With the selection process over for the 2014-2015 school year January Term abroad courses, students may be left wondering exactly how these admission decisions are made.
While the paper application, essay, and 2.75 GPA minimum are important aspects, it is the interview that is a major deciding factor.
“All study abroad applicants, whether they are applying for a semester or January Term abroad course, are interviewed by faculty,” said Dr. Shaik Ismail, director of international programs. “It is the faculty that gives us the recommendation, and that’s when we move forward with accepting a student or putting them on the waitlist, and so on.”
“When the faculty recommends a student, that’s the final decision. [IPO] does not override the faculty,” Ismail said.
Professors look for indications of a student’s maturity and compatibility with the individual course, says English professor Lex Runciman.
Runciman will teach a creative writing course in the United Kingdom next January Term.
“The people who are willing to commit to the entirety of the experience will do well. It’s an immersive experience, in terms of the courses I’ve been on, and that’s its attraction and value,” Runciman said.
The English professor also recommended that students apply for a January Term course if they are truly interested in the subject matter and not in simply traveling.
“If a student isn’t really interested in the course, they just want to go someplace and the UK looks interesting, that’s probably not enough for me to want to take them on the course,” Runciman said.
Although faculty can take many different approaches to their interviews, Ismail suggested a general outline.
“I think generally the focus is on if the student has adequate knowledge of the subject matter, of the theme that’s being discussed. You know, ‘does this student know about environmental economics in Australia?’” Ismail said.
The IPO director advised students to research the countries of the class for which they are interviewing, such as finding out the major cities and relations between the selected country and the United States.
“One other thing I know faculty look for is evidence of team building. You have a group of 10, 12, or 14 students who will be eating together, traveling together, living together for four weeks in close quarters,” Ismail said.
Ismail stressed the importance of a student’s ability to collaborate, and urged students to be prepared for this criterion.
“For a service course in, say, Guatemala, in a Habitat for Humanity project, you will be working together. You’re handing bricks to another person, and that person is coming with a hammer. You have to be able to give and take, look out for each other, and be respectful of each other,” Ismail said.
More commonly discussed topics, such as commitment to the course’s objectives, are not the only characteristics professors consider, according to Runciman.
“I’ll ask people about their drinking habits because the drinking laws in the UK are different from the drinking laws in the U.S. That’s a question that needs to be asked and addressed so that we all go to the UK with the same set of understandings on how that’s going to work,” Runciman said.
The brief, 20-minute interview may feel like too short of a time for faculty to truly asses a student’s potential, and the other parts of the application can help compensate for this.
“I read all the essays,” Ismail said. “From the essay you can tell about motivation, you can tell about knowledge of the country, you can tell about lots of things. It gives an indication of who that person is before they come for the interview,” Ismail said.
The interview is a critical piece of the study abroad application, but it is not the only important part, and students who were waitlisted can take this into consideration for the next time they apply.
Helen Lee can be reached at