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10 February 2013

Diversity in classrooms improves rankings, experience

University of Miami has been praised for its diversity and ranked No. 1 in the 2011 Princeton Review for “race/class interaction” out of 377 colleges.

To recruit top international students, UM dispatches multilingual counselors from the Office of International Admissions to more than 60 cities around the world, reaching out to prospective Canes in person.

Exceptional students are exposed to the Cane world through high school visits, college fairs and student interviews in various countries. This process entails students and family members meeting with counselors and academic advisers; in most instances, the discussions are conducted in English since the students need to be proficient to succeed at UM.

While some in the UM community might think more and more international students are enrolling in recent years, admissions officials say that’s not the case. According to Juan Alvarez, senior associate director of international admissions in the Merrick Building, the overall numbers have remained steady over the years, with students from outside the U.S. making up roughly 14 percent of the student body. The biggest change, though, may be where they are coming from.

“Some countries have increased over the years; China, for example, has brought in more students recently,” he said.

Chinese students make up the largest undergraduate group, according to the international admissions’ site. There are six times as many students from China as there are from the next largest group, Venezuela. Rounding out the top 10 countries for international students are Saudi Arabia, India, Colombia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Spain.

Unless applying for an academic scholarship, SAT scores are not a requirement for those students. In most cases, the university is looking at their GPA.

“Most of our students are in the top 10 percent within their secondary school class,” Alvarez said.

When recruiting students from around the world, Alvarez stresses the importance of making sure the student is a good fit for UM.

“We need to make sure that the student will be successful here,” he said. “UM is not for everyone.”

Two English-proficiency tests – TOEFL and IELTS – are factors in determining the admission of international students.

“Most of these students interested in coming to UM have at least basic English skills,” Alvarez said. “However, if a student is academically exceptional, but fails to earn the required scores for the [language] exams, they may be admitted on the condition that they sign up for mandatory English courses.”

The language barrier is a challenge for some international students. When asked what the hardest part of studying is at UM, freshman YueYing Tu from China said, “Language. Talking with people,” and then added, “I’ve been studying at IEP for one semester. It helps a little.”

Both UM’s academic standing and its diversity ranking were key reasons that attracted her to come the university.

Stressing diversity on campus has helped create a comfortable atmosphere for students from other countries. Another important factor is COISO, the umbrella organization for international students. Activities such as the International Student Olympics and International Week also help make students feel more at home.

“Adjusting is easy because there are so many students from all around the world,” said Sasha Di Sipio, a junior from Melbourne, Australia. “The hardest part is missing my family, friends and boyfriend.”

Diversity is a two-way street, Alvarez noted. While UM is a great experience for international students, American-born students also benefit.

“You’re able to be in a class with international students and learn firsthand from students around the world,” Alvarez said.

While financial aid is not available for international students, a limited number of academic scholarships are offered. For a full listing of these scholarships, visit http://www.miami.edu/admission/index.php/undergraduate_admission/costsandfinancialresources/scholarships/scholarship_database/international_student_scholarships/