Applying To American Universities

There appears to be much confusion within Myanmar about the process of applying to American universities and colleges. So, I would like to offer some guidance. American universities and colleges usually require a high school diploma, SAT or ACT scores, TOEFL or IELTS scores, letters of reference, an essay and an application fee. Supplying all this information does not guarantee admission. It merely guarantees consideration. Admission will depend on your grades in school, your test results, the quality of your essay, and often times what extracurricular activities (what you do when you are not attending school and are not studying) you have been engaged in. The more selective a university or college, the more difficult it will be to gain admission. You should read carefully the Admissions webpage of any prospective American university or college to determine specific requirements, to gauge your chance of being accepted, and to find the application deadline.

Satisfying the requirement of a high school diploma in Myanmar is a challenge for a Basic Education High School Examination/Matriculation from a Myanmar government secondary school is usually not sufficient. This is because American universities and colleges generally require 12 years of primary and secondary education.  Although American universities and colleges can each accept a few students with a Basic Education High School Examination/Matriculation from a Myanmar government secondary school on an experimental basis, the universities and colleges that do tend not to be among the best institutions, such students tend to be disadvantaged when being considered for scholarships and such students tend to have greater difficulty adjusting the American higher education.  There are several ways that a Myanmar student can overcome this problem. They can pass an American high school equivalency test (e.g., GED). They can enroll in a private high school and complete two additional years of study. Depending on the degree program they hope to pursue, they may also be able to earn a vocational qualification (e.g., an HND).  However, the opportunities for pursuing a university education after earning a HND are extremely limited.

The types of American universities and colleges vary considerably. There are research universities that offer bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees, which have faculty members that undertake extensive research. They tend to be large institutions, with excellent facilities. Many are private nonprofit universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford and many are public universities such as the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and the University of California – Berkeley. There are comprehensive universities that usually offer bachelors, masters, and Doctor of Education degrees, and focus primarily on teaching. They tend to be more moderate in size, and many have fine facilities. Most are public universities such as James Madison University, California State University – Fresno, and Western Illinois University. There are liberal arts colleges that offer bachelors and sometimes masters degrees. They focus on undergraduate teaching rooted in the liberal arts. Most are private and nonprofit such as Swarthmore, Amherst, and Reed. There are private for-profit universities and colleges that award diplomas, bachelors and sometimes MBA degrees. These institutions focus on vocational education and include Ashford University, Strayer University, and Kaplan University. There are private nonprofit junior colleges that award Associate of Arts degrees, and include Lincoln College, Fischer College, and Santa Monica College. Graduates often transfer into the third year of universities and colleges that award bachelor’s degrees. There are also public community colleges that award Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. They tend to focus on vocational education, but often also offer academic education. Such institutions often have articulation agreements with public universities that facilitate the admission of their graduates to the public universities. The tuition prices at American universities and colleges vary greatly, and few offer scholarships to international students.

Determining the difference in quality between universities and colleges in the United States is difficult.  US News & World Report publishes a ranking of American universities and colleges. You can access some of its findings on-line.  There are also organizations that rank universities and colleges world-wide.  These include: ARWU, Times Higher Education, and QS. Please note that these rankings heavily favor large research universities, and consequently many very fine US liberal arts colleges and French Grand Ecoles are not listed.

Myanmar students interested in pursuing higher education in the United States should carefully consider the type of institution they wish to attend, the course of study they wish to pursue, the geographic location of the institution, the cost of the institution, and the institution’s quality. Choosing where to pursue your higher education is one of the most important decisions you can make in your life. You should consider the options carefully.

Professor Craig Evan Klafter