any changes in the process since hte 90s) as well as what she needs to be aware of as a foreign student when it comes to applying for financial aid.

Any and all advice would be a huge help, thanks.
posted by Ghidorah to Education (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
She will need to study for and take the TOEFL exam and possibly the SAT or ACT.

There may be a performance aspect of her applications that she may need to prepare for.

Financial aid is rare for international students. The occasional exception may be at private schools, but it is unusual.

All universities will have websites with information about international applications.

She might want to contact some of her instructors at her summer program for university recommendations.
posted by k8t at 11:01 PM on January 15, 2017

You may be looking for a long time for "good financial aid for foreign students." That is not A Thing. Foreign students paying list prices in cash is what is propping up many American universities at the moment.
posted by spitbull at 4:02 AM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

The College Board search engine is a good place to start.

The forums at College Confidential need to be taken with a heaping teaspoon of salt, but there can be good information there.

She might also want to find a local Education USA center.
posted by oceano at 4:02 AM on January 16, 2017

Also for god sakes no one should *major* in "musical theater," unless they *are* in a conservatory program at one of about three institutions. Major in music (academic, not a performance degree) or even theater. But find a school with a lovely extra-curricular music theater scene in a real city.

But make sure your friend is clear that "musical theater" is not a career path for the vast majority of students who pursue it. If you aren't singing professionally by college, you aren't making it as a professional classical or MT singer in this day and age. It is a not-so-slowly dying business. And more competitive than pro sports with much less economic reward.

Only kids who come from money even have a shot, anyway.

UCLA might be a good bet. Good academic music and arts, robust theater and performance (and ancillary fields) city full of people dreaming of being actors, lots of fellow Japanese students around, not awful rack rate, and living in sunny southern California with a relatively short trip to Japan when necessary.

Source: I've been a music professor in NYC for 20 years. I see the dreamers come in and I watch them go out.
posted by spitbull at 4:08 AM on January 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

And please take "college confidential" with a grain of salt at best. It's worse than useless.
posted by spitbull at 4:12 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, on the chance she might be able to stay in Japan -- Tamagawa University has several American and American-educated members of its Music faculty and regular exchange opportunities centers on music (albeit Jazz and electronic music) with Columbia Univ. in NYC. Seems like an awesome school to me from the outside.
posted by spitbull at 4:20 AM on January 16, 2017

Unless there's something truly exceptional about her that she can sell to a wealthy private college who happens to really want a Japanese musical theatre student, she has basically no chance at financial aid from a school (and obviously none from the US or state government). She might want to research potential Japanese funding sources - e.g. if there's an alumni association for her chosen school they might provide funds for Japanese students? Or a US-Japanese friendship association might help - ideally one focused on the arts.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 4:59 AM on January 16, 2017

It occurs to me to recommend she have a look at Oberlin College.
posted by spitbull at 5:03 AM on January 16, 2017

Also Indiana University (Bloomington) and U Texas at Austin. If she's dead set on singing for a living she must go where there is a top notch vocal performance program.
posted by spitbull at 5:12 AM on January 16, 2017

Take a look at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 6:20 AM on January 16, 2017

100 percent Education USA. It's an official U.S. government program, they have offices all over Japan, and its sole purpose is to help Japanese students who want to study in the U.S. with no other agenda. They have seen everything, know everything, and are basically high school college counselors on steroids with insane intercultural competencies. Your U.S. tax dollars at work! (With great returns, because foreign students put about $30 billion into the U.S. economy each year.)
posted by whitewall at 6:41 AM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

She has said that she isn't interested in conservatory programs, she wants to be able to study other academic subjects in addition to musical theater, so she wouldn't be interested in a program like Carnegie Mellon, unfortunately.

I don't know if Japanese colleges are really single-subject focused or if your student was misunderstanding the summer program, but even if she goes to a full-on conservatory (like the Cleveland Institute of Music) designed to produce professional musicians she will still take classes in other subjects, and if she goes to a more general university like Carnegie-Mellon she will be a music major, where her music courses will only make up about 1/3 to 1/2 of her course load, she will be required to take and pass a whole set of "general knowledge" courses (like 2 semesters of math, 2 semesters of physical science, 4 semesters of gym/athletics, etc etc etc), and she will need to have a "minor" where she takes several courses in a subject other than music. So she shouldn't rule out conservatories or conservatory programs.

International Applicants page from the Cleveland Institute of Music, just to give you some idea of the requirements and process for attending a conservatory.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:05 AM on January 16, 2017

I have a friend who is a foreign student recruiter for Cal State, and she just so happens to be Japanese (now an American citizen). Pls. pm me and maybe we can hook them up.
posted by vignettist at 8:39 AM on January 17, 2017

Sorry this isn't exactly what she wants, but as others have mentioned foreign students are a cash crop for US universities these days. Aid is pretty much out of the question.

But on the positive side, a friend's daughter from Japan is in high school (Canada) and is spending all of her free time volunteering with local community theaters doing stuff like sets and lighting I think. Glee made her fall in love with musical theater.

I'd suggest your student consider a community college program somewhere where she would like to live and where she could work with some good local theater companies. Cheaper and maybe more flexible.
posted by Gotanda at 8:16 PM on January 18, 2017

This is my job, and I'm in Asia, at the very top of the field in the very large market in which I work. I have 15 years experience. I don't have endless time to spare, but if you want to MeMail me, I can try to help a bit.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:20 AM on January 19, 2017

Thanks for all of the helpful answers. I met with the student yesterday, and was trying pretty hard not to be the person who tells a bright your student "your goals are bad and should change them" but also trying to point out a lot of the advice you had given (I actually printed out the thread and went over some of the things, specifically suggestions of who to talk to and what schools to look at). She listened, she asked a lot of questions, and we're going to keep working on it. Once she has some clearer ideas of what she wants to try and do, we'll be getting in touch with the people who've offered help by memail. Thanks again for all the help and offers.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:04 AM on January 20, 2017

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