There are more than 1,000 intensive English programs in the United States. How can you choose the program that is best for you? Begin by thinking about these things: reason for learning English, program type, length of time for study, Program quality, location, housing, services, and cost.
Reason for Learning English
Some people want to learn general English so that they can use it in many different situations. Other people plan to study in a university or college and want to learn academic English and English academic skills. Still, others want to learn the English used in specific fields such as health, tourism, or business. What kind of English do you want to study and learn?
Many U.S. intensive English programs are part of university/college departments or divisions and are located on their school’s campus. Other programs may be located on a campus, but are run privately, or may not a part of the university/college organization. Still, others are private and are located in their own facilities.
Length of Time for Study
How long are you able to stay in the United States? What is your proficiency level now? There are programs that divide into 4-week sessions, 8-week sessions, and 15/16-week sessions. How many sessions you will need to attend depends on your proficiency level when you begin and the level that you want to reach.
How can you tell if an intensive English program is a good one? There are several ways that you can determine this. One important way is to learn about its accreditation status. An accredited program must meet certain quality standards. In the U.S., intensive English programs can be accredited by the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) or by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). Many universities and colleges are regionally accredited and this is an indicator of the quality of intensive English programs they run. Association membership is also a quality measure. Many intensive programs belong to the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) and/or the Consortium of University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP). In order to become members, programs must meet quality standards. An additional way to learn about the quality of a particular program is to talk to someone who has been a student there. Do you have a friend or a relative who has studied English in the U.S.? Talk to them about the program they attended.
Some people don’t care about where in the U.S. a program is located. To other people, location is very important. Do you care how hot or cold the weather is? Do you want to experience four seasons or do you like the same weather all the time? What kind of recreation do you enjoy or want to try for the first time? (Surfing and skiing require very different locations.) Do you want to live in a famous, big city or would you prefer a small town? If you want to live on a university/college campus, how small or big would you like the university/college to be? If you want to travel on weekends or breaks, how close are the attractions you’d like to see?
Students in intensive English programs live in many different kinds of housing. These include campus dormitories (some for younger students, some for older students), private apartments, homestays, and hotels. What kind of housing would you prefer? Do you want to do your own cooking or eat in a cafeteria? Do you like a quiet situation or do you like to socialize and meet many people? Do you want to get to know one American family very well? If you are considering a homestay, be sure to find out if it is one where you would spend a lot of social time with the family, or if you would simply rent a room in a house.
What kind of services outside English class is important to you? The program services that are possible include university/college application help, academic advising, locating American conversation partners, airport pickup, organizing field trips and social activities, and arranging housing for you.
To calculate how much your English study will cost you, keep in mind school tuition and any fees plus living expenses. You can compare the cost of different schools by adding tuition and any fees and then dividing that number by weeks in the program. Then, compare the weekly cost among schools. Living expenses will include housing, food, and all of your personal expenses (don’t forget recreation and travel). The amount you will need for living expenses can be very different from one geographical area to another. New York City, for example, is much more expensive than a small town in Missouri.
Now you are ready to look for programs that will meet your most important criteria. The very best way to do that is to look at individual programs’ websites. How do you find those websites? One way is to check printed publications like this one, where programs list their web addresses. Another is to use online directories. CEA, ACCET, AAIEP, and UCIEP all have organization websites that connect directly to more than 350 intensive English programs.