5 Factors to think about when choosing a University program in the USA

How many University or degree programs can you name in the United States? As an international student, it’s likely that you’ve heard of schools like Harvard, Yale, or NYU, but did you know that there are over 4,000 institutions in the United States where you can receive a degree? The diversity programs is one of the many reasons international students seek higher education here in the U.S. 

So how do you choose a school? Well, it’s important to understand that there is no official university ranking list that guarantees the ‘Best School.’ Each school will have it’s own strengths and advantages, so when choosing a University or degree-program, look for what the best school will be for YOU. As you start to think about higher education in the United States, here are 5 important factors to consider that can help narrow down your choices.

1) Location

The United States is a geographically diverse country, and you will find a mix of universities in big cities (and smaller cities!), suburban towns, and even smaller rural colleges. Many international students are naturally drawn to coastal college cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Partly because they are recognized U.S. cities, but also because cities are major cultural hubs that put you in the heart of emerging ideas, events, and happenings in most major industries.  But the “hustle and bustle” of city life may not be exciting and appealing to everyone, so imagine the kind of location that you see yourself living in. Do you want to big in a big, cosmopolitan city like New York? Or do you prefer the more relaxed, slower-paced lifestyle of a smaller city or even rural town?

There are also ways to be close to major cities, without having to live directly inside of them, with many universities and colleges within 45-60 minutes from the city center. Also, if you WANT to be in a big city, make sure you know the exact location of your college campus. Your desired school may be in New York, but can still be 2-3 hours aways from New York City. 

If you are curious about what each state has to offer, internationalstudent.com offers a USA State Guide to provide you with information on all 50 states. They have already done the research for you so that you can learn about the state’s economy, internship opportunities, climate, activities, and more!

2) Program Choices for Desired Major

If you are interested in studying at the graduate level, then you already have some years of education and possible work experience. You may know exactly what you want to be studying so your decision to go back to school is to expand your knowledge in a given field. While many universities can provide a lengthy list of majors, different schools will specialize in certain majors, so you will need to do research within your field of work or study. You can even look up the professors that are teaching within these schools if you are looking for the chance to learn from an industry thought leader or world renowned researcher in your field. 

The U.S. higher education system also offers many program choices, along with the flexibility to customize your program to meet specific career goals, or even just interests that you might have. And if you are not exactly sure what you want to study, it’s okay! Students starting their bachelor degrees are allowed to enter into the University without choosing a major, and can take classes in different areas before declaring a concentration. If this is your first time starting college, you may be more concerned with the overall college-life experience, living abroad, and growing a network of international friends. If this is you, factors like student-life and community may be more important, than the school’s academic prestige.

2) Cost

How much are you willing to spend on your education? It’s no surprise that University in the United States is not cheap, so be aware of the full cost of your investment to study. 

Universities are required to include fees on their websites, allowing students to get an idea of how much their intended course study would be and what aid they may be eligible for.  You can also access these price calculators through the government’s College Affordability and Transparency Center . This provides details of the US universities with the highest and lowest tuition fees and net costs. When your looking at the costs of these programs, keep in mind the currency conversion, which can make your education even more expensive if you are from a country where the currency is weaker.

According to College Board, the average tuition, fees, and room and board for a 4 year undergraduate degree were estimated to be $41,950 at public 4-year institutions, and $52,500 at private non-profit four-year colleges based on the 2018-2019 academic year. These are the costs per year, so studying for 4 years in an undergraduate degree program can cost close to $200,000. 

If you want to become an international student in the US but are unable to meet the high cost and requirements of universities, you may consider a community college for an associate’s degree. This counts as the first half of a bachelor’s degree, which can then be completed by transferring to a university for an additional two years. Community colleges will offer you a way to save money on your education and are a great way to begin your journey of studying in the US. 

4) Size

The size of a school can also have a direct effect on your academic success. Are you someone who thrives in a smaller class setting? Or are you able to be independent and disciplined on a giant college campus? Some universities may have you in lecture halls with hundreds of other students, where others may guarantee a more traditional classroom of 30 or fewer students.

By definition, a “small college” can have less than 5,000 students, where “medium colleges” may have between 5,000 and 15,000 students. “Large colleges” usually mean more than 15,000 students. 

5) Student-life/ Community 

What kind of school environment are you looking for? What do the students do after classes or on the weekends? Are they involved and active on the campus or do they live and socialize off-campus? Most rural campuses are self-contained, with a majority of the students living on campus. This can increase a college’s sense of community. Suburban campuses usual offer access to nearby cities and to outdoor activities, where many urban colleges can provide an off-campus learning experience.

Try to visit the schools if you can! All College and Universities offer campus tours. Being on the campus, meeting some of the students, and trying a class will give you a general feel for the school and environment. Ask yourself, “Can I see myself spending the next 2-4+ years here?” Often Universities can connect you with current international students or alumni, maybe even from your country, that are willing to share their experiences on what life has been like at the school. Make sure to get friendly with your admissions advisor. They are there to help you!

Choosing the right school is a big decision, but the clearer you can get on what is important to you and why you want to study in the U.S., can help you narrow down your options. Look for the balance and take the time to education yourself on different schools and programs. Remember, there is no one school that is a perfect fit for everyone, so look for the school that is going to be best for YOU and your future.

*Manhattan Language students that are considering applying to Universities can also be referred to check out our list of our University Partners. Students that demonstrate a certain level of English proficiency at Manhattan Language will be able to have their TOEFL/IELTS score waived.

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