My name is Amanda Chiarot and I’m a senior associate director of admissions at Binghamton University State University New York. Binghamton (SUNY) is a public university located on the border of Pennsylvania and New York. It’s a 5-hour drive from Toronto and Montreal and 3 hours due South of Kingston. We’re a mid-sized R1 research university known for our safe campus, state of the art facilities, and strong connections with industry.
I’ve had the pleasure to speak with various high school counselors in Canada and thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of what Canadian counselors may want to keep in mind about opportunities at universities in the United States. I’ve taken some of the questions I’ve been asked (and some that I wish I was asked) in the past and provided the answers. The key message that I hope you take away from this is that admissions counselors in the United States are a phone call or email away and we’re happy to answer any sort of question you have about the application process or study opportunities.
What makes the United States a good option for some students?
There are some great reasons to study in the United States that make it worthwhile to expand the college search below the southern border:
Research Investment – The United States puts a priority in research and development and that starts in our educational system. Looking at the number of researchers per capita and overall expenditures, the United States is unparalleled in its research activity and investment (OECD.org). Universities across the country have research programs at the undergraduate level that are meant to prepare students whether they intend to seek a research profession or not. Research and innovation are skills that are also highly valued by American companies. Students that are able to use research methods, analysis, project management, inventory and other skills used in the laboratory or research environment, have marketable skills for internships and permanent placements in most workplaces.
Overall Value and Investment – Investment in a university degree is substantial and a large part of the value in that degree can be realized by keeping the costs at a minimum and receiving the necessary support to achieve success. Two great indicators of value are first-year retention rates and average time to degree. Many schools in both the U.S. and Canada track their first-year student retention rates as well as 4-year, 6-year, or 8-year graduation rates. Many of the top 100 U.S. News and World Report schools have excellent retention and graduation rates. For instance, Binghamton University has a first-year retention rate of 92% (national average is 62% US, 69% Canada) due to our high investment in student success through mentoring, tutoring, a writing center and peer advising. We also are very proud of our four-year graduation rate of 73% (national average is 36% U.S. 35.8% Canada). Based on the average costs of Canadian and U.S. tuitions plus scholarships that would be available to students seeking U.S. degrees, Canadians cand find significant cost savings and value in a university that is ready to invest in their success whether the institution is in Canada or the United States.
Athletics – College athletics in the United States has a huge draw for any aspiring athlete. Although Division 1 athletics tends to be the most exclusive experience in college athletics, many other universities offer scholarships for athletes competing in other divisions. Speaking from my experience at Binghamton University (Division 1), students interested in pursuing athletics need to make sure they’re cognizant of the eligibility process to compete as well as the college admissions process; it’s therefore important to work with both the athletics department as well as admissions.
International Relationships and Business – The United States and Canada have a unique and unparalleled relationship. Each country brings its strengths to the table to address social, economic and environmental issues crucial to the success of our continent as well as the world. Industry in both countries benefit from the symbiotic trade relationship. Students aspiring to make a substantial impact in politics or business will benefit from creating connections and networks within the United States. Obtaining a degree from an institution on the other side of the border is a great way to create in-roads toward either political or business cooperation.
How do United States universities evaluate applications from Canadian high schools?
The main thing to remember is that each university is a little different. While there isn’t one standard review method, we do all review applicants in a highly contextualized manner. If you’ve talked to U.S. institutions in the past, you’ve probably heard the H-word thrown around a lot and get a bit confused as to what that means. I’ve decided not to use that word here. Barring our overused vocabulary word, I do have a few tips that I think may be helpful for counselors looking to understand how American universities assess applications:
Acceptable Curricula – In general, the public school, academic CÉGEP and IB curricula meet the academic requirements for university admission. If the student has taken a different path than what’s listed above, check the curricular requirements on the university website or contact admissions directly.
Grade Conversion – One of the most important responsibilities of the high school counselor is to provide the official transcripts to the university. Each university has its own way of converting international grades in order to evaluate the academic accomplishment of the student. Ambitious counselors or applicants could estimate the grade conversion using the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and World Education Services (WES) which are two of the most popular conversion resources used by universities in the United States. If there is a concern about the competitiveness of your student, feel free to connect with a counselor to better understand the academic profile as it relates to your school’s grading scale.
Recommendations – Many counselors I talk to have also expressed anxiety about writing recommendations. A rated review of the student through the application or a one-page letter does help us to better understand the ability of an applicant. However, many of the best recommendations I’ve seen include input from teachers of key courses within the student’s interests. For example, if the student is interested in engineering, it’s nice to hear that the math teacher says the student is very engaging in class and tends to put in the extra work. This is also the place where counselors can provide context of the learning environment and reflect concepts that can’t be seen in the grades alone.
Activities – It’s important for an applicant to demonstrate they’re active both inside the classroom and out. It’s nice to see when a student has taken the time to develop a talent that they will be able to share on our campus. We look not only for academic competence but students who will actively participate in the classroom and community. Encourage your students to record activities that will demonstrate their commitment to personal development.
What is the question U.S. university admissions counselors wish they were asked by Canadian high school counselors?
Anything! We completely understand how difficult it can be to try to navigate an unfamiliar system. Admissions counselors enjoy having the opportunity to talk about students and help counselors seeking guidance on issues like application process, Common Application questions, recommendation requirements and college essay tips. We look to set up workshops for application completion, parent and student briefings, small topic-specific seminars or 1:1 appointments with students who may need to talk through their options.
Bottom line, it is our hope to provide answers about our admissions requirements and processes, but we are also hoping to build relationships with our colleagues in high schools around the globe.
As you begin another school year, I wish you well and thank you for your support of students aspiring to further study. Please stay safe and healthy and remember: Your U.S. counterparts are here to help you with your admissions questions.