You did it! You are about to complete your secondary education and embark on the journey of higher education at a college or university. If you are reading this article, then you may have taken this journey a bit further and are considering a college or university in the United States. Although this is an exciting prospect, the college search and student immigration process can be overwhelming and confusing to say the least, and students may be tempted to give up on this opportunity. Nonetheless, considering the United States as a potential destination for your higher education is certainly a viable option. But why?
Consider this: the college and university environment in the United States could be compared to the millions of applications available on your smartphone. Just like there are thousands of app choices to accomplish a variety of goals, there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States offering every academic and social pathway imaginable. Now you may be thinking: “Very well, but the stakes are much higher for the college search process than buying an app for my smartphone!” And you would be right. The point is that just like the app marketplace that covers countless interests and needs, the U.S. college and university environment offers a seemingly unlimited variety of academic offerings and campus settings for every need and personality; there will most likely be a “right fit” for students whether they are from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Australasia, or the Middle East. Furthermore, just like those helpful product reviews for smartphone apps, there are several resources available to help you make sense of the seemingly daunting U.S. college and university market. Engaging these resources (like the one you hold in your hands right now!) will make the process a bit more manageable.
So why does America remain an attractive destination for students from all over the globe?
The world is at your feet
Colleges and universities in the United States offer something for everyone. Whether studying theater arts in a small Midwestern town, becoming an engineer in a beach community, or honing one’s computer skills in a large city, there are endless possibilities. You may think these pairings of academic fields and locations might seem a bit unlikely, but the fact is that in the United States, many of these profiles are realistic and possible. There are scenarios in which many students can thrive and feel less constrained to a particular profile; for example, they may prefer to study business but feel more comfortable in a small town. Understanding that there are countless possibilities in American higher education is the first step to a successful college search. Leafing through AC&U, it will quickly become clear that there really is something for everyone. Take your time to think about what you believe is the right field of study and campus environment for you. Discuss your thoughts with your family, mentors, teachers, and friends. You may realize that there is a particular type of college or university that will best fit your needs, or you might discover that investigating a variety of options is the best path for you.
A well-rounded experience
What you will find is that many (if not all) of the universities in AC&U emphasize the importance of a holistic academic and social experience. Most colleges and universities are committed to developing students who will not only become successful individuals in their own right but also producing graduates who are able to contribute to their own communities and the larger world around them. The U.S. college and university experience has become iconic in popular culture throughout the world because campus life is an essential part of being a university student; not only do students make learning a full-time occupation, but they live amongst their peers and become part of a community where the focus is academic excellence and finding a career path. Most colleges and universities require students to follow a general education curriculum in addition to their areas of academic focus to ensure that students are exposed to a variety of major fields of study and career tracks. Experience-based, hands-on, interactive education is often characteristic of U.S. colleges and universities; students are encouraged to apply their theoretical classroom discussions to real-world practices and experiences through service learning programs, as well as internships in many instances. On the whole, colleges and universities often strive to represent a microcosm of the world, developing students and preparing them for what may lie ahead.
The system is flexible
If a student were to ask me to describe the U.S. college and university environment in one word, I would probably use the word “flexible.” The system is flexible in the sense that students are not often tied to a particular field of study from the outset. Of course, most universities will ask you to apply to a particular track, and some of these tracks require students to begin their studies from a very early stage, but there is also room for flexibility and decision making. Furthermore, there is often time for students to explore their options and understand what field of study might be the right fit for them, and many institutions will not ask students to commit to a major field of study until the end of their second year. There are many students who believe that their path should be focused on more professional degrees such as the health sciences, pharmacy, or engineering, which tend to allow for less variation in course work; however, even in these fields, there is space for pursuing outside interests and academic curiosity. As you explore the universities in this magazine, you will find there are schools dedicated to a liberal arts education and the study of the humanities, while others may focus on specific professional tracks. Investigate which track (or tracks) may be the best for you and how it fits into your particular style of learning. You may be surprised at what you find.
Making America home
Many prominent educators, researchers, and scholars have chosen to make the United States their home and have pursued careers in higher education at many U.S. colleges and universities for good reason. Important heads of state have been educated at colleges and universities in the United States: Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, to name a few. As a student in the United States, you will not only be part of this elite group, but more importantly, you will benefit from the type of education that has trained leaders from all over the globe—an education focused on scholarship that takes into account a variety of perspectives and world-views.
Many national governments, as a matter of national interest and social development, have chosen to partner with colleges and universities in the United States to educate and train their citizens in various academic fields for which the United States has become renowned. These partnerships have made U.S. higher education one of the most diverse and advanced in the world, a destination of choice for leaders in government, industry, education, health care, technology, medicine, and much more.
Gaining a competitive edge
As a student who is considering studying abroad in the United States, you are not only taking a deliberate step to pursue an academic career, but you are also considering leaving everything that is familiar to you and crossing into an unknown cultural realm that many of your peers will never have the chance to experience. This is a brave step, but many also view this as a necessary one in our continually globalized world. As a student with international experience, you will gain a considerable competitive edge as someone who has tackled a new environment, adapted to new surroundings, and gained a sense of independence. You will become a valuable commodity in a globalized world, having been trained to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries—a skill that the professional world demands in the 21st century.
Support for international students
For more than 60 years, the United States has made a concerted effort to attract and support students from all over the globe. As an international student considering a U.S. education, you will be able to enjoy a high level of support from many colleges and universities from the point of inquiry and application to the moment of enrollment and beyond. Be sure to seek out offices on U.S. campuses dedicated to supporting international students throughout the college search process. They are highly trained to work with students from all over the world and are able to assist with many questions and concerns about studying at their institution and in the United States in general. These professionals have dedicated their careers to assisting international students and ensuring that they are given the tools and resources to succeed in the United States. Once you arrive on campus, they will assist you as you settle into your new environment through formal orientation programs, personal advisement sessions, and social activities that bring people together from all over campus. They can also help with any questions and concerns surrounding the U.S. immigration process, and they can connect you to the various resources and activities on campus that will make their campus your new home.
Planning is key
As you embark on this seemingly insurmountable journey, remember that almost one million international students choose to study in the United States every year, and each one of them had to go through this same process to make it a reality. Of course, there are some practical considerations about studying in the United States, one of which involves the cost of a U.S. university education. However, if you use the various resources that are available to you and start to investigate the process as early as possible, you may find that even cost can be manageable. U.S. colleges and universities want international students on their campuses and therefore dedicate scholarship funds to assist students financially to make their presence on campus a reality.
Be sure to discuss the possibility of financial assistance for international students with your secondary school counselors and university admission staff, and understand how international students fit into a university’s admission and financial assistance process when applying. Reach out to mentors who are familiar with the overall college search process, whether they are at your school, work as independent college counselors, or serve as educational advisors at an EducationUSA office in a nearby city.
An exciting time
Remember, there are several resources to help you make the right decision about studying in the United States and choosing the right college or university for your academic interests, social interests, and ideal living environment. Use this magazine and its website, ACUInfo.com, to begin the process and make contact with key advisors and mentors who can help you with a significant segment of your journey.
And get ready for an experience of a lifetime!