USTL provides full scholarships to outstanding students from Timor-Leste for two to four years of study at high-quality undergraduate degree institutions in the United States. Scholarship awards include full tuition toward either a bachelor’s degree or associate degree, travel, living stipends, medical insurance in the U.S., and visa costs. USTL is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. Department of State.

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As far as I know, choosing a college means you are entering a completely unfamiliar world of immense possibilities. Perhaps the hardest part is deciding whether to start your journey with community college or university. Before attending the University of Minnesota, I went to Bellevue College for my associate degree in business administration from 2014 until 2016. It is a small college (a former community college) in the Washington State which is now offering undergraduate degrees. I was lucky because I did not have to make the decision on which college to go to or spend my time searching for it. This is a good thing, isn’t it? Yes, it is such a privilege that any students could get if they are awarded the scholarship. Therefore, I encourage you to apply to the USTL program this year and remember that the program will place you at a university or community college across the United States. Another piece of advice for you is to do a little research on the institution assigned to you before your arrival. I am sure you will be amazed by it because I found out that the University of Minnesota is among the best higher education institutions in the United States.

My experiences as a student at Bellevue College and now at the University of Minnesota have given me a considerable amount of insights about the differences and similarities between them, which I think ought to be shared with you. Despite the differences, both institutions want you to succeed and by doing so they would provide better resources including qualified professors and excellent academic environments. Many people prefer community colleges because they are a lot cheaper, offer more flexible schedules and provide support as students transition into university. So, the amount of information that I am going to share is derived from my own observations.

As I stated above, that there are many similar programs and opportunities that I think both community college and universities offer such as writing centers, tutors, professor office hours, academic advising, counseling, fitness center, online and other on-campus resources. More than that, there are various student clubs and sports teams that you can be part of and develop your leadership skills. As an example, I have become involved in more than four students’ clubs at Bellevue College and three at the University of Minnesota. Also, the academic environment is conducive to everyone and the school provides all necessary means to help you succeed in class. I am so glad that you will find this in almost any higher education institution in the United States.

However, there are differences that I would like to point out because I think it becomes an important source of information people would want to know before making the decision. These are the campus size, academic requirement, and other factors such as flexibility.
Bellevue College (a former community college) is a smaller institution that typically offers associate degrees (two-year degrees) and certain undergraduate degrees. In contrast, a university is a big institution that offers multiple programs such as undergraduate, graduate and master’s degrees. For example, the University of Minnesota offers more than 150 different majors and is one of the leading research institutions in the world. More than 62,000 new students enrolled in the University of Minnesota in 2018 and there are about 200 active students’ clubs in which you could take part, compared to 14,000 total enrollments at Bellevue College.

Other crucial components to my community college experience, which I think is different from my experience at UMN so far, are the class size and workload. At the University of Minnesota, the general classroom could accumulate more than 200 students, while there were often only 30 students in my classes at Bellevue College. I really want to let you all know that the classes here are more difficult and challenging because they start from 100-level above. You need to prioritize your schedule if you take a 300-level class. Moreover, a university provides you with an undergraduate research opportunity, which you cannot typically get from a community college. I think, by far, this is a cool thing because I have a chance to become involved in academic research with a professor or a Ph.D. student.

Furthermore, the University of Minnesota is also like a town in itself and you do not need to go out of campus. You could get pretty much everything inside the university area. There are restaurants, retail stores, a bar, movie theater, big stadium, big recreational center, park, apartments, residential halls, light trail, and even busses to transport the student from one building to another. There is no such luxury at most community colleges, due to their size.

Overall, I hope this experience gives you a good representation of what you would expect to see when you come to study either at a community college or a university. I personally think that if you want a less competitive and nurturing atmosphere you might as well decide to go to community college for the first two years before transitioning to university. But there are also advantages of starting your study right away at the university because you do not have to think of choosing a university to transfer to. But for now, you do not need to worry about it as the USTL program would decide that for you. What you need to do is, secure a flight seat for flying to the US with USTL 2019 batch. Congratulations and see you soon.