American Higher Education is not well understood by most Sri Lankan students and parents. The Sri Lankan education system with its singular focus on exams and preparation for those exams is very different from the American system with its focus on continual assessment, thinking skills, communication and future-focused career orientation. In American education, the abilities to interpret, communicate and apply answers are just as important as the knowledge to calculate them.
One fantastic opportunity graduates have is to exercise their university education through real-life career experience in a program referred to as Optional Practical Training (OPT).
What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is where “education meets experience”! Apart from minor exceptions, OPT most commonly refers to the opportunity F-1 undergraduate and graduate students have to gain up to one year of practical career experience to finish their education, provided they have completed their degree with at least one academic year of full time study in the USA. OPT reflects the essence of American education by combining education and experience. In the past, STEM students were granted an additional 17 to 24 months extension. Conditions are always subject to change and students should check with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for up to date information.
What is the benefit of OPT?
This program is valuable to both the USA and the graduates. American business and industry can tap the talent US education has trained. Naturally it is also great for graduates as it allows them to earn from their education, gain experience in the world’s leading economy, and leave with the valuable combination employers around the world want – education and experience. Some companies may even decide to sponsor selected graduates who have proven to be particularly valuable for positions that American staff are not available to fill. It is a true “win-win” situation. And, of course, students’ home countries benefit when they return and contribute to national development. This is why OPT participants have increased by 400% in the past ten years, according to Study International (2018).
The opportunities are there, but unfortunately many international students are ill-prepared. With many having come from cultures and societies that value only academic content and test results, international graduates often lack the “soft skills” and abilities to take full advantage of OPT and the opportunities it affords. They are simply not prepared for the OPT environment and lack the ability to adapt quick enough.
For example, in a recent analysis by Forbes of the Top 10 skills American and global employers wanted the most, the top 3 were (1) ability to work in a team structure, (2) ability to make decisions and solve problems, (3) communication skills with people inside and outside the organisation.
The actual technical knowledge related to the job was No. 7. International students’ strict focus on academic technical knowledge at the expense of other skills puts them at a serious disadvantage when seeking OPT positions.
International students require serious career coaching to realise their full potential for OPT. Since many international students now complete part of their studies abroad in transfer programs before reaching the US, this further impacts their preparation.
The proper transfer program can give international students a strong, unique edge for particular job positions American graduates are not well prepared for, but in the course of doing transfer programs, international students must make absolutely certain that they are properly developed to take full advantage of the opportunities they have. This requires direct international input into their education.
Some of the many things that international students must learn about in addition to their academic studies include: (1) international resume preparation; (2) effective job searching: (3) how to manage ATI: (4) strong interview techniques; (5) the interview follow-up process; (6) cover and “pain” letters; (7) researching employers; (8) international networking; (9) how to develop a personal online brand: (10) negotiation techniques; and much more.
How you can find out more
We can help you with this and much more – just contact us for free information. We have programs in Sri Lanka, or abroad, or a combination of both. There is an American option to suit every budget and career plan. We conduct frequent workshops and seminars that give you the “Secrets of Success”. You can reach us as follows:
Contact an experienced advisor or email;
PATHE Global Campus
0721-566566, 0765-566566, 0701-566566
No.7, Rajaguru Sri Subuthi Mawatha, Wellawatte, Colombo 6.