American medical coverage a pain in the rib: an overview of student healthcare and insurance in the United States

When I moved to Costa Rica, I was surprised that I could simply walk into a pharmacy and buy almost any medication without a prescription. (I say “almost” because I needed a prescription for a pain medication when I fractured my ribs—but I digress.) Coming from the United States, this was a strange concept.

For most people, when we travel and live in a foreign country, we don’t think that anything out of the ordinary will happen to us. The stark reality though, is that unexpected things do happen (like my ribs smashing against the fishing boat in the Gulf of Guanacaste). In the United States, health care and medication is largely a privatized system, which translates to the fact that it can be very expensive.

Just for background, health insurance, most simply put, is any form of insurance that provides protection against the high cost of medical services. Here in the United States, it is both a public and private system. While the majority of citizens have private insurance plans, the government subsidizes the majority of medical costs for seniors and low-income children and families. The two government-run programs, Medicare and Medicaid, draw considerable attention from politicians, press, and public voices in the United States.

Nearly 70% of Americans opt for private healthcare coverage. Out of the United States’ entire population, over 60% buy into plans offered through their employers, while just 9% purchase insurance directly. While healthcare plans are managed by a consortium of private companies, the content of said plans are regulated by both state and federal precedents.

Most schools in the United States require students to either enroll in school-sponsored insurance plans, or provide confirmation of a comparable coverage source. Study Group’s Study Care is one such program.

Study Group’s Study Care is, effectively, a form of private health insurance offered specifically to Study Group students. The insurance, which covers everything from doctor visits to surgery, becomes effective immediately after admitted students leave their home country’s airspace (aka, when you touch off the tarmac for the United States). While a small fee of $50 is charged directly to the student following medical consultations, this fee is only a deductible, or partial payment, of whatever expense was incurred by the visit. So, basically, if a doctor visit cost $250, an insured student will only be expected to pay $50 out-of-pocket.

Some specialty services, such as psychiatric therapy, dental care, or addiction rehabilitation, incur greater direct costs, however, for the sake of time, I’ll defer to the Study Care pamphlet which discusses these details in full. Once a student departs the United States, Study Care coverage becomes null and void. Upon re-entry, however, students’ insurance may be renewed if applicable.

For more information please refer to the following links: | Health Insurance
Review health insurance options, retrieve information, and learn more about this vital industry.

Study Group | Study Care
Comprehensive insurance plan developed specifically for international students studying via Study Group.

Adjusting to life in Canada

The decision to travel to Canada to pursue your studies is a big one.  Many aspects of life in Canada, I’m sure, are very similar to those in your home country. However, the thought of travelling to a foreign country can be quite intimidating. Rest assured, Canadians are known world-wide for being very polite and friendly.

Ask questions: It is common for students to feel homesick and even frustrated in the first few months upon arrival to a new city.  My best advice for helping to adjust to life in Canada is to ask questions and be curious. Asking questions is a great way to meet new people and learn more about whatever it is you are doing. Asking questions is also a great way to practice your English!  Take advantage of every situation you find yourself in to learn more about Canadian culture. If you decide to stay with a Homestay family or roommates, take the time to have dinner together, use some time out of your weekend to learn more about everyone.

Learn about your environment: The best way to feel more comfortable in any city is to learn about it. In comparison to other major cities in Canada, Victoria is quite small. As such, people are very open to answering questions and even just striking up a conversation while waiting for the bus. Upon your arrival to Victoria, you will immediately be taken by the beautiful scenery and fresh air. Victoria is famous for its outdoor activities such as hiking, golfing, whale watching, skiing and snowboarding, and water sports. Learn more about Victoria and the west coast of Canada .

Get involved in activities: The great thing about life on the Canadian west coast is the weather and the landscape – you could potentially go skiing and golfing in the same day!  The University will also have activities available for you.  Take advantage of these activities to get to know your fellow classmates outside of school.  Taking part in activities is great for making new friends and learning important team building skills that you can use in the classroom.  Getting involved and enjoying yourself through activities will definitely help you to adjust to living in a new and exciting city.

Embrace the diversity: Because Canada is very multicultural, you will be able to find local food markets and restaurants that should help you feel more at home. I encourage you to explore and try new things while in Canada.  Again, the best way to adjust to life in Canada is to learn about the culture and enjoy all of your time on and off campus.

