Deciding on a US college?
In addition to competitiveness and affordability, there are dozens of other characteristics you should think about as you build your college list.
Deciding which colleges to add to your college list is the first step of the cumbersome college application process. Some of the most obvious factors that you might consider while building your college list include college rankings, programs of study, financial costs, and application competitiveness (GPA and standardized test scores). While these factors lay the foundation for your decision making process, there are several other factors that you should consider when selecting colleges to apply to.
For the past few years, the US has hosted approximately 1 million international students across different academic levels. Although there are over 4,500 colleges in the US to choose from, most international students (around 80%) study at only 300 different institutions, less than 7% of the total number of universities in the US. International students, thousands of miles away from the US, often overlook important factors and hundreds of great schools while building college lists.
Here are a few things that you should consider when building your college list:
Diversity is one of the greatest advantages that US colleges have to offer - people from all over the world come to the US for their higher education, giving you the opportunity to learn from global perspectives and understand different cultures. It helps you think critically and teaches you how to effectively communicate with people from different backgrounds. As an international student, moving to the US and adapting to a different culture can be difficult. It’s helpful to research the student body mix and campus diversity (understanding the different ethnicities and nationalities on campus) - you should reach out to current students (at the college you are considering) or alumni who share a background that is similar to yours to understand their experiences.
2. Employment Stats
Colleges love to display employment statistics for prospective students and lay out average salaries for their graduating classes throughout their websites. As an international student, it’s easy to get carried away by such stats, but they don’t necessarily apply to you. It is significantly more difficult to secure a job as an international student in the US - most employers are not willing to hire international students given visa restrictions (although, graduating with a STEM degree makes you more employable). If coming to the US to study and eventually find a job is your ultimate goal, you should reach out to the university’s career center or admissions department and ask them for international student-specific employment statistics.
Different regions of the United States can have drastically different climates. The Northwest Pacific (including states like OR and WA) is the wettest part of the country and you can expect to find scattered rain all throughout the year. The Mid / South Pacific (CA, CO, UT) is known for its generally dry, delightful summers - the weather is great all year round, but the northern parts of California can get slightly cooler. The Midwest (MI, WI, IL) has pleasant summers, but winters can be harsh with lots of snow and heavy chilly winds. Similarly, if you plan to study in the Northeast (NY, NJ, MA), you should be prepared for harsh winters with heavy snow and freezing rain, though summers are usually pleasant, sunny and warm. The Southeast (GA, FL, VA) is a popular destination amongst international students - this region experiences moderate rain throughout the year and has pleasant Fall, Spring and Summer seasons.
Colleges With The Most International Students
You’ll be surprised to learn which US colleges host the most international students - click the button below to download the list!
As a prospective student, you will probably undermine the importance of your food options - “I’ll figure it out when I get there..” is the general attitude of most international students. Campus cafeterias and dining halls offer a variety of cuisines, and it helps to know what your options are. While some campuses have diverse off-campus food options, some campuses can be relatively remote and have limited options. If food is a big part of your daily routine, and you live to eat, researching your meal plan and food options is certainly something you should consider before adding a college to your list.
5. Campus Setting
A college’s location and it’s campus setting have a major impact on the overall college experience. Are you able to walk between your college dorms and classrooms? Is it too far away from a city? Do you like a hustling and bustling environment? You should understand a college’s campus setting before adding it to your college list because a lot of your out-of-classroom experiences are defined by the campus setting you choose. For example, Georgia Institute of Technology offers an urban, city-inclusive campus setting, located in the heart of Atlanta, GA. However, Emory University offers a rather suburban campus setting, although it is also located in Atlanta, GA.
6. Greek Life
At some universities, Greek life can represent up to 25% of the entire student population, and if this isn’t meant for you, you can quickly find yourself out of place. It’s important to understand the culture associated with fraternities and sororities (which varies from university to university). It’s up to you whether you choose to be a part of it or not, but you also don’t want to find yourself as the odd one out.
7. Cost of Living
Although you can argue that your personal lifestyle choices will define your overall cost of living, your college choice and the city/location you choose to study in can quickly ruin your budget. From everyday things like groceries and gas, to food, drinks, and tips you offer at restaurants - prices can vary quite a bit from state to state in the US and there’s not much you can do about it once you’ve decided where you will be living and studying. Talking to current students and knowing what your daily expenses look like can certainly help you financially plan your student journey.
8. Need-Blind vs Need-Aware
Financial aid options for international students are extremely limited and international students are not eligible to apply for Federal Financial Aid that is provided by the US government. However, there are thousands of need-aware colleges that offer financial incentives / scholarships to international students. Although the list is extremely short for international students, there are also several need-blind colleges that do not evaluate a prospective student’s ability to pay as part of their admissions decision, and also meet up to 100% of demonstrated need. Click here to read more about need-blind colleges for international students.
College rankings have forever been used as a metric to judge how good colleges are, but they are often inaccurate and flawed. Parents love to talk to their neighbors, friends and relatives and more often than not, use college rankings to fuel the discussion. Once you’re on campus, you quickly realize that rankings don’t matter if you’re unhappy where you are and are unable to make the most out of your college experience. While you can certainly look at rankings, academics, and admissions stats, amongst many other factors, it’s important to research schools on a more holistic basis before adding them to your list.