Choosing a School

LOCATION,  SCHOOL SIZE,  SCHOOL RANKING,  ACADEMICS,  COSTS,  CAMPUS LIFE

The United States has approximately 5,000 colleges and universities, so you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the options. Give yourself plenty of time to thoroughly research the possibilities. Make a list of your priorities so that you can determine what schools meet those criteria best. Think of things like location, degree programs, scholarship opportunities, cost of living, size and credentials.

Take advantage of websites like www.StudyUSA.com that use search engines to filter through and help you narrow your focus, based on your interests and requirements. Talk to friends and family who have studied in the U.S. to get their input. Keep your long range goals in mind so that you don’t get distracted by insignificant information.

The United States has educational advising centers throughout the world. They do not charge a fee for answering questions, providing information about exams like the TOEFL, GRE, or GMAT, and often provide catalogs, videos and brochures about a variety of American universities.


LOCATION

Colleges and universities lie scattered across every region of the United States. It might help you narrow down your possibilities to focus on a particular geographical location. You can receive the same level of education at a large public university in the heart of a big city as you could at a little private college in a small town.

Your field of study, goals and preferences will likely play the largest part in determining the location of the institution where you will study. If you already know what area you want to live, focus on the universities there that offer the programs you want to pursue. If you don’t have any preference about what part of the country you live in, start by researching the schools that offer a strong program in the area you want to study. Once you have narrowed that down to a few, then begin to look at the locations of those specific schools and think about things like weather and climate, population, opportunities and community.

Many international students prefer to attend large public universities in major cities on the East and West coasts. They base their decision on the resources available and the fact that a large number of internationals and fellow countrymen have chosen to live in that area, and they will have an instant connection there.

Other international students have benefited greatly from a small-town campus setting, preferring to assimilate more directly into the American culture and take advantage of more personal attention. Small towns and cities in the U.S. have many important research universities and quality post-secondary schools. You do not have to live in a big city or attend a big university to get an excellent education or earn a valuable degree.

Perhaps you would like to choose a location that closely resembles the climate or environment you are used to at home, hoping that you will face fewer obstacles in adjusting. Or maybe you want to try an environment completely different than what you normally live in at home. Only you can decide what location will most benefit your pursuit of higher education in the U.S.

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SCHOOL SIZE

Post-secondary schools in the United States vary greatly in size. You could choose a small, private college with 2,000 students or a large public university with 45,000 students. While your field of study and degree focus will guide some of your decision, you will need to determine which environment might best suit you.

Many international students prefer to attend large public universities in major cities on the East and West coasts. They base their decision on the resources available and the fact that a large number of internationals and fellow countrymen have chosen to live in that area, and they will have an instant connection there.

Other international students have benefited greatly from a small-town campus setting, preferring to assimilate more directly into the American culture and take advantage of more personal attention. Small towns and cities in the U.S. have many important research universities and quality post-secondary schools. You do not have to live in a big city or attend a big university to get an excellent education or earn a valuable degree.

Larger schools often earn the reputation for more headlines, recognition, resources and money, and therefore stronger programs. However, smaller institutions attract money and endowments based on the specialized programs and faculty they have built and the lower faculty to student ratios they offer. Both have advantages and disadvantages, so make sure to consider the factors that matter most to you and your personal preferences, as well as education goals.

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SCHOOL RANKING

In America, you will find many clues to a highly competitive culture. From goods to sports teams to higher education, everyone wants to feel he/she has the best. When dealing with something as multi-dimensional as education, no standard measure exists, but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying.

U.S. News & World Report has published American college and university rankings since 1983. They arrive at their deductions based on an annual survey sent to each school as well as an opinion survey compiled from faculty and administrators outside the school. Among the factors surveyed they evaluate reputation, retention, selectivity, resources and graduation rate.

Critics of the U.S. News ranking system challenge their results and methodologies. Other organizations which compile general U.S. annual college and university rankings include the Fiske Guide to Colleges, the Princeton Review, and College Prowler. More specific rankings for specialized programs focus on fields of study, location, affordability and other more subjective data.

Bottom line: don’t ever attend a university for its ranking alone. You can obtain a solid education and fantastic experience from a large number of quality schools that didn’t rank in the top 50. Remember, you must evaluate each school based on the criteria most important to you. With literally thousands upon thousands of post-secondary schools to choose from, do not limit yourself to the top ranking schools nationwide.

