Choosing a School
If you are serious about obtaining a college degree in the United States, you should request information from at least 10 institutions. College admissions is competitive enough for international students that you need to apply to many institutions to have a reasonable chance of being admitted to a few schools. Some international students apply to as many as 15 institutions, especially if they are in highly competitive fields like engineering, business, or computer science.
At least one third of your applications should be to schools that are less selective. You can get a good idea of a school's selectivity by the scores they require on academic admissions tests. Do not limit your selection to only the most famous internationally-known institutions. If you do, your chances of being admitted to even one school will be infinitesimally small.
The US government does not monitor the quality of US colleges and universities, as does the ministry of education in other countries. Instead, the US Department of Education approves accrediting agencies. These accrediting agencies review a school's educational program for quality, and certify that the school meets a minimal set of standards. So it is important to be sure that the schools to which you are applying are accredited by a recognized accrediting agency, since schools without accreditation are likely to be of lesser quality.
There are many online guides to US colleges and universities. You will find these guides helpful in narrowing your choice of academic institution. Some of the better guides include FastWeb's College Search and Monster Learning. Other guides include CollegeNet, the College Board's College Search, and Peterson's Guides to Undergraduate Study and Graduate Study.
A few somewhat smaller guides specialize in information of interest to international students, such as intensive English language programs. These include Education International and US Education Journal. US Education Journal's program guide also includes helpful information about English testing, travel tips, and visas.
There is also an online guide to college and university web pages. You can find a lot of useful information on a school's web page.
It is important to make sure that the school offers a degree program in your chosen field of study. If you are applying to graduate school, make sure that the department has enough faculty in your specialty. (Read the journals and conference proceedings in your field, and make a list of the institutions with authors publishing articles of interest to you.) Other considerations include the quality of the institution or department, the admission requirements, the cost (and the availability of financial aid, if any), the size of the institution, the location, housing policies, and the availability of ESL programs.
Sometimes it helps to limit your search to one region of the US, such as the east or west coast, before looking for schools that match your other requirements. The most important factors in choosing a location are climate and cost of living. Costs are higher in large cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. In contrast, costs are much lower in the South and in cities like Pittsburgh and Seattle. The most popular destinations in the US for international students are California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.
There are more than 2,000 undergraduate institutions in the United States, so the search can be a bit overwhelming. Ask your educational advisor for help, especially in making sure you have a reasonable selection of high quality accredited institutions.
Do not rely on rankings of institution quality such as the Gorman Report or US News & World Report's annual college rankings. The methodology used to assemble these rankings is subjective, inconsistent, and not based on any universal standard. One source may rank a given school in the top ten, while another publication will rank it in the top 100. The best school for you is the one that best meets your needs and interests, not somebody else's assessment of an institution's prestige.
Another key consideration is the number of international students on campus. If there are very many international students on campus, the school is more likely to be sensitive to the needs of students from other countries. On the other hand, you are less likely to receive financial aid at such a school. The schools with the greatest number of international students are listed below in alphabetical order. If a school is listed in italics, it gives financial aid to more than 50 international students each year.
Even though the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) doesn't appear on this list, it deserves special mention. International students represent 37% of the MIT graduate student population, and more than 20% of the overall student population.
Although the schools listed above have many international students, the inclusion of a school in that list might result more from the large size of the school than a special emphasis on international students. The schools with the greatest proportion of international undergraduate students are listed below. If a school is listed in italics, it gives financial aid to more than 50 international students each year.
The states which are most popular with international students are Massachusetts, California, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Texas, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Vermont, Minnesota, Maryland, and Iowa.
If the school offers rolling admission, there is less deadline pressure on the international student. Schools with rolling admission accept applications throughout the year and review the applications when they are complete. You still need to submit the applications in a timely fashion, but the extra flexibility can be helpful with delays caused by the postal system. Most schools, however, have fixed deadlines and mail offers of admission between March and May.
Unfortunately, as an international student you don't have access to the best method of determining whether a school is right for you: the campus visit. If you do have the opportunity to visit the US and tour a few colleges, do so when classes are in session. This will not only allow you to previous the professors, but also get to meet a few students and get a feel for the student culture and whether you'd fit in.
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