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Every year, several thousand Israeli high school graduates set their sights on getting into a university or college in the United States. Sometimes these hopeful students are American-born or the Israeli-born children of American immigrants, but many are native Israelis with no previous connection to the US.
"Many Israelis want to study in America. They want to have different experiences, to have adventure," says Dr. Elad Halperin, executive director of education at Princeton Review Israel, a company that runs prepatory courses for students aiming to study in the US.
Halperin says that potential students need to be aware that some important changes are taking place in the examinations demanded by tertiary institutions in the US.
Firstly, the SAT - equivalent to Israel's psychometric exam - is focusing more on language skills and recently added an essay question to what had previously been a multiple-choice test. Passing the SAT is a prerequisite for most tertiary institutions in the US, and some two million students sit the exam every year, about 20% of them outside the US.
"This change is happening because university admissions officers are finding that even American students are not writing as well as they are expect to and need to be sure they have the language skills to cope with university," says Halperin. "Foreign students need to know about this because while it may not be too difficult for a native English speaker to write an essay, it may be a different story for non-native English speakers."
Secondly, and just as importantly for foreign students, the TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language - will change as of March 2006. Until now a test mostly of reading and writing skills, the new TOEFL will also assess verbal skills. All foreign students who attended a high school where the primary language was not English must take this test, as well as the SAT.
"This change is coming about because admissions officers are seeing that there is no correlation between how someone writes English and how they speak it," Halperin told Metro.
"It's very important that Israelis who want to study in America know about this change. It's also important to know that even if you are a native English speaker, if you went to high school in Israel where the language of instruction is Hebrew, you will be required to take the TOEFL."
Halperin notes that his company - which has no connection to the prestigious Princeton University in the US - offers a wide range of prepatory courses for potential students. Apart from the general SAT and TOEFL, there are a number of more specialist examinations, for example the GMAT, which is required by universities and colleges that offer an MBA (master of business administration) degree.
Halperin noted that some 7,000 to 8,000 high school graduates have taken preparatory courses with Princeton Review Israel this year, about half of them for the TOEFL exam and some 2,500 for the SAT exam, with a number of students taking both. A further 2,000 to 2,500 students took preparatory courses for the GMAT exam. Each course lasts about two months and costs up to NIS 4,500. He emphasized that while the company prepares students for the exams, each university or college also has its own requirements that may include further tests or personal interviews, and passing the SAT and TOEFL exams does not guarantee acceptance at any tertiary institution.
The company's assistant managing director, Guy Belostoky, added that Princeton Review began operating in the US in 1982 and now has 565 branches there. The company also operates branches in 12 countries outside the US, including Israel where it began operating three-and-a-half years ago as part of the Sight and Sound group.
"There are other schools offering prepatory courses here in Israel, but we are the biggest, with the widest range of courses," Belostoky said.
He advises anyone thinking of going on to university in the US in the next academic year begin preparing now, as each course takes time, after which examinations need to be passed, applications made to individual institutions and, for non-American citizens, student visas need to be arranged.