Like any important decision, you need as much information as possible in order to choose which schools to apply to. Though you may have a dream school, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be accepted there. So to combat the risk of being rejected, most experts agree that you should apply to four to eight schools – dream or reach schools, which are the hardest colleges for you to get into based on your test scores and other metrics; target schools, where your credentials match the average of other applicants’; and safety schools, where you have a high probability of being accepted since your scores are higher than other applicants’.
What to research
In order to apply to schools, you first have to research to figure out which ones appeal to you. Every school has parameters about the test scores and grade point average they require in order to accept applicants, and those should be taken into account to determine how likely you are to be accepted. Consider it a sort