After changes to study abroad application, process runs smoothly

On Dec. 5, sophomore students submitted their study away applications to the Macalester International Center. Over J-term, the Study Away Review Committee (SARC) reviewed these applications and sent out decisions. By the beginning of Spring semester, the majority of sophomores had firm plans for their study away experiences.

The earlier application deadline is one of many new changes to the study away application process. The call for an earlier deadline came from issues raised last year, when members of the Class of 2016 were forced to change their study away semesters late in Spring 2014. This affected both students’ academic and off-campus housing commitments.

Other changes to the study away application process included an overhaul on study away learning outcomes and essay prompts.

Early last year, SARC+, a special group convened by the Dean of the IGC and composed of Macalester faculty, met to develop a new set of learning outcomes.

SARC+ aimed to better align college-wide goals with study away programming. The IGC created new learning goals better aligned with these institutional goals, including: Intellectual Independence & Pathways, Self-Awareness and Integration. To be approved to go abroad, applicants must address how their study away experience will reflect each of these goals.

International Center Director Kevin Morrison said that these goals will better equip students to integrate their semester away with their four years at Macalester and their post-grad plans.

“What we really wanted to do was to find ways for students to think of the study away experience as a piece of a bigger puzzle,” Morrison said.

The International Center staff recommends that students consider all aspects of their undergraduate education that they hope to integrate while abroad: civic engagement, internships, specific courses or language learning.

Meghan Storlie ’17 encountered difficulty when applying through the new essay format. Storlie was forced to appeal when she was denied from study away at NTU.

“I was given the wrong impression that my Educational Goals essay and my Exchange essay wouldn’t be very important in the selection process. Because of this, I didn’t put very much time or effort into these essays and my incomplete responses are why I was denied,” Storlie said.

However, her denied application was no fault of the earlier deadline.

“The earlier deadline seemed to spur me to action. I think it got me preparing and looking at programs and classes for next year instead of just procrastinating and putting it off,” Storlie said.

Approved List

One of the largest revisions to the study away process was the creation of the “Approved List.”

Previously, Macalester had a list of recommended programs, but students also had the option to explore other choices. Now, students are strongly encouraged to apply to programs on the approved list. If they choose a program not on the list, they must select a program off of the approved list as a back-up.

The Approved List was created in collaboration with the International Center staff, SARC+, student evaluations of programs and faculty and departmental input.

“What I like is that everyone wants to be involved,” Morrison said. “It’s so much nicer to have people who have an investment in the process and I really appreciate that.”

Macalester students studying away in the 2014-15 academic year enrolled in over 140 different programs. The Approved List contains around 93.

Morrison considers the creation of the Approved List a success.

“I think we did a very good job representing the vast majority of students’ needs and interests. That being said, we knew we couldn’t accommodate all interests so we do have a process for students to still apply to not approved programs,” Morrison said.

Morrison points to further successes in the new application process; the International Center saw an increase in applications this year. For the 2015-16 academic year, 377 students applied to study away. Some of these students were required to switch from a non-approved to an approved program.

“From our perspective, it was successful. The vast majority of students applied for programs on the approved list and the few that were looking for something really unique and special that wasn’t on the approved list, some of those were approved as well,” Morrison said.

Aidan Cowan ’17 was one of the students forced to switch programs. He crafted an application that outlined his specific reasons for choosing a non-approved program in Costa Rica. However, SARC decided that he could meet his educational goals just as well in Copenhagen on the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) program.

While Cowan felt “pretty bummed” to receive this decision, he decided not to appeal. Cowan notes that both the application process and information from the International Center were well communicated to him. If he could change anything, he would have spent less time focusing on his essay convincing the committee to let him study away in Costa Rica. Overall, he is happy with the outcome of his application experience.

“The DIS program is great and I’m glad that I will be studying abroad,” Cowan said.

Similarly, Cowan found that the earlier deadline had no negative impact on his off-campus housing decisions. Switching programs similarly had no large repercussions for Cowan.

“I was able to work out everything as far as major plans and requirements,” Cowan said.

Looking Forward

With the sophomore class approved to study away, the International Center is now focusing on preparing current first years for their application process. Since the deadline to study away falls a semester earlier, students must begin considering their options during their first year.

There are a number of ways for first years to jump start their study away process. Many study away providers will be on campus this spring, so students will have the opportunity to talk to different programs.

Morrison encourages first years to talk with returning students to gather first-hand information. Developing a four year plan and thinking about different majors are important first steps for students to be successful when they apply to study away.

“The students who had the hardest time with the application process were the students who hadn’t thought through yet where they wanted to be academically at Macalester,” Morrison said.

First years can visit the IC website to learn more about the new study away application process.