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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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 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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