Get tips on dealing with culture shock.

The Canadian government offers insight into culture shock and adjusting to a new way of life – learn about the Canadian way of life !

US University Ranking System: Clear as Mud

If you think the US university ranking system is as difficult to understand as a foreign language, then you’re not alone. American and international students alike talk about great schools. Marketers use rank as a way to promote a school to prospective students. But what does this all mean?

The US News and World Report is by far the most established ranking system of American universities, with Princeton Review and Newsweek following as seconds, among others. These institutions examine and analyze every imaginable trait of the university—from the number of books in the library to the student satisfaction of the faculty.

Sometimes it feels like the myriad characteristics and qualifications of a school are put together like a magic potion and—“Poof!”—the rank comes out. Believe it or not, there is a method to all these numbers.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education divides colleges into a number of geographic categories that are determined using campus size, academic offerings, location, and student population dynamics. The Foundation breaks down the universities into the following four categories: national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities, and regional colleges.

The US News and World Report then evaluates 16 “indicators of excellence”, which fall into the following categories:

  • Undergraduate academic reputation
  • Student selectivity for the last entering class
  • Faculty resources for the last academic year
  • Graduation and retention rates
  • Financial resources
  • Alumni giving
  • Graduation rate performance

This system has, since 1983, been the cornerstone of the Best Colleges sorting system in the United States.

Does rank really matter? As an Ivy League graduate, my answer to you: “It depends.” The reputation of a school, for example, plays a part in its rank, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee top faculty or resources. Often, schools that have a narrow focus (e.g. music, film and design schools) often get lost in the crowd. Furthermore, each student has different priorities, so rankings may or may not apply. The unique benefit of school ranking, however, is the third party nature of the evaluation.

Use college and university rank as a spring board for your search. Knowing the school’s rank is a great place to start. Consider what you’re looking for in your university experience and evaluate all of the components.

If you’d like to talk with a representative at Study Group about how our partner universities rank and what that means for you, please contact us.

Canadian University Grading System – Understanding the Numbers

When international students apply to Canadian universities, one item that stands out is GPA – Grade Point Average.  For many international applicants, this is an important issue if they wish to study in Canada.  The student’s GPA is an important part of getting accepted into a Canadian university.

What makes matters a bit more confusing is that the GPA used in Canadian universities is different from the GPA standard of other countries – that is different countries have different numbering systems.  Some countries have a GPA out of 5.0, while others have one out of 20.0.  Most Canadian universities have a GPA out of 4.0 – but some use a GPA out of 9.0.

The tables below show the basic percentage equivalency for the two scales.


Letter Grade % GPA Number
A+ 92-100 4.33
A 88-91 4
A- 85-87 3.67
B+ 82-84 3.33
B 78-81 3
B- 75-77 2.67
C+ 72-74 2.33
C 68-71 2
C- 65-67 1.67
D 55-64 1
F 0-54 0
Letter Grade % GPA Number
A+ 90-100 9.0
A 80-89 8
B+ 75-79 7
B 70-74 6
B- 65-69 5
C+ 60-64 4
C 55-59 3
C- 50-54 2
D 40-49 1
F 0-39 0
What some may see is the difference between these two scales with the percentage for the letter grade (e.g. a “B” requires 78% for the 4.0 scale, but a “B” requires 70% for the 9.0 scale) – the specific percentage depends on each Canadian university.  Again, the 4.0 GPA scale is the more common one in Canada.

The other consideration is the number of credit hours that a course is worth.  For example, usually a course is 4 months or 8 months.  If it’s 4 months, then the course is usually worth 3 credit hours.  If it’s 8 months, then the course is 6 credit hours.

