Campus Visit: Princeton University, Princeton NJ

Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist. John Nash, mathematician. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google. Just three names out of countless notable individuals who graduated from, acted as faculty members at, or were closely associated with, Princeton University.

Walking on campus and visiting its key sites, one gets a distinct sense that Princeton University is a place of consequence. Its heritage buildings – exquisite pieces of Gothic architecture – help establish Princeton’s reputation in a visitor’s mind. Blair Hall, Firestrone Library, McCarter Theatre, Nassau Hall and the University Chapel are just a few outstanding structures that cannot be missed. A number of abstract sculptures, spread around the campus, provide an aesthetic connection between its distant past and its dynamic present.

English: Nassau Hall, Princeton University, NJ

English: Nassau Hall, Princeton University, NJ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Established in 1746, Princeton is a private research post-secondary institution, currently with a smaller overall enrolment than most other Ivy League universities (about 7,600 students). At the same time, it has the largest per-student university endowment in the world (some US$ 17 billion, in total). Despite its motto – Dei sub numine viget (Under God’s power she flourishes), a legacy of its Presbyterian origins – Princeton in an organization built on secular and liberal principles. 

It is not a university offering a broad range of research and doctoral programs, such as schools of medicine, business or law. Princeton’s focus, instead, is primarily on social sciences, the humanities, natural sciences and engineering. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, expectations are high relating to students’ research-based, independent work. All Bachelor of Arts students must complete a senior thesis and all Bachelor of Science in Engineering must complete at least two terms of independent research.

The estimated cost of attendance for undergraduates in 2012-2013 is around US$ 55,000! The university provides a break-down of that figure as follows: tuition $38,650, room charge $6,950; board rate $5,680; and estimated miscellaneous expenses $3,500. “The room charge and board rate are standard for University dormitories and meal plans.  Estimated miscellaneous expenses include the residential college fee, activities fees, class dues and a one-time transcript fee.  […] This estimate does not include the cost of travel, which may range between $100 and $2,500. Students who are not covered by a family health insurance policy must purchase Student Health Plan coverage for $1,850. University charges are likely to increase modestly for 2013-14.”

Princeton provides financial aid to students in need, based on their family circumstances. An “estimator” tool is made available on the university website, designed for U.S. and Canadian applicants. The administration “encourage[s] all qualified applicants to consider Princeton, regardless of whether they can afford the full cost of attending.” The admission process is “need blind” and the university financial aid is based solely on financial need, not on scholarly merit. In addition to university grants and external scholarships, students can also apply for part-time campus jobs. (For example, a student whose gross family is between $80,000 and $100,000 a year may still receive an average grant of $43,650, covering the full tuition and 40% or room and board).

For potential applicants or simply individuals interested in visiting one of America’s oldest universities, Princeton organizes campus tours, year-round, seven days a week. Reservations are not required for groups under 15 people, but the timing and the number of daily tours vary depending on the month of the year. For up-to-date information visitors are encouraged to check the university website, which also provides suggestions on campus parking. Access to information offices may be limited during the summer months, as a smaller number of staff are present. A number of campus areas, including public and residential buildings, seem to be poorly accessible to disabled people.

MedHopeful: Entertainment and Advice for Budding Physicians

I recently came across a blog for students interested in medical school and the admission process. The blog is written by two University of Toronto medical students (Joshua Liu and Shelly Luu) and features a step-by-step guide to learning about Canadian medical schools and how to get in: “What is medical school? How long does it take to become a doctor? What university courses do I need? What is the MCAT? What extra curriculars should I do? How do I apply for medical school?”

The “Get Started” section of the blog is divided into five series:

(1) Premed basics: Learn the path to becoming a doctor and the basics of applying to medical school; (2) University applications: An introduction to selecting your university program and courses; (3) GPA, MCAT & ECs: Everything you need to know about GPA, the MCAT, and building a strong resume; (4) Application process: Learn all about essays, reference letters and interviews; and (5) Results: Accepted? Waitlisted? Rejected? Get some advice on what to do next.

Recent bog posts include: “The 7 Traits Medical Schools are Looking for in Applicants” and “10 Things I Would Tell My 1st Year Undergrad Self.” Overall, this is an excellent place to start for all potential applicants to Canadian medical schools. Its many resources on admissions, scholarships, undergraduate life or health care in general make a must-see for aspiring physicians.

