Foreign applicants

Do they bring diversity to enrich an education? Or are they frauds filling a university budget deficit?

This is the question a recent New York Times article seeks to answer. More foreign students than ever are applying to universities in the United States as 2011 draws to a close, particularly Chinese students. Universities face a new and horrifying dilemma – how to distinguish between worthy applicants and fake applicants. According to the article, many Universities are unable to do so, or even worse, don’t want to take the time.

When an international student applies to a US university, they will almost always pay the full tuition. For universities to whom federal funding is a primary source of support or have lost significant investments in the financial downturn, or are just having trouble filling a budget deficit, accepting these international students can be an attractive a break.

When students who are unable to speak coherent English are admitted to respectable universities in the United States, it becomes an exceptionally complicated issue, perhaps even more complex than the article dares to suggest. Although the universities get their money and the student gets their diploma, these are not the only parties involved. Apart from international students not being able to “get their money’s worth” in a demanding environment, other students lose out on the learning experience. Although international students bring a unique perspective, what good is that to English speakers if they can’t share it in English? Classes should require participation and cooperation among students to enhance an education. Sacrifices in the curriculum should not have to be made to accommodate students, yet classes should be fair and not discriminate against those without an American background – is there any other way?

The article isolates standardized tests, such as Toefl and the SAT, and “agents” who help prepare applications as huge sinks for the resources and effort on the part of international students. Some students spend mind-boggling sums of money on private tutoring, sometimes many thousands of dollars, for a perfect or near-perfect score or personal essay. Yet the ultimate goal – determining proficiency in English – isn’t appropriately assessed. I wouldn’t trade the international friends I have made in school for anyone, but if they couldn’t speak English, they probably wouldn’t be my friends. Is there any hope for change?

Unfortunately, no. The only hope for change is if universities are able to put aside their business mindset and hold both international students and domestic students to both higher academic standards regarding personal integrity. Unless US universities scrutinize each application, it’s not going to happen soon. Paying more people to carefully review scores of application essays isn’t very attractive, especially when most of these candidates are only too eager to pay full tuition? Where is the business sense in paying money to lose money, anyway?

F. Miller SAS ‘13

Bartlett, Tom and Karin Fischer. New York Times. November 3, 2011. New York, New York. Article available here. Last visited November 4, 2011.


  1. A related piece about the same article:


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