International students often focus on just one or two universities when they start their search to study in the U.S. Typically, they look at schools that are internationally known, or at a school a friend or relative attended.
However, there are many factors to consider in choosing the right university for you, and the right university is not always the one you already know. Do your research to make sure your needs, goals and expectations will be fulfilled.
Based on my experience with international students, here are some tips to help you pick the best school for you.
- Do not assume a private school (one that is self-supporting) is more expensive than a public school (one that receives funding from state taxes). Most public universities charge very high fees for international students and do not offer scholarships.Some private universities actually cost the same or less, have more support services, and can offer scholarships. The University of California-Berkeley is a public school, but you will need $66,278 per year to pay all tuition, fees and living expenses. On the other hand, the University of San Francisco – an excellent private school – will cost $58,484 per year and has some scholarships available. Those are fees for the 2016-2017 academic year.
- Choose a school with good support services. These are important for international students. Some universities offer many great services, some offer few, and some list great services but don’t put the necessary staff behind the services to care for the population.Go to the university website and search these keywords to see how much help is available: international students, internships, career services, academic advising, tutoring, housing, clubs, financial aid, student health center and counseling.
- Do as much research on your major as you do on For example, Georgetown University is a great and well-known school, ranked 21st in the nation, according to US News and World Report.However, if you are interested in an undergraduate degree in environmental science, you should know that they do not offer this degree. Imagine your disappointment when you unpack your things and sit down to make course selections. If you know what you want to study, search for universities that have that major, then look at how the major ranks compared to other universities.
- The “faculty-to student ratio” is important to international and American students. The lower the ratio, the more interaction a student has with faculty. It’s nearly impossible to get questions answered when you are one of several hundred in a class. CS61A — The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs — (see right) has enrolled more than 1,000 students, more than any other undergraduate course at UC Berkeley.
- How safe is your university? You can usually search a university website for “safety” or “crime statistics.” Also search for crime statistics outside of campus. Call the local police department and ask about assault and robberies. Much of college life takes place in the town where the university is located. If the town is not safe, it does not matter how safe the university is, unless you plan to never leave the campus. I wouldn’t recommend that.
- If you think you might work in the U.S. after you graduate, choose your university with that in mind. International students are allowed to work in the U.S. for one year after they graduate. In some cases, they can work up to three years if they graduate with a science degree. If you plan to work in the U.S. in a specific field, it helps to attend a university near employers in that field. For example, if you plan to work in fashion design, you may have more opportunities if you graduate from a university in New York than if you graduate in another state that does not have an active industry in that field.
- Finally, do not underestimate the importance of the support services at the international student office. Do a keyword search for “international students” at the website of each university you consider. Review the international office website. Do they have sufficient staff for the number of international students? Is their information clear and easy to follow? Do they have programs and cross-cultural activities? Do they have any testimonials from current international students that would tell you they are feeling good at that school?
International student services can be important, not only in offering a cultural bridge, but in offering expertise on the immigration policies and procedures you will need to follow to understand your rights and privileges in the U.S.