To calculate your GPA when applying to a Canadian university, you must look at your letter grade (e.g. a “B” or 3.0) and the credit hours (e.g. 3 credit hours).  You must then multiply the grade with the credit hours for each course and divide by the total number of credit hours.  Here’s an example of a student who has taken 1 year of university courses:

Course Grade (Number) Length/credit hours GPA Value
Math B (3) 3 9
Physics A (4) 3 12
Biology C+ (2.33) 6 13.98
English C (2) 3 6
Sociology B (3) 6 18
Communications B- (2.67) 3 8.01
Chemistry A (4) 3 12
Statistics A (4) 3 12
Total 30 90.99

The student has taken 30 credit hours over two semesters (8 months), which is the typical course load for a Canadian student.  The overall GPA number is 90.99.  This number must be divided by the number of credit hours to get the current GPA – i.e. 90.99/30 = 3.033.  The student has a GPA of 3.033.  In other words, the Canadian university considers this student to be a “B” student.

One important hint to students wishing to do well and be successful in obtaining a Canadian degree: do not take credit for some of the courses you did well in your home country.  For example, some students have already done well in subjects like Statistics or Biology in their home countries.  These students then sometimes ask to get these courses recognized, so that they don’t have to take Statistics or Biology again… BUT they should take those courses again for two very good reasons:

  1. Doing the courses in English at a Canadian university will help build the student’s English vocabulary in those subjects.
  2. The student will likely do very well in these courses… which will HELP his or her GPA.

I hope the process of applying to a Canadian university is now a little easier and makes more sense.  As well, I hope you can use this information to increase your GPA and get a Canadian university degree!

US University grading scale explained

When studying in the USA, acronyms become a very important part of your life. An acronym is a word typically formed from the first letters in a set phrase or group of words. For example, OPEC is an acronym for Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries; it is much easier to say (and spell) “OPEC” than what the o, p, e, and c represent. Many of the acronyms you will hear or read will be specific to your university (like COB for College of Business), but one acronym is understood wherever you study: GPA.

GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average. This is a number calculated from the grades you earn when studying at a US university. When you study at a US university, GPA is on a scale from 0.0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest your GPA can be. GPA is very important in US universities. Students must keep a certain level of GPA to continue studying in the university; some scholarships require a certain level of GPA to be maintained; and some majors require a minimum GPA before a student continues studying in that program.

This chart shows you how much each letter grade is worth in number of points to GPA:

A = 90-100%


B = 80-89%


C = 70-79%


D = 60-69%


F = < 60%


To calculate a GPA, let’s say that a student is enrolled in five classes during one semester. Four of those classes are 3-hour classes and one class is a 4-hour class. (The term hour is sometimes used for credit; the number of hours or credits determines how much a class is worth.) This means the student is taking 16 hours for the semester (four 3-hr classes + one 4-hr class). At the end of the semester, this imaginary student earns the following grades:

Class 1: 3 hrs


Class 2: 3 hrs


Class 3: 3 hrs


Class 4: 3 hrs


Class 5: 4 hrs


In order to determine the student’s GPA, the number of hours/credits each class counts for (3 hrs or 4 hrs), in this case are multiplied by the points earned from the class (A=4, etc.).

Class 1: 3 hrs

A (4)


Class 2: 3 hrs

B (3)


Class 3: 3 hrs

B (3)


Class 4: 3 hrs

C (2)


Class 5: 4 hrs

B (3)


Once the number of points per class is calculated (3×4, etc.), they are added together. The student earned a total of 48 points (12+9+9+6+12) for the semester. Remember, the student took 16 hours, so this results in the student’s GPA being 3.0 for the semester (48/16=3.0).

 Apply now for your US University degree!

Living in Student Accommodation: 5 things you need to know

Getting a place at a university in North America is an important step in life. 

Where you live during your studies can make quite a difference to how you settle in when you first arrive.  If you’ve applied for a place in a student residence you’ll be living on or close to campus.  How you choose to engage with university living can affect your studies.  Try and make the most of the opportunities afforded to you by being in university residence and living close to or on campus.

