June 2013 issue

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Getting prepared

Providers of academic preparation programmes in the USA are responding to student demand by integrating more academic content with intensive English tuition. Bethan Norris reports.

There is no doubt that academic preparation courses in the USA are becoming a lot more challenging for students, with academic credit courses and extensive research papers as part of the programme now becoming the norm.

Tim Samuelson at BridgeEnglish in Denver, CO, notes that its advanced-level university preparation course was introduced as a direct result of student and agent feedback. “Students felt that the amount of work outside the classroom, especially reading, was a shock during their first semester at university. Therefore we modified the syllabus to include additional required outside reading and research. We have also increased the number of required essays during the preparation course to more accurately reflect a university level composition course.”

BridgeEnglish is not the only academic preparation provider in the USA to lean towards more academic integration with intensive English tuition in this way. Brianna Webb at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA, says that they spoke to past students and college instructors to find out what students found particularly challenging when embarking on a college course. “As a result we have included more of a focus on reading and writing, culminating in an eight-to-10 page research paper using academic library sources,” she says. “Students find this assignment challenging but highly rewarding and have told us that, after accomplishing it, they feel prepared to take the step to college courses. We have also refined our listening and speaking curriculum. The culminating project in listening and speaking is for each student to lead a 50-minute seminar discussion among their peers. Again, the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive.”

For many students, however, English exam preparation needs to be an important part of the academic preparation mix and Ielts, Toefl and Cambridge exam preparation classes are all popular with international students intending to go on to further studies in the USA. Teresa Neale at CISL in San Diego, CA, says, “Toefl is popular among all nationalities for those who want to attend a US college, but Cambridge is typically only needed by Europeans – especially Swiss students. Our Ielts course was almost exclusively Saudi students [due to] the Saudi government scholarships for university study in the USA preceded by ESL study.”

At BridgeEnglish, students receive daily instruction in Ielts preparation, according to Samuelson. “The students take regular practice exams encompassing all four areas of the exam and some enrol in the one-week (12-hour) Ielts preparation course the week that they are scheduled to take the exam. Gmat, GRE and Toefl preparation courses are also available through private instruction,” he notes.

Megan McNulty from St Giles International in San Francisco, CA says that they offer Cambridge and Toefl preparation at the school, as well as an academic English class in the mornings and academic English electives such as writing and vocabulary in the afternoons. She has noticed increased demand for academic courses from students at lower levels. “It is important that students feel like they are moving in the academic direction. For example, if their eventual goal is to go on to university, they want to be moving towards that goal now. Sometimes General English doesn’t seem serious enough for them.”

However, while students may be looking to pick up a good English language exam score as part of their preparation course, waiver agreements between preparation course providers and universities/colleges in the USA are a key attraction and often the point of attending a preparation course in the first place. Neale says, “We have some Toefl waiver agreements and MOUs with different colleges for our students, given that they reach a certain level in our courses.”

Samuelson says that they have recently focussed on expanding their network of universities that offer conditional and/or Toefl/Ielts waiver for Bridge graduates. “These agreements have helped attract students through direct enquiries as well as through our agent partners,” he says, adding that they are currently finalising a new Early Start programme between BridgeEnglish and Chadron State College in Nebraska. “This programme will provide the opportunity for advanced level students to enrol on university credit courses on the Bridge campus while concurrently completing English language preparation,” he says.

Webb points out that their academic English preparation programmes offer students conditional admission to Diablo Valley College – which is “the number one transfer community college to UC Berkeley” – without the need for a Toefl score. And courses that also include academic credit courses are a noticeable trend for the academic preparation sector. Webb says that their academic bridge programme, which consists of two academic classes that offer university transfer credits and requires students to submit an English proficiency test score on application, has seen the most growth in popularity recently.

A selection of academic preparation courses in the USA

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