Shelves with books, US flag box, UK flag box, phone booth picture, and container

6 Common Misconceptions About US Colleges and Universities

US higher education is world-renowned and international students come to America for school every year, but there are some misconceptions that need debunking.

When thinking about studying abroad or attending an American university, our minds rush to some of the best educational institutes in the world. But there are several notions that have stuck with international students when it comes US higher education. While deciding to study abroad, misconceptions can cloud your judgment, and you may feel slightly frightened. These misconceptions are not only harmful to the prestige of these great universities but could also affect your future career if you choose not to pursue this opportunity. Thus, it’s very important to address some of the most common misconceptions international students have about studying at American institutions.

1. Study abroad is expensive

Attending an American university may appear to be expensive compared to studying in your own country, owing to the US’s world-renowned reputation in higher education. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pay it all on your own. There are need- and merit-based scholarships (often specifically for international students) that will take some of the financial burden off your shoulders. Other options you can consider include looking for public universities and community colleges, as there’s typically a large difference in the tuition costs compared to private universities. You shouldn't worry about the fees and instead focus on building a sound academic and extracurricular profile to get the best scholarships in your basket.

2. You’ll feel left out and isolated

When it comes to studying abroad, there always lies the fear of missing out and not being included in friend groups. As an international student, you may fear you'll end up alone and isolated due to being a different ethnicity and having different cultural norms. Likely to your surprise, American universities have quite a good percentage of international students coming from varied backgrounds to their campuses each year. There are also student cultural societies and other on-campus resources universities offer so you don't feel left out. You’ll find on most US campuses that students are humble and practice inclusivity. You’ll come out of the experience with great friends for life. Just make sure you join peer groups that motivate and understand you.

Related: List: Colleges With the Largest Enrollment of International Students

3. The application process is bothersome

I actually believe the application process is rather favorable for international students. In the admission process, American colleges and universities have a holistic approach toward application review. This process evaluates candidates based on their academic performance, extracurricular and volunteer work, and personal essays, but it also allows students to share their stories and show the university the qualities that aren’t limited to academics. Admittedly, this application process isn’t universal to all US schools, and sometimes there may be extra requirements for international students to submit—but it should still work for you. Start doing activities that interest you and align with your career plans to build a standout application. 

4. International students don't get any attention from professors

This is a super-false assumption. One of the main reasons why American universities are often a #1 priority for international students is because of the faculties. The professors are almost always experienced mentors with a sea of knowledge to share with students. You will probably never encounter a scenerio in which a professor will behave differently toward you in a negative way or ignore you because of a different national background. Instead, they’ll likely offer you extra help and share resources to help you better understand their way of teaching. Rest assured, they’ll offer you their wisdom with the same greatness they offer your classmates.

Related: 5 Colleges With Inspiring Faculty Members

5. Bullying is common at US universities

This is a misconception that’s very stereotypical in nature and something international students observe a lot in American movies; somewhere in the back of the class, we’re scared about how we can be easy prey to bullying as we may look, dress, act, or speak differently due to our varied global backgrounds. Bullying is experienced in schools of all levels around the world, and it continues to be a major problem in higher education institutions too—but no more or less at American universities. However, American schools almost always have anti-bullying policies to help prevent it, and on-campus authorities monitor the college life atmosphere closely, making it a safe place for all students to grow.

6. US schools only accept students with outstanding academic records

As previously mentioned, when reading through applications, US universities don’t solely focus on test scores or academic performance. I won’t say they don’t matter, but your achievements outside the classroom also matter. Be attentive to both your academic studies and outside hobbies and passions. Universities usually have an expected minimum GPA or English-language proficiency as a requirement for international students, so when applying, be sure to check if you have the desired scores. And remember not to sideline your studies in the chase of extracurriculars—they both matter.

Related: Which Admission Tests Should International Students Take? 

Don't let these misconceptions scare you away from applying to world-class American universities and colleges. Do your research when it comes to selecting the right fit for you and find all the scholarships you can. Give equal importance to your classroom training and learning outside of school in the form of extracurriculars, volunteering, sports, and internships. Invest your time wisely, and don't forget to enjoy the process amid all the work you’re doing. Let’s let go of these misconceptions about American universities and show the world all the wonders international students can do.

For more US university search help and admission tips, check out our International Students section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

college admission college search international colleges international students study abroad

About Varnika Dhyani

Varnika Dhyani

Varnika Dhyani is a student who aspires to bring the best of stories to readers. Most of her writings are personal blogs and cover her perspective. She has a thing for the dramatic in stories and always looks for ways to embrace her creative side. She’s dedicated to sharing with the world the little things that lead to bigger changes. 


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Daniel Ogunlokun

Daniel Ogunlokun

High School Class of 2022

When I started looking at colleges in the beginning of my senior year, I was conflicted about which ones I wanted to attend based on safety, tuition costs, location, academic rigor, and prestige. Searching the internet and getting more questions than answers, I came across CollegeXpress, which made all the steps I had taken look like a minor issue. Everything was summarized and detailed, and I couldn't be more thankful and appreciative.

Maurice Whan

Maurice Whan

$2,000 Spring Scholarship Contest Winner, 2021

This year has been tough for my family and myself, so receiving this scholarship has been a blessing in disguise! CollegeXpress has been an excellent resource in helping me prepare financially for college. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!

Maria  Fernanda

Maria Fernanda

High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress is always telling you with time to spare when to apply for certain scholarships, what they require, and if you’re eligible or not. They also provide helpful tips for both incoming college students and current college students, such as what to absolutely have in your dorm.



High School Class of 2019

My favorite feature of CollegeXpress is the scholarship search. As someone going out of state for college, I needed all the financial help I could get, and CollegeXpress helped me easily find scholarships I could apply for to help fund my education.

Lexie Knutson

Lexie Knutson

High School Class of 2021

This whole website has helped me overcome the attitude I had before. I was scared to even approach the thought of college because it was so much. I knew it wasn’t just a few easy steps, and I panicked mostly, instead of actually trying. Without realizing it, CollegeXpress did exactly what I usually do when I panic, which is take it one step at a time. With college I forget that because it’s more than just a small to-do list, but this website was really helpful and overall amazing. So thank you!

College Matches