Here are some things to be aware of when living in student accommodation:

  1. Resident Advisor or Resident Assistant (RA) – many college or universities operate an RA program in their halls of residence.   RA’s are peer leaders, trained in many aspects of living in a college residence.  These areas often include safety training and counseling and can offer support, help and guidance with institutional and academic questions.
  2. Rules and regulations – it’s important to read and understand your residence contract and be aware of any residence rules and notice periods as well as accommodation options for future terms and their associated application deadlines.  Most institutions have a Student Handbook or Residence Guide.  Be sure to read through it and ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.  Breaking the rules often has consequences so be sure you know what the rules are and how they apply to you.
  3.  Meal plans – most colleges and universities have food outlets, restaurants and snack bars on campus and meal plans are often available.  These are often a very good way to make savings on food purchased on campus and can be an economical way to eat across the semester.  There are usually various options available including healthy choices and options that cater for specific dietary needs. 
  4. People and culture – be respectful of other people, cultures and ways of living.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.  Be mindful of noise, cleanliness and always endeavor to display appropriate behavior.  You’re there to study as well as to have fun so getting the balance right, for your and for others, is important when living in a shared space.
  5.  Clubs and societies – try to find out from campus representatives what clubs, societies and associations are available to join, both at the college itself and locally too.  Choose from sporting options, debating societies, hobbies, culture and environmentally aware groups. Participate in existing campus activities or suggest new ones. Check notice boards and websites for details.

Being able to live on campus gives you a unique opportunity and a great base from which to build your student life and college experience.  Try and make the most of this time to make friendships and familiarize yourself with campus facilities and get to know what’s available to you.

Improve the processing time of your Royal Roads University application

It is very important for students to submit a complete application form including all of the required supporting documents.  Applications for undergraduate applicants to the International Study Centre (ISC) at Royal Roads University can be reviewed within 2 working days and Master’s applications can be replied to within 3 weeks of submission, provided the applications are complete.

At Royal Roads University, the Master of Global Management (MGM) degree program delivers a graduate level international business education that prepares students to develop strong managerial and entrepreneurial skills.  Successful completion of the Master of Global Management degree could potentially lead to career opportunities in transnational corporations, international marketing, social entrepreneurship, etc. 

For the MGM degree program, students must submit the following documents along with the standard application requirements:

Two Letters of Reference

One reference letter should be based on work/life experience and the other based on either academic performance or community service. However, two work-related references are acceptable in certain cases.

The reference letters should confirm that an applicant is a suitable candidate for the MGM program. The writer(s) should articulate why s/he feels the applicant will succeed in such a program, whether s/he feels it will benefit the applicant (and why), the applicant’s ability to work with others (in teams) and any other information about the applicant which could identify them as a good fit for the program. The context in which the referee has come to know the applicant should also be mentioned. Length and level of detail in the letters may vary; there is no set standard.

Statement of Intent

(500 words – Single spaced, double space between paragraphs and 12 font size)

Applicants are asked to provide an essay that responds to the following two questions:

  • At this point in your career describe what you perceive as your greatest strength and greatest weakness as an international business person?
  • What could the Master of Global Management degree program do to help you improve on your weakness?

Detailed Resume

The resume should provide a detailed professional profile of the applicant. RRU is interested in knowing where an applicant has worked, for how long, and what s/he was responsible for in the positions held. Provide as much information as possible. Your resume should include the following:

  • Education: List all post-secondary education, degrees, diplomas, and certificates you have achieved.
  • Work Experience: Please include name of organization, length of service and a brief description of duties.
  • Training and Professional Development: List career related training and professional development programs completed with the past five years. Include the source of training, and the duration and year completed. List other training and personal development programs not already identified.
  • Voluntary/Unpaid Work Experience: List and describe any voluntary/unpaid post-secondary employment and/or community service experience. Please include name of organization, length of service and a brief description of duties.
  • Information Technology Training and Experience: Briefly describe your level of training and experience in the use of information technology including computers, software and telecommunications networks as tools for business, education, teaching and personal use.
  • Professional Memberships/Affiliations: List memberships and positions you hold/have held in professional associations, service clubs, community/volunteer sector.
  • Other Relevant Information

Ensuring that your application for MGM includes the above listed documents will definitely help to speed up the process of reviewing your application.

Get information on how to apply for accelerated bachelor’s programs at Royal Roads University ISC.

How to adjust to American culture

After college, I moved to Costa Rica for over two years. Even though the time zone was only an hour apart from home, I remember being unusually exhausted. On average, I slept about 12 hours at night and took 2-hour afternoon naps. As this behavior continued over a month, my host family worried that I was sick. As it turned out, respecting my natural instincts was a very normal reaction to new surroundings and language. (The language component was an entirely different challenge—I didn’t speak any Spanish at the time. I could literally only count from 0 to 10, say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and ask, “Where is the bathroom?” You know, the ‘essentials’.)

