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After graduating first in her class from Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro with a Bachelor in Social Communication, Julia Pareja decided to pursue graduate education at San Diego State University (SDSU) in 2009.

Pareja, a Brazil native, was one of approximately 46,200 international students enrolled in higher education in the U.S. There are greater proportions of students at the higher academic levels in the U.S. According to the Princeton Review, international exchange students comprise 2.7% of all bachelor’s degree students, 11.4% of graduate students, and 33% of all doctoral students. Approximately one-fifth of all the doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. institutions and one-third of the doctorates in engineering, mathematics, and the physical and biological sciences are earned by international students.

“Being from Brazil, attending an American university was a huge change in my life, not only academically, but professionally it was a ‘game changer’ in my career,” described Pareja, who serves as strategic planner at Ogilvy Action, a global agency with extensive experience in Shopper and Digital Marketing, looking for the best way to help brands develop meaningful relationships with people. She supports strategic planning for regional and local clients, project management and digital marketing strategy. Her clients include: British American Tobacco, Michelin, Coca-Cola, SCJ, Sony, and Unilever.

Pareja, like many online MBA program students who are working professionals, is weighing her option to return to graduate school. She shares her unique experience as an exchange student and what she hopes to accomplish continuing her education.

Q: What made you interested in going to graduate school in the U.S.?

Pareja: “I think I can name the three key reasons I want to get my degree from an American grad school, the first one being the academic quality of the graduate education in the U.S. The United States is known worldwide for state-of-the-art research institutions and encouraging innovative thinking within its universities. This combination is unique. It’s a scenario that I can’t find easily in Brazil.

“Secondly, I believe that having a degree from an American university would reflect well on my résumé — more so than a Brazilian school — even if it were from a reputable local university. I work for a global advertising agency and I think that having a degree from an American university would open doors for me in other countries.

“The last reason I would get my degree from an American grad school is the chance of living in another country. The opportunity to live and learn in a different culture, meet new people and possibly work in a corporate environment would be outstanding.”

Related: Bschools Say ‘Yes’ to More International Students in 2012 | Schools: Online MBA Program Profiles | Guide: Getting Started With Your MBA | Database: Search Top Online MBA Programs | Research: MBA Concentrations | Video: One Minute MBA

Q: What was your experience with standardized testing like?

Pareja: “I have not taken the GRE or GMAT. But I’ve heard of them, and understand it is hard to get a good grade. We have a few courses that prepare you to take these tests here in Brazil. But to enter an MBA program here you can use a GMAT score or take the national test called ANPAD. Either you can use to apply.

“I took the TOEFL in 2008, before going to SDSU and it was not very difficult.”

Q: What would you like to ultimately do with your degree?

Pareja: “I would probably return to Brazil and apply for a leadership position in a global company. I don’t think I would stay in academia.”

Q: What advice do you have for international students?

Pareja: “From my experience as an exchange student I would say to choose your school carefully. Capitalize on the school’s strengths and reputation. It’s a very important and expensive decision. Finally, enjoy college. It’s the best time of your life.”

–Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets