Destination of Choice: How to Begin Your U.S. University Search

by
Associate Director for International Admission, Fordham University

The United States has become the academic destination of choice for international students, welcoming over 700,000 learners to colleges and universities across its extraordinarily diverse landscape. International study allows students to gain an understanding of other cultures and a global perspective in their chosen field.

The best way to understand globalization and its impact on the world is to immerse yourself in other cultures. As you begin your college search, take a closer look at what universities in America have to offer.

World-class institutions

The United States is home to approximately 4,000 colleges and universities that offer students a wide array of programs in hundreds of academic fields. Professors typically hold doctoral degrees in their field of expertise and are recognized around the world for their scholarship. They lead enriched classroom discussions by sharing personal experience in world travel and study. Graduates from U.S. colleges or universities go on to careers in diverse fields throughout the world. Employers in every country recognize the value of an American education and the unique skills and qualities that these graduates possess. Simply put, a degree from a U.S. college or university opens doors.

A wide range of majors

Studying in the United States offers an academic and intellectual flexibility rarely found in other higher education systems. Students do not need to know exactly what they want to study at the start of their university careers because they have freedom to explore several academic subjects before determining a major or a course of study. Most institutions encourage students to try different fields through some type of general education or core curriculum. Students can usually choose a major course of study in one discipline and a second major or a minor, specialization, or concentration in another field. This enables them to craft a curriculum that best matches their academic goals and future career plans. You can also start university “undecided,” to explore a number of different academic fields before officially declaring a major.

A diverse student body

Students at American universities come from diverse backgrounds, and your experience is sure to be rich and multicultural. Although you might attend classes with other students from your native country, you will meet students from throughout the United States and around the world. Bringing together people from different ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds enriches the university community and students’ overall learning experiences. For example, this past academic year, Fordham University welcomed students from 47 states and 55 countries.

Campus life

Green fields full of Frisbee-throwing students, dormitory rooms filled with friends talking late into the night, and trips to bustling dining halls: for many, this is the quintessential image of an American college campus. And it’s uniquely ours. Most students throughout the world live at home or in an apartment while enrolled in university, and time spent on campus is almost exclusively reserved for classes and study sessions at the library. At many American universities, you have the option to live on campus with a cohort of other students, producing a lasting community of friends, colleagues, and mentors.

Where to begin?

At the start of your search, your options can seem overwhelming, but with some time, patience, and hard work, it will pay off in the end. The purpose of the college search is to find the right match for you. While you may face uncertainty and confusion, with such a wide selection, you’ll probably find a school that’s more than suitable.

The trick is to start your search early, well before your final year of secondary school. It’s never too soon to start researching colleges and universities! Over the next couple of months, visit different college search websites, like www.acuinfo.com. Try to get a good sense of each school’s mission and student body. Then, contact schools that interest you directly—they will be more than happy to send you promotional materials, including information about tuition and financial aid opportunities, as well as the average test scores of successful applicants.

The application process will differ slightly from school to school, so it’s important to pay attention to the requirements. Unlike applying to university in your home country, there is no single set of requirements or a universal application you can fill out for all U.S. colleges and universities. However, many U.S. institutions accept The Common Application, which could cut down the time spent filling out forms. Check it out at www.commonapp.org. Take any necessary standardized tests well before the application deadlines. You will also probably need to solicit recommendation letters, so start thinking of two or three professors, school counselors, and employers who know you well enough to speak to your character. Talk to them in advance and give any writers at least two full months to write the piece, so they can mail it in well before the application deadlines.

Figuring out where you want to spend your four or more years at university also requires a great deal of self-reflection. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on your search.

Where do you want to study?

A school’s environment can vary drastically. You will find schools with just a few hundred students and some with more than 40,000. There are universities in urban areas, small towns, and very rural locations. Select a school that fits your individual living and learning needs. Consider where you want to live over the next four years and the campus environment of your desired school. Schools in urban settings require navigating public transportation on a regular basis and may have higher crime rates, but they also offer the excitement of city culture, arts, food, and nightlife. Each city in the United States enjoys its own unique culture and feel, from the vitality of New York City to charming Durham, North Carolina, to artistic Portland, Oregon.

At the other end of the spectrum, schools in rural or suburban settings can dominate the character of the local community, where the campus serves as the town’s social and cultural hub. Each area comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. You should carefully consider what type of environment is right for you.

How do you want to study?

It is also important to consider your learning style and what type of student you are. Will you be most comfortable at a school with small classes, where you will be expected to actively participate in class every day? Would you prefer large lectures, with smaller study groups and tutorials? Do you work best surrounded by students with the same academic interests? Are you hoping to have a close relationship with your professors? If you give some thought to what type of academic environment allows you to be the most confident and successful student, then you can narrow down your options considerably.

How much is tuition?

After finding a group of schools that appeal to you, research their tuition and average financial aid packages. Financing your education is a significant factor for many students and their families, and public and private institutions vary considerably in cost. Before applying to any colleges or universities, you should assess the total cost of attending each one. This includes tuition, lodging, meals, registration and lab fees, and other miscellaneous expenses. Most universities provide an up-to-date estimate of these expenses. In addition, when you apply for your F-1 (student) visa, you are required to demonstrate your ability to meet these costs.

Take a close look at the admission requirements for each potential school to decide where you fit best. You want to narrow down your choices to a set of realistic options before applying; pick your top five to seven schools. Try this formula for choosing this core group of universities (it takes into consideration your academic and extracurricular credentials and how they align with the schools’ admission requirements): apply to one or two “safety” schools, where your credentials are highly desirable, and you are therefore very likely to be admitted; three or four schools that are a perfect match for your credentials, and you will probably be admitted; and one or two “reach” schools, where your credentials may be substandard, but you think you might still have a chance of admission. All of these schools should capture your interest in some way. You should be able to imagine yourself at each one and feel confident you would be happy there.

What kinds of extracurricular activities are available?

Many international students are especially interested in the cocurricular aspects of American university life. Students are encouraged to join intramural sports teams; participate in student government; and attend evening lectures, films, and other campus events in addition to meeting their academic obligations. You may be interested in playing football (or soccer, as it’s referred to in America) at the varsity, intramural, or club level, or perhaps you want to participate in theater or musical ensembles. Maybe you see yourself volunteering with community service projects around campus, or even as student body president! Universities have so much to offer outside the classroom, and you can get involved in countless activities, so use these extracurricular interests to help narrow down your choices even further.

If you need additional advice on which schools might be a good match for you, there are many online resources, and personal help is also available at the EducationUSA centers throughout the world. Ultimately, you need to take all of your needs into account to discover which school will be the best match. In the United States, it’s not always the university with the most famous name—schools have unique personalities, just like their students.

You are about to embark on a potentially life-changing experience. Living in a foreign country and experiencing a different culture while studying under the tutelage of some of the world’s greatest professors is an exciting and rewarding adventure. The decision to study abroad takes courage and determination. It also yields great rewards, both personally and academically.

Are you ready to begin your adventure? Visit our college search for a complete listing of U.S. universities and colleges and their wide range of program offerings. Be bold, and take a step that will likely change your life and shape your professional future.

 

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