In my experience living abroad and teaching English to international students studying in the USA, I’ve learned a few universal tips:

  • Prepare yourself for change. When you anticipate change, experiencing it is somehow easier. Start the process before you leave your home country. Begin by recognizing that your expectations for what is “normal” will be challenged. Start by doing some research on the Internet about your new location. Familiarize yourself with the local culture before you even step foot on the plane. Set up ways to connect with your family and friends at home before you leave (e.g. Skype accounts, confirm contact information, and such). Balancing your home support network with your new community will be critical once you arrive.
  • Be a media ‘junky’. Watching television is one of the best ways to learn a new language and culture. (I loved seeing the reaction on my students’ faces when I said, “Your homework today is to watch 30 minutes of television in English.”) Television is particularly useful because it broadens your vocabulary and exposes you to current culture. Also, commercials have a lot of repetition and you’ll pick up on cues for local products. Whether you’re watching a comedy show, posting on Facebook, or texting a new friend, you’ll begin to adapt to the culture and local language.
  • Sleep. In other words, take care of your physical needs. If you’re tired, your body needs rest, so sleep. If you’re hungry, your body needs fuel, so eat a well-balanced diet. Force yourself to align your “clock” with the current time zone and daily habits with the local surroundings.
  • Be curious. Take on a childlike curiosity. My host family in Costa Rica actually had a 3-year old at home, so we became ‘buddies’ in exploring the world through experience and language. Try new things, especially the food. You will have to get out of your “comfort zone” (but if you’ve followed step one—“prepare yourself for change”—this will come naturally). Your understanding of “normal” will gradually shift and expand.
  • Be fearless. It is very natural to shy away from conversation when your surroundings and language are new. It is easy to stay in your room alone. My response to that—“Don’t!” Instead, ask a lot of questions, share your knowledge, and create new experiences. While it may feel uncomfortable to express yourself in a new language, it will become easier with practice. Get involved in your community—go to university events, make new friends, and check out listings for local events in your new town. Over time, you will begin to appreciate the new “normal”.

Last but certainly not least, have fun. Framing your experiences in positivity will ease the adjustment to the new culture. In America, live as the expression goes: “Work hard, play hard,” and you will fit in well!

Making the most of student life in America

Accommodation options vary by location, school, college, university but there are some basic elements that should always be considered if you are to make the most of your university experience.

Campus residence, homestay or private accommodation options will all have their own ‘rules’ and contracts.  It’s important to read and understand your residence contract and be aware of any residence rules and conduct/safety regulations.

Whether you’re in a campus residence, living with a host family or staying in a privately owned residence it’s important to be respectful of other people, cultures and ways of living.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself and be mindful of noise, cleanliness and always endeavor to display appropriate behavior.

Explore your campus and get to know what’s available to students across campus and in the local community.  Most universities in the USA and Canada have campus maps available.  Make sure you get one when you first arrive, try to become familiar with the layout on campus and find out where you should go to or who to ask if you have any questions or concerns.  There’s always someone to ask, so don’t worry if you do have questions.  Everyone does. 

Find out what sports facilities, clubs and societies are available for students to join, whether on-campus or locally.  These are a great way to meet other people and make new friends and will help you to settle into a new place.  If you had hobbies or interests in your home country, see if something similar is available nearby.  If it isn’t, why not suggest it or be part of starting up a new club or society?

Homesickness can be a concern for lots of students (and their parents) when they move to a new school or location.  There are always people you can talk to about this, whether in your center, on your campus as well as other students.  Talking it through can help.  You’re not alone and if you ask for help or guidance there’ll be someone who’ll be willing to try and help you through as you settle into a new place.

Getting used to different types of food can be a challenge when you move to a new place or a new country.  Find out what’s available on campus and what food options are available nearby (restaurants, grocery stores, other food outlets).  When staying in homestay accommodation you should eat with the family and try and eat the same foods as the family.  However, talk to them about the foods you can eat, special dietary concerns and be sure to let them know about allergies etc. so that they are aware of any problems you may be having.  If you’re living in a private residence and catering for yourself find out what options are available to you for buying groceries as you may be able to find foods you’re used to as well as trying other food types and local options.

