For domestic students, coming to Penn might be part of a family tradition or perhaps just a fluke. But for many international students, even coming to the United States for school often requires careful consideration.
“There are different motivations behind why international students may be drawn to the U.S.,” explained Wharton freshman and Swaziland native Makhosonkhe Nsibandze in an e-mail.
Such factors include “the region of the world from which they come, the types of schools they went to, career aspirations, as well as economic background.”
In Nsibandze’s case, he was most attracted to the American university’s “liberalism” that allows students to explore whichever academic and career endeavors they choose “until they make up their mind.”
“My counselor told me that if you don’t know what you want to be, go to the U.S., and if you do know what you want to be, the [United Kingdom] or South Africa would be a better bet,” he said. “Schools [here] are a lot more holistic in their approach to academic welfare.”
Engineering and Wharton junior Matteus Pan, who is from Malaysia, agreed. He mentioned that “the flexibility and the breadth of the education” were main motivations for him as well.
“I think the U.S. system is a much more creative system, too, that encourages critical and creative thinking and problem solving,” Pan said. “There are also vast research options available at the undergraduate level that are unavailable in Malaysia, or even in Australia or England.”
Sometimes, it is a desire to change their surroundings and broaden their perspectives that draws international students to the U.S.
Coming from a Korean high school with an emphasis on foreign languages, College freshman Seulgi Choi said she was enticed by the student body diversity of American universities.
“I thought it’d be better for me to study in a diverse environment,” Choi said, explaining that if she had gone to a Korean university, she would have been surrounded by Koreans in her classes.
“Everybody [at Penn] seems to have their different opinions — each person is so different,” she added.
But at the same time, she said, diversity at Penn also meant not sticking out: “Having come from a country that is 97 percent black, I did not want to go to a place where I would feel like too much of a minority,” he wrote.
Like domestic students, financial aid is frequently another important factor in the decision to attend an American university.
Latvian College junior Janis Kreilis wrote in an e-mail, “I knew that the higher education in Latvia could not offer me the quality (and challenges) I needed, so I knew since the age of 16-17 that I had to look for options abroad.”
As a result, he had to search for scholarships.
Penn is currently not need-blind for international students, so students must expect to be able to pay for their entire tuition if they do not receive financial aid from the school or from outside scholarships.
With the introduction of the Penn World Scholars program three years ago, five to ten international students each year have been able to receive financial assistance in addition to a mentorship from Penn alumni from their home countries.
Both Nsibandze and Kreilis are part of the program.
So is Engineering junior Roshan Rai — who was accepted after a series of fortunate events. Unlike schools in most of the major cities in India, Rai’s Northeast Indian village school was unable to provide him with good facilities. He took a two-year IB program scholarship from a United Kingdom charity, he learned about the PWS program during a visit from a director of international admissions and decided to apply.
Kreilis also first tackled covering application costs by winning a USAP competition in Latvia that helped cover various expenses like the SAT and TOEFL tests.
Yet for those not part of PWS or who are able to obtain scholarships elsewhere, Pan noted, it may be a difficult decision to come to the U.S.
Ultimately, all of the students found the educational opportunities to be worth the cost.
“Why Penn? Because it is an Ivy League university,” Nsibandze said. “It comes with a lot of international social capital which, unless one is born into it, cannot be easy to come by in Southern Africa.”
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