Canada Strengthens Integrity of its International Student Program

The following are excerpts from the Canada Gazette (Vol. 146, No. 26), Part I, June 30, 2012. Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) requests written comments from all interested parties on a proposal to introduce new requirements and conditions for foreign nationals who seek to study in Canada:

“The proposed regulatory amendments are intended to ensure that foreign nationals who obtain study permits enter Canada for the primary purpose of study. CIC seeks to deter foreign nationals from applying for a study permit if their intentions are disingenuous, and prevent foreign nationals from remaining legally in Canada on a study permit should they abandon their studies. These measures are also intended to ensure foreign nationals who hold study permits are studying at educational institutions eligible to host international students.

“These regulatory amendments would support the Government of Canada in improving the integrity of Canada’s immigration system, enhance accountability both to international students and Canadians, and improve Canada’s reputation as a destination of choice for studies abroad.

“Compared to its key competitors for international students, Canada is the only country that has not put in place an International Student Program integrity framework that requires international students to pursue study after entry, and that limits the types of educational institutions that are eligible to host international students.

“The number of international students choosing Canada as a study destination has been on the rise in recent years. In 2011, 98,378 international students entered Canada, an increase of 34% since 2007. A 2010 study commissioned by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada found international students contributed more than $6.5 billion to the Canadian economy in 2008.

“Despite these successes, the International Student Program continues to be vulnerable to fraud and abuse from those who would exploit either study permit holders or the program itself for personal gain. An evaluation of the International Student Program released by CIC in 2010 concluded that gaps in the Department’s regulatory and policy framework leave the International Student Program vulnerable to potential misuse.

“Currently, study permits can be issued to students attending any type of educational institution, regardless of whether it is accredited, or regulated or overseen by a provincial/territorial ministry of education, or accountable to a recognized standard-setting body. As a result, the educational institutions that currently host international students vary widely in terms of quality and accountability.

“In some cases, these institutions take advantage of international students by offering sub-par education, or promise courses or programs of study that they are unauthorized or unequipped to deliver. Such activities hurt Canada’s international reputation amongst prospective international students and may discourage them from choosing Canada as their destination for studies abroad.

“Under current regulations, study permit holders are not required to pursue study after they arrive in Canada. While foreign nationals must meet certain regulatory requirements in order to be eligible for a study permit, a prospective international student must only demonstrate the intent to study in Canada. In other words, there is no requirement for international students to actually enrol in or pursue a program of study at a Canadian educational institution after arrival.

“Those foreign nationals who hold a valid study permit but who fail to enrol or pursue their course of study cannot therefore be reported under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and can remain legally in Canada until the expiration of their study permit. Additionally, while current regulations allow genuine students to access limited work opportunities during studies under international student work permit programs (On-Campus, Off-Campus and Co-op/Internship Programs), in some cases, disingenuous study permit holders use their study permit as a primary means to gain full access to the Canadian labour market. Further, some study permit holders in Canada who fail to study after arrival in Canada may have more unscrupulous intentions, including engaging in illegal work and/or criminal activity.

“The purpose of this Notice of Intent is to signal an intention to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations for the purpose of ensuring that study permit holders are genuine students who will study in Canada and that they are attending educational institutions that are eligible for this purpose. The goal is to strengthen the integrity of Canada’s immigration system by reducing fraud in the international student movement, while improving Canada’s standing as a desirable study destination.

“A new regulatory requirement is proposed that would limit the issuance of study permits to educational institutions eligible to host international students. CIC is working in collaboration with provinces and territories, respecting areas that fall under their jurisdiction, on a proposed approach that would guide the eligibility of educational institutions for the purpose of hosting international students.

“Additionally, new study permit conditions would be put in place requiring students to enrol in and actively pursue a course or program of study after arrival in Canada. The current provision that allows a foreign national to apply for a study permit for programs of less than six months would be eliminated in order to ensure that study permit holders only pursue studies at eligible institutions. Foreign nationals may, however, continue to enter Canada as visitors for the purpose of undertaking programs of study of less than six months in duration.

“Foreign nationals who wish to apply for a study permit to attend an authorized school after they have entered Canada as a visitor would be authorized to apply for a study permit from within Canada in order to reduce barriers to study in Canada and facilitate pathways to further education.