As with many things in life, whatever you put into an experience has a direct impact on what you get out of it.  Try and make the most of the opportunities and options available to you on campus and in the local community.  Ask questions, participate in activities, talk to others, share your experiences, ask for help and be aware of the facilities available to you.  All of these will help you to settle in and make your transition into this exciting life and educational opportunity.

How to achieve academic success at University in America

Gaining a place at University in the USA or Canada is an achievement but leads on to the next challenge – how to make the most of that place by going on to achieve academic success at university? The vast majority of university students are successful, so there is no need to be too anxious, but what can you do to make sure that you are in that number rather than be one of the minority that drop out in their freshman or sophomore years or only proceed under an academic warning with failed courses on their record?

First of all, you need to be prepared for the fact that university study is just different from studying in high school. You are going to be expected to take a significant step forward in terms of the mature thought you bring to your studies and the range and nature of the skills that you’ll be called upon to deploy. Take advice from those who have gone through the experience and try to learn from them. Preparation is very often the key to success and so don’t let yourself be taken by surprise by the demands that university study impose on you.

You can also help prepare yourself in practical ways. Consider in advance the courses that you want to undertake and try to get an early sight of the textbooks that you’ll be using. Look at the nature and number of assignments that you’ll need to complete in those courses and don’t overload yourself, especially with written assignments, in an unrealistic attempt to collect as many credits as you can.

Try to live healthily at university. It may be tempting to live the life of the ‘night owl’ that you always suspected you were, but remember that getting enough sleep is very important. Everything becomes more of a burden when you are tired and that includes keeping up with your studies. Try to eat sensibly too, especially eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and take exercise regularly. Joining in sports helps you stay healthy and enables you to make a lot of friends quickly too.

It may sound obvious, but you should aim to do the work. Turn up to all your classes and become known to your professors for good reasons. You may find it difficult to keep up with everything but it’s easier to do that than to catch up if you fall behind. Being at class makes perfect sense. You keep up with the courses, you receive a lot of additional guidance and advice from your professors and you have your classmates to bounce ideas off.

The general advice is that one hour in class should be backed up by three hours study outside of class. To achieve this you need to be well-organized. The ideal is to have set study times. You’ll have seen in your forward planning what needs to be done in terms of assignments and you should have set enough time aside to cope with the expected volume of work so that you can comfortably meet your deadlines. Be strict on yourself and stick to your planned allocation of study hours. This means that you can always cope with any unexpected demands on your time without your study plan being total derailed.

Be proactive as a student. Take notes in your lectures and keep these organized and up to date. You are always a more effective student with a pen or pencil in your hand. Review regularly the material you have learned and then you won’t have to burn the midnight oil when you have a quiz or examination. Your aim should always be to store material in your long-term memory so that it remains there for you to draw on rather than try to hold onto some information looked at in last-minute cramming on the way to the exam hall. Be honest in your assessment of how you are doing and how much effort you are putting into your studies. You will know the particular areas you need to improve on better than anyone else and you should be open to seeking the advice you need to help you do it.

Develop and refine the university level study skills that you need. Be a careful and attentive listener. Develop the ability to skim complex texts and scan them for relevant points or your reading lists will overwhelm you. Practice the ability to analyze, challenge and criticize what you’re reading or are told in lectures. Learn how to source information and assess the value and reliability of your sources.

Make use of all the resources that are available to you. These are not only the obvious ones in the learning commons but also the tutoring or advising services, the free access to on-line study skills materials, your instructors’ office hours, the specialized input of the Writing Center and the support of your fellow students through both formal and informal ‘study groups’.

Finally, don’t forget that university is a total experience. The best student is not normally the one that locks himself away with his books and does nothing but study. Even if he appears to be very successful, he is also missing out on many important aspects of university life. Don’t be afraid to enjoy your leisure time. You should engage in extra-curricular activities as these confirm you as a more ’rounded’ person and often count strongly in your favor when you apply for higher degrees or for employment. It’s OK to want to party, even if it’s more sensible to do so on a night when there’s no school the next day.

Do well in your studies while gaining the maximum benefit from the wonderful range of opportunities that university offers you. Then you really will be able to look back on one of the happiest and most productive times of your life.

Best wishes for the new academic year!