Choosing the right universities to apply to can be confusing for any student, but doing so from another country is especially challenging. With unfamiliar academic standards/programs, cultural differences, and lack of easy access to information, selecting a university abroad is complicated.
In this post, we share six factors you should evaluate before setting your heart on a particular American university.
1) Program Offered
It would be tough, if not outright impossible, to become an astronaut if you attend a music school 😉 If you have a general idea of the career you want to pursue, you can narrow your school search to include the schools that offer relevant majors. Starting off with a college major is one of the best ways to focus on the right schools.
2) Budget and Finances
Can you afford a particular school? When searching for public colleges, you should look at the out-of-state tuition to get an idea of what the tuition cost would be for you. Note, in addition to tuition cost, there are numerous other expenses involved, including room and board, meal plan, textbooks, transportation cost and a bunch of other miscellaneous fees such as gym, international student fees, etc.
College education in the US is expensive, and it can be more burdensome for international students since there are limited financial aid options (e.g., scholarships, federal loans, grants) available to foreigners. What further compounds the problem is the limitation your visa status might put on employment during your college enrollment.
The most common visa for undergraduate studies in the United States is the F1 visa. The F1 visa does not allow off-campus employment, while you are a student. You can work up to 20 hours on-campus on this visa*.
Finally, when you apply for a student visa to the United States, you will have to demonstrate that you already have the resources to cover your expenses. Around 65 percent of international students rely on family, according to the Institute of International Education*.
The bottom line is, talk to you parents, figure out your education budget, be realistic and look for colleges that are within your means.
3) Your Community
Another good way to identify potential colleges to attend is by finding out the top (college) destinations for students from your country. Wondering how to find this information?
Well, there is an easy way. Check this interactive chart, which allows you to select your country and highlights popular colleges that students from that country attend.
Once you have figured out the colleges that are popular with students from your country, you can find the student club, email them to get the down-low about the university. International student clubs are extremely helpful in helping you settle in a new country as well as providing you pointers during the visa/college application time.
4) Admission Requirements
Another important factor is the admission requirement and the score ranges for a particular school. The American admissions process is uniquely holistic, and an application is evaluated for both – objective measurements like grades, standardized scores etc. and subjective measurements – like essays, letters of recommendations, etc.
Most schools will require you to submit a SAT or an ACT score. Some selective schools might even require or encourage you to submit SAT subject scores. If you are not feeling like taking the SAT subject test, cross off the school from your list 😉
In addition to the SAT or the ACT, if you are from a country whose first language is not English, you will have to take a language proficiency test – Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
As you narrow down your school search, make sure to check out the standardized test score ranges (25th – 75th percentile) for each college. Ideally, you want to pick colleges where you sit comfortably within or above the range.
You can check this tool to help you filter the schools based on standardized test score (both SAT and ACT), as well as a few other interesting criteria, such as school size, school type – private or public, and school geographic location.
5) University Surroundings
Although college conjures up images of happy students sitting around a table in a New York City coffee shop, working diligently on their class assignment; Remember, not all colleges are in New York City, and the “liveliness” of a coffee shop varies from town to town.
You will be calling one of these places home for four years, so research the climate, the city size, the campus atmosphere, diversity stats, etc. and choose a school where you feel most comfortable.
Each option has its set of tradeoffs – while urban schools will generally have livelier campuses and better public transit, rural campuses will have more affordable rents and costs of living.Consider cultural differences as well. The colleges in the South and Midwest tend to be more conservative, cities on the West Coast tend to be more liberal and open to different cultures and alternative religious beliefs.
Each university campus has its own flavor. While the University of Wisconsin Madison tops The Princeton Review’s list of rowdy, party schools, others like the University of Chicago are renowned for their sober, even nerdy atmosphere. Weigh your options in terms of what you value most – whether socializing on the weekends or having access to green spaces – and choose accordingly.
6) The End Game
Lastly, you should keep your post-graduation plan in perspective when selecting a college. After you complete your undergraduate education, you can consider three main pathways: finding a job in the US, entering graduate school, or returning to your country of origin.
If you plan to stay back and work in the United States, you should focus on schools, which are hunting grounds for companies that sponsor the work visas for international students.
Studying in the US can be life-changing. Prepare yourself for an unbelievable experience, and be open to the new connections that you will forge along the way. Good luck.
* Please consider talking with an immigration lawyer to get latest information on US visas.