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ESL Programs
Choosing the Right English Language Program

There are hundreds of English language (ESL) programs to choose from. To select the "right" program, you should do a careful search based on criteria that are important to you. You should start this process approximately six months prior to the time that you wish to enter the program.

Your Search
First, you should check and see if there is a U.S. Advising Center or Fulbright Office near you. Usually, these offices will have resource libraries where you can search for information on ESL programs as well as information on undergraduate and graduate degree programs. You will have access to resource books, information sessions, promotional videos, and sometimes, computer-based information.

If you have access to the Internet, you can do a keyword search: intensive English, ESL, U.S. universities, and English language. Remember, in the United States, the words "college" and "university" mean the same thing. They both offer university degrees, and many of them also offer intensive English programs. Likewise, if you choose to attend a private language school rather than a university ESL program, you are likely to get a very similar program.

How to Choose
There are many factors that might be important to you as you search for the "right" program. Here are a few things that you might want to think about:

  • Location
  • University course or private language school
  • Size of the school and classes
  • Cost of program and living expenses

Availability of Housing
Location can mean where it is in the United States but it can also mean what kind of environment (small town, suburb or city) the school is located in. Location can also affect things like weather, the availability of public transportation and the cost of living. Other important factors might be the availability of housing, access to international student services, and the size of the classes. You should have some assurance before you leave for the U.S. that you have a place to live when you arrive.

Will you be living on-campus or off-campus?
Will you be in an apartment or a dormitory?
How close will your residence be to the grocery store, and where will you do your laundry?

It is recommended that you come up with a list of 5-10 ESL programs that seem to match your needs.

Making the Contact
Now that you have a short list of ESL programs, you need to contact these schools. You should ask for ESL program information, details about the campus, and an application for admission to the intensive English program. Some schools will also offer a way to request information through their website.

Making the Choice
After receiving the information, you should take some time to again think about what factors are important to you as you make a choice; location, environment, cost, class size, and class offerings. Because of the cost involved in applying to colleges and universities in the U.S., it is recommended that you reduce your list to 3-5 schools. Complete the applications for the schools on your "short list" and submit them with all required documents. Each school may ask for different information or documentation, so read the application carefully. As part of the application process to a U.S. college, university or ESL program, you must show verification of financial support for at least the first year. This amount varies from school to school and also depends on how long you plan to study. Please keep in mind that most schools do not offer financial assistance to students studying intensive English.

After receiving an admission letter and an immigration form from the school of your choice, you are ready to go to the U.S. consulate or Embassy for your student visa interview. Once you have your visa you are on your way: Good Luck!

Editorial provided by Jim Crawly, Associate Director for the International Recruitment of Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

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