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ACADEMICS

Technically, academics form the foundation of education. While at its core every educational institution has the purpose of spreading and furthering knowledge, one could argue that many colleges and universities actually pursue other purposes more ardently. Sports programs, championships and titles can play a huge role in university curriculums and reputations, as do financial assets, political power and social prestige. So, while academics play a foundational role at every university, you might find a wide variety of quality in education based on the school’s vision and how it implements that vision.

No matter where you study, you can find people and resources interested in helping you succeed academically. You can earn an excellent education, regardless of the academic standards of the institution you’ve chosen, simply based on your willingness to take the time and effort to learn.

As an international student you will have many new factors to take into consideration. No matter how well you did academically in your home country, you will face different challenges to do well in the United States, including language concerns and cultural and social adjustments. Expect everything to require more effort and time because of the lack of familiarity and the challenges of adapting.

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COSTS

When evaluating your choices for pursuing a post-secondary degree in the United States, cost will play a huge factor. Do not make the mistake of comparing only university costs. Take into account the total cost for studying in the U.S. That would include university expenses (tuition, books, labs, tutoring, etc.), as well as living expenses (rent, food, laundry, transportation, etc.).

Tuition includes the amount the institution charges for instruction, as well as the use of facilities, such as libraries and recreation centers. Tuition can range from a several hundred dollars per year to more than $30,000. The cheapest options can usually be found at local community colleges, but four-year colleges and universities can also offer relatively inexpensive tuition.

Fees include costs outside of the course load, such as activities, clubs, and special events.

Besides tuition and fees, you will need to consider the cost of housing and food, books, supplies, transportation, and other miscellaneous costs. Obviously, where you study will influence the cost of these additional expenses.

For example, you may notice that tuition expenses at the University of California-Los Angeles seem reasonable in comparison to tuition at University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, when you factor in cost of living expenses, you will find that it costs at least twice as much to live in California as it would to live in Madison, Wisconsin.

College websites often provide information for cost of living in that area of the country, or you can look up cost of living comparison calculators online at websites like http://www.bankrate.com/brm/movecalc.asp. In general, areas away from the East or West coast have a lower cost of living than hubs like New York, California and Boston.

As a rule, the private, more elite institutions have higher tuition costs than public universities, but always check because some private institutions offer very competitive costs. And whether investigating a private or public school, you should always inquire about scholarships and financial aid packages available that could substantially lower your financial investment.

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CAMPUS LIFE

Campus life can vary greatly depending on the type of university you attend. Large, public universities have a reputation for a wealth of opportunities and no shortage of activities or companions, while smaller institutions have more of a small town community feeling where people get to know each other in a variety of settings.

For many undergraduate students, college provides an opportunity to live independently for the first time and they eagerly push all the boundaries their parents had previously set for them. This often leads to heavy drinking, staying out late, promiscuity and general lack of responsibility, whether academically, morally or physically.

Some schools earn a reputation as “party schools,” known for their active social groups rather than their academic focus. Various publications release the results of surveys and studies ranking the top 20 party schools according to the amount of drug and alcohol usage, hours of study each day and the popularity of sororities and fraternities. While not necessarily accurate, party schools do not usually have a reputation for strong academic programs.

Many campuses build a strong school spirit through their sports programs, encouraging the whole student body, as well as the town or city where they are located to support them in their games and competitions. College sports in the United States have strong followings and stimulate huge rivalries throughout the country.

By getting involved in student activities and programs you can increase your chances of experiencing more meaningful interactions. A large part of the college experience revolves around the groups you associate yourself with. Groups for all kinds of interests exist and you will find that much of campus life revolves around people with similar interests hanging out and doing things together, whether on or off campus. For example, if you enjoy theater, you can find a group of like-minded students that attend and/or produce events and plan activities around them.

At some universities, sororities (for women) and fraternities (for both men and women or just for men) form social groups to promote bonding among select students who have undergone an initiation and acceptance ritual. Most of these groups have Greek letter names and have similar branches at schools across the country. While most no longer maintain any association with their origins, most began with community service projects or leadership goals in common.

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