National exchange offers experience closer to home

Most college students are familiar with the idea of exchange programs in foreign countries, but each year thousands of exchange students aim a bit closer to home.

The National Student Exchange Program, which is accepting applications through Feb. 3 from undergraduate students, places over 3,000 students each year at any of 175 universities in Canada and the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Students pay either PSU tuition or the in-state tuition rates of the university they choose to attend.

Michelle Schwartz, admissions counselor and Portland State’s coordinator for the National Student Exchange Program, said that the reasons students exchange are as varied as the students themselves.

“Some students use this as an opportunity to check out graduate programs they are interested in.” Others, she said, are just looking for a change of scenery. Some are interested in internships or other opportunities that may only be available in other areas. In at least one instance, a student attended a university in the Midwest so he could be near his wife who was doing her residency at a hospital there.

Miami native Marcela Rubio said she chose to come to PSU because she wanted to be on the West Coast. Portland appealed to her because “it seemed like such a livable city. Then I looked at the PSU courses online, and I really liked the writing program. That finalized my decision.”

Jai Blair, a PSU student currently on exchange at Rutgers University in New Jersey said his exchange has given him “the chance to work in New York City for MTV Networks and gain knowledge of a company that reaches millions of people around the world.”

PSU is a popular choice for students according to Schwartz. Between 30 and 40 students choose to exchange to PSU every year, while only about 10 to 15 students per year opt to leave PSU for another university. In order to participate, students must have a 2.5 GPA and be full-time undergraduate students.

At an information session held Friday, admissions counselor Perla Pinedo walked interested students through the details of the application process. A short application of basic information, including what schools the students are interested in, is required by the application date as well as a short essay and the $125 application fee. The fee is necessary because “the program charges us to even try placing a student,” Pinedo said. She passed out booklets that list important details for each participating school.

Some universities have blocked out courses within certain majors.

PSU, for instance, does not guarantee exchange students access to courses within competitive departments such as business or graphic design. Another consideration for students interested in exchanging is the admissions policy of each university. An informational booklet handed out by the NSE coordinators gives students an idea as to how selective the program is. It is up to the admissions counselor to actually negotiate the exchange. For example, some universities will only accept the same amount of students onto their campus as they send off campus.

After students apply to the program they will meet extensively with an admissions counselor who will advise them on everything, from which university will best fit their needs to financial aid and how courses will transfer back to PSU. Marcela Rubio praised this aspect of the program saying, “The NSE program worked out well for me because although I was moving 3,000 miles away, I had everything set up before I got here. And I know that when I return to my home school, they’ll accept all my credits.”

Students should pay particular attention to the area of financial aid. There are two payment options for most universities: students can either pay in-state PSU tuition or the in-state tuition of the university they will attend. Students receiving scholarships will need to pay PSU tuition in order to continue receiving their scholarship funds. Another consideration is the cost of living at the exchange site. Many schools are in areas where the cost of living is much higher. Students may wish to pay the local tuition in this instance so that they will receive extra financial aid to compensate for these added expenses. If considering an exchange, you should “list on your FAFSA all the schools you are considering,” Pinedo said.

The National Student Exchange Program will not affect a student’s eligibility for a later international exchange program. In fact, Schwartz suggests that students with Spanish language proficiency consider exchanging to one of seven universities in Puerto Rico, where local tuition is considerably cheaper than tuition in the U.S. “It is possible,” Schwarz said, “for an undergraduate to spend two years off campus with one year spent exchanging internationally and one with our program.” Although the deadline to apply to the NSE program is Friday, both Schwartz and Pinedo urge interested students to inquire up to that date. Both can be reached through the admissions office. Students can get more information at