Tips For Success In Foreign Universities

Language Link Vietnam prepares you for university success
During my first year at university in the United States, I had to:

  • Read about 1,000 pages per week
  • Participate in class seminars (discussions) nearly every day
  • Write one 3-5 page paper every two weeks
  • Write a 15-20 page independent research paper twice per semester
  • Give a large, public presentation with a group of students

I did not take a single test my entire first year. I was judged entirely on my written and spoken work. My question for students who are planning to study abroad:

Are you ready for this?

The fact is, many Vietnamese students struggle during their first year in foreign universities. Why? Because even though they scored 7.0 or above on the IELTS, they have not prepared themselves with the foundation they need to succeed in a foreign academic environment.

What Do Students Do In Foreign Universities?
Students at foreign universities:

  • Listen to lectures – including taking notes and understanding the main ideas
  • Participate in discussions – with professors and other students
  • Work on group projects – conducting and presenting research with other students
  • Conduct field work – including going off-campus to interview people
  • Write papers – this means producing your own conclusions based on what you hear and read
  • Give public presentations – present your research in public

How about tests? Do university students take tests? The answer may surprise you. Foreign universities generally have fewer tests than Vietnamese students are used to. In fact, it is not unusual for classes to have no tests at all!

What Skills Do Students Need To Succeed?
To succeed in the environment mentioned above, you need both group skills and independent skills.

Group Skills

  • Teamwork – the ability to work well with others
  • Clear speaking – the ability to present your ideas clearly
  • Open mindedness – the ability to consider points of view that are different from your own
  • Self-reflection – the ability to understand your own learning and communication styles, and change them to suit your environment

Independent Skills

  • Self-motivation – the ability to keep to a timetable and do all your work without anyone telling you what to do
  • Critical thinking – for me, this is the most important skill: the ability to question anything someone tells you, without just accepting it as true.

Critical Thinking: An Example
Always think critically when you’re at universityImagine you are in an economics class, and the professor says:

An open-market economic system is best!

What should you do? Well, the habit of many students is often to write down what the professor said. After all, it may appear on a test! But in most foreign classrooms, you are expected – even encouraged – to question such a statement – even if it comes from the professor!

First ask yourself: Is this a fact or an opinion? The statement above is clearly the professor’s opinion. You might ask the professor the following questions:

  • Why is an open-market economic system the best?
  • How do you know it’s the best? What research do you have to prove this?
  • Is an open-market system the best for every country?
  • What problems does an open market cause?

If you are prepared to ask questions like these, you are prepared to succeed abroad. Critical thinking is the key to success!

Focus on The Bigger Picture
I understand that at some point you need to focus on the IELTS or the TOEFL. But what I want you to do is think of the bigger picture. Ask yourself – would you be comfortable doing the following in English?

  • Listening to a lecture, taking notes, and understanding the main ideas
  • Participating in discussions about complex, academic subjects
  • Interviewing people
  • Writing independent research papers
  • Producing a public presentation
  • Openly (but respectfully) disagreeing with what the professor says

If you feel comfortable with all of the above, then it’s time for you to focus on the IELTS or the TOEFL. But if you’re NOT, then you may be better off building your foundation, by taking an Academic English course that will help you build the study skills you need to succeed abroad.

It’s not enough to just get into university. You want to make sure you succeed once you’re there.

What Do You Think?
Don’t just accept what I say because you read it in a blog! Do you have any critical thoughts you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments area below!

7 thoughts on “Tips For Success In Foreign Universities

  1. Very helpful. I do like this one. I believe that self-motivation is the most important one, regardless of any hard situation. Actually, Vietnamese students sometimes have to deal with economic problems, so some may not be very successful as they should be.

    Then, as far as I know, what I should do is to study TOEFL iBT rather than IELTS lol . What do you think?

    • Hi Hoang – I wrote a post on the differences between IELTS and TOEFL, so you can read what I think here:

      For me, it has less to do with which test a student takes. Both tests have unique characteristics that a student must prepare for. The main point for me is that students FIRST need to build up a foundation of academic skills BEFORE they take either test.

      And I agree completely that motivation is critical. But remember, when you’re working hard, that you can also learn through natural, or “relaxed” methods, such as described here:

      Motivation + intelligent methods leads to success! Do you agree?

  2. I have known that if students only study for the
    IELTS or TOEFL exam, they will lack important study skills which are essential to be able to study in foreign universities. Therefore, I agree with the idea that if they have not been familiar with these skills, they should take an Academic English course (better in a trusted center, of course).
    This course will help them a lot to get familiar with the foreign study environment.

    • Thank you, Ngoc! I think an Academic English course which focuses on learning how to study, write, and give presentations also helps build confidence. Once intelligent students develop a little confidence alongside their skills, they are much better prepared to succeed. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Hi Hal,
    It’s really great post! It seems easy to understand the how to success but show a big thing. I love your example to show how critical thinking works. In vietnam, the fresh student also see their struggling to fit with university life but 2 year later they found they can survive easily. In the end of university life, some haven’t had any idea about critical thinking. They just copy, paste and think how to adapt it! Kind of suck!!!
    I think that these skills is not only to help us in achieving high score of IELTS or TOEFT but also in solving problem in career & lifetime afterward.
    Thanks and look forward to your new post!

    • Thank you for the comments! The main reason I wrote the post is because I see so many students studying for IELTS before they have the skills they need to succeed. As you said, they only copy and paste, and don’t know how to think independently about the material they read and hear.

      I also agree that when they DO learn these skills, it also helps them pass the IELTS/TOEFL! The whole house becomes strong, once the foundation is strong. Thanks again for your thoughts!

  4. Pingback: Interview with Todd Lando, IFY Programme Manager | Language Link Vietnam Blog

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