People can have very different goals for their English study. Some want to learn general English that they can use in many situations. Others 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? Choose a program that will help you reach your particular goals.
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 and are not a part of the university/college organization. Still others are private and are located in their own facilities.
How long do you plan to stay in the United States? What is your proficiency level now? There are programs that divide their sessions into 2-4 week sessions, programs which divide into 8 week sessions, and programs which divide into 15/16 week sessions. How many sessions you will need to attend depends on your proficiency level when you begin and the level you want to reach. If you are only interested in refreshing your language in an English-speaking environment, a 2-4 week course may work for you. If you want to enter college/university and your English skills are not strong, you may need a year or more of study.
How can you tell if an intensive English program is a good one? There are several ways you can do this. One important way is to learn about its accreditation status. An accredited program has undergone a rigorous review and must meet specific 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 university and colleges are regionally accredited and this is a quality indicator of the 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.
Specific quality questions you will want to ask as you research programs include: What are the qualifications and teaching experience of the faculty? What is the typical class size? What kind of technology is available in classrooms and for student use?
A last 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.
What kinds of services, outside English class, are important to you? Some of the program services you will want might be available on conditional admission to a university/college, university/college application help, academic advising, a conversation partner program with Americans, airport pickup, organized field trips and social activities, and help arranging housing.
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 attend a school 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 spend a lot of social time with the family or if you are simply renting a room in a house.)
To calculate how much your English study will cost you, keep in mind school tuition and any fees plus textbooks and 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 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 the Midwest.