E2 Talk – Interview Maria from ISHCMC: Understand keys of the US college system

There is no doubt that the U.S. has a really complex college and university system.  As a result, many parents are confused when they choose schools for their children’s higher education abroad.

In order to provide parents with necessary information about that topic, we’re privileged to have Maria Bibler – a guidance counselor at the International School Ho Chi Minh City – American Academy (ISHCMC), joining us and sharing years of experience with the team.

Before that, Maria was the guidance counselor at Singapore International School in Mumbai, India.  Also, she used to be the Admissions Officer at Ohio State University.  As a result, Maria has many experiences in helping students from all over Asia get into American colleges.

The interview revolves around the college system in the U.S and how it’s different from other countries’ systems.

Below is our interview and a transcript that has been edited for clarity.

Tony: Hi Maria, we’d love to help our students understand a little bit more about the college system in the U.S.  Can you please share some of your thoughts on this topic?

Maria: Yes, of course.  Having many options to choose from can be beneficial and challenging at the same time.  In my opinion, having lots of options and lots of flexibility is one of the hallmarks of the U.S. education system.  There are about 4,000 accredited colleges and universities in America which are classified into different types of schools, such as private and public, large and small,…

Tony: Here is another common question that I get a lot from Vietnamese parents: “How do I choose the school for my kids?”  In Vietnam, the universities are classified into specific majors, such as University of Economics, University of Banking, University of Foreign Trade, etc.  In the U.S, on the other hand, the system is obviously different. How do you advise them on choosing the school?

Maria: There is a common confusion between universities and colleges.  I think most of the world generally follow the pattern of the U.K system, in which a student gets a specific degree when he/she goes to college.  Whereas in the U.S, a college isn’t necessarily associated with a specific degree. The American system is set up very differently in which one university consists of several colleges.  A college is a smaller institution that typically offers undergraduate degrees. While a university is an institution that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees.

On the contrary, if you’re a part of an American university, you’re able to take classes in different colleges.  For example, if you’re in the College of Arts and Sciences, you can still take a class in the College of Engineering or the College of Humanities.  The system is so flexible that students can get some change if they want to. I think that’s a really big difference.

Tony: We’ve worked with many students whose parents want them to pick the major from the beginning.  And that’s almost opposite to the U.S system in which students are encouraged to explore the multidisciplinary education.  It’s amazing that you figure out the major you’d like to pursue in the freshman year. However, some students wait until the end of their sophomore year before they declare a major.

Maria: I didn’t even officially declare my own major until I was a junior.  To be honest, I took several classes that I wanted. Eventually, they ended up becoming my degrees.  In the beginning, I just wanted to explore. But the more I joined those classes, the more I realized that they were the majors I wanted to keep pursuing.

Tony: Well, my younger brother changed his major about 5 times.  But now he’s really happy because he has a broad base of education.

Maria: I believe that’s the real beauty of the U.S higher education which attracts a lot of students from all around the world.

To be continued…


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