Find Your Dream School in the US
Consider carefully how your studies in the U.S. will fit into your long-term educational and professional aspirations, as well as your personal goals. Your experience as an international student will likely be a life-changing and fulfilling one, but you need to take many internal and external factors into consideration before you start packing your bags.
What Are Your Goals?
What are your reasons for wanting to study abroad? You should think about not only the ways in which studying in the U.S. will enrich your multi-cultural and personal life, but also how it can enhance your educational and professional goals. Students pursue higher education, in their home country or abroad, because it will help them achieve any number of goals later in life. These goals may include professional advancements, a higher-paying job, or a broader range of cross-cultural knowledge, adaptability and experience.
As you define your educational and professional aspirations, here are some questions to consider:
- Am I willing to spend this much time (at least a year or more) in higher education?
- Will my U.S. credentials be recognized at home by institutions of higher education, professional licensing boards, and potential employers when I return?
- Is the knowledge that I gain during my study in the United States readily transferable to situations in my home country?
- Will the technological expertise I acquire in the United States be of use at home?
- Is there a need for my chosen profession in my home country?
- Would having an international educational base of knowledge and experience give me an edge over others working and/or competing for jobs in my field?
- Will I earn enough in this profession to justify the investment?
- Is the training and/or education that I am seeking in the U.S. available to me in my home country?
- Will spending time abroad cause me to miss potential opportunities at home?
Are You Academically Prepared?
If you are applying for undergraduate study at a two- or four-year university in the United States, you must have completed at least twelve years of school and obtained the equivalent of a U.S. high school diploma. If you are considering graduate study at the master’s or doctoral level, you will need an academic equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree.
No matter which level of education you are seeking in the U.S., you should know that the grades you received in your previous schooling carry a lot of weight with admissions counselors. Some U.S. universities are very competitive, selecting only students with excellent grades, high test scores, a variety of extracurricular activities and overall leadership skills. Many other schools are less selective, but almost all require some demonstration that you have succeeded in your previous schooling. Furthermore, your application should show the admissions staff that you have the potential to succeed at a more advanced level. Most graduate schools also require a minimum grade point average of 3.0 from your earlier studies.
Be realistic about your academic record and test scores. Apply to universities whose requirements match your academic background and interests. Be aware that graduate work in the United States involves a great deal of independent work and classroom discussion, forms of learning that may be different from your past learning environment.
U.S. colleges and universities place a great deal of emphasis on neat, organized and clearly written presentation. Almost nothing is accepted in handwriting; projects and term papers should be typed or produced on a computer. More and more research at campus libraries is conducted using computers to access on-line resources instead of books. Most universities will issue a personal e-mail account to students upon enrollment and expect them to use it for homework assignments. Take care that you are knowledgeable and prepared for this type of learning.
You will want to make sure that any U.S. institution that you are considering is accredited by an agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Because the United States central government does not control the educational system, private, non-governmental agencies were created to review higher education institutions and their programs. If a school is accredited, you can be assured that the quality of their courses and programs, faculty, recruiting processes and admissions guidelines has met specific standards set forth by an accrediting agency.
Quality and Other Educational Factors
Because of the size and the variety of higher educational institutions in the United States, the quality of any given institution and its programs, even when accredited, is hard to determine. The most expensive institution is not necessarily the best, nor is every program at a highly regarded university necessarily of the same high quality.
There is no official ranking of colleges and universities in the United States, though many general university guides will offer objective information on the difficulty in the admissions process (more competitive schools are more difficult to get into) and the quality of various schools’ programs.
Some factors that can affect the quality of the education available, particularly to undergraduates, include:
Class size: Are all classes taught in a lecture format, with one professor lecturing the course information to a hundred or more students? Or are there smaller discussion seminars available to students? This is an important consideration for international students, for it can be difficult to get questions that you have answered if many of your courses are all lectures, with little to no opportunity for clarification and intensive study in a smaller group with a professor or teacher’s assistant.
Opportunities for independent research and direct work with faculty: The available opportunities to do your own research and to work one-on-one with department faculty is an important consideration for both undergraduate and graduate students. Are there service-learning opportunities and research programs? Is there an honors program for students who excel in their area of study? Is the technology at the school current, and will it allow you to do the necessary work you need to be successful as a student?
Educational background of the student body: How selective is the institution in admitting students for enrollment? Do they have ‘open enrollment,’ whereby most any student can join their program, or are they selective, competitive or highly competitive? Again, our Research Tools to Guide Your Search section will provide you with helpful resources that you can use to determine a school’s selectivity.