“Access by international students to work permits will be limited to eligible study permit holders, and these work permits would be limited to work permit programs specifically designed for international students (such as the Off-Campus Work Permit Program and the Co-op/Internship Work Permit Program). Eligible study permit holders who want to take part in these programs would need to be in compliance with the conditions of their study permit in order to qualify for a work permit, and to maintain its validity.

“These regulatory changes will provide CIC and CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] officers with the clear authority to take enforcement action against a foreign national who fails to actively pursue studies at an authorized educational institution after arrival in Canada, potentially leading to the loss of their temporary resident status and revocation of their study permit.

Canada Border Services Agency

Canada Border Services Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“This Notice of Intent is an opportunity for the public to provide early comments and input into the proposed regulatory amendments described above, before the regulations are prepublished in the Canada Gazette. The prepublication process will provide an additional opportunity for public consultation on the proposed regulations.

“Additional public consultations with key stakeholders on a proposed approach to the designation of educational institutions for the purpose of hosting international students will take place later this year.

“Anyone (including immigration lawyers, stakeholders, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, interested groups, and the general public) may, within 30 days of this notice [June 30, 2012], provide their comments on this Notice of Intent, in writing, to the person named below at the address provided.

“Questions and requests for additional information, as well as comments on this Notice of Intent, may be directed to Philippe Massé, Director, Temporary Resident Policy and Programs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 365 Laurier Avenue W, 8th Floor, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1, 613-957-0001 (telephone), 613-954-0850 (fax), (email).”

The Benefits of an International Education Strategy for Canada

Canada is increasingly interested lately in attracting international students and in promoting the many advantages of a Canadian post-secondary education. A recent news story indicates that Canada’s federal government is developing a new international education strategy for the country.

The Globe and Mail argues that “international students represent an economic bonanza worth tens of billions of dollars to countries like the United States, Britain and Australia. They were the first countries to really take advantage of this market. Canada, although late to the party, has made up significant ground in a short period of time.” The author (Gary Mason) points out that Canada will face stiff competition in attracting international students not just from other Western countries, but also from new emerging economies such as China and India.

Some of the figures provided in Gary Mason’s piece are definitely worth pondering about: in 2011, India increased higher education spending by 30 per cent; China aims to enroll half a million students in post-secondary programs by 2020, twice the current number; Brazil will spend two billion dollars over the next four years to allow its students to attend exchange programs in other countries.

In a related development, no fewer than sixteen Canadian universities will send representatives to a professional event in Beijing, called PhD Workshop China (November 24-25, 2012). They will present their graduate programs and recruit top Chinese students to study in Canada. Nine other countries will send representatives as well (Australia, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Singapore, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Canada will have the second largest institutional representation – after Germany, which will be present with 26 universities.

According to the organizers, the event “provides leading overseas graduate schools a focused opportunity to meet top graduates from the most important colleges and universities across China.” PhD Workshop China 2011 attracted 160 delegates from 85 universities across the globe, including Canada. Last year, about 1,300 pre-registered students from 29 provinces throughout China attended meetings and interviews with overseas delegates, professors and admission officers.

74 per cent of these students were Master’s level students, while 14 per cent were doctoral candidates. The top 10 areas of PhD study were:  Materials Science; Chemistry/ Chemical Engineering; Life Sciences; Accounting/ Banking/ Economics/ Finance; Biology/ Biotechnology; Computer Science and Technology; Geosciences/ Earth Science; Law and Legal Studies; Electronics and Automatic Control; and Linguistics/ Languages/ Interpretation.

Yet this is just one of the venues used by Canadian universities from coast to coast to attract international students, particularly from China. Equally, Chinese universities are engaging their Canadian counterparts, encouraging students here to enroll in exchange programs in China. Led by Peking University, one of the most prestigious Chinese higher education institutions, a group of top 14 universities from China came to Ottawa’s Carleton University, in May 2012, to provide first-hand information on Chinese institutions and their programs.

“Studying abroad undoubtedly broadens students’ life horizons, and contributes to one’s personal, intellectual, and career growth. The mobility of students has also become one of the most important impetuses for countries’ social and economic growth,” Carleton University noted. A federally-led international education strategy for Canada would bring all these disparate initiatives together and would advance Canadian interests in the area of education in a more effective and integrated fashion.