Many international students dream of studying in the US but even the most dedicated face many challenges on their way to the bright lights of American higher education. As many would-be international students know, any number of hurdles in the form of stringent academic standards, demanding entrance exams, and frustrating language barriers – not to mention a dizzying amount of intimidating visa regulations – can turn up on the road to a degree in the US. Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention and a new breed of student-guidance programs has been created to help equip international students with the tools they need to make the transition to an American college or university.

These initiatives – known variously as “pathway programs,” “gateway programs,” and “foundation years” – have long existed in the United Kingdom and Australia but have only recently begun to make inroads in the United States. These initiatives are as different from one another as they are new to the market, however, so careful consideration of the available options is warranted.

There are, broadly speaking, three general types of pathway programs. At one extreme are universities-led initiatives designed as feeder programs to help potential students develop the skills they need to study a specific discipline in that institution. On the other end of the spectrum are general skill-building pathway programs that, unconnected as they are to a specific school, are designed instead to help students improve in a variety of functional areas before transitioning elsewhere to in higher education. Finally, a number of English Language Institutes has developed their own foundation year programs (often in partnership with universities) to help prepare incoming international students for English proficiency examinations like the TOEFL as well as university-level coursework.

Thus, as these varied options can attest, there is no one size fits all approach to helping international students bridge these gaps. When evaluating a potential pathway program, students should make sure it meets their specific qualification requirements and program of study. In so doing they may well find that gateway programs are the ideal opening into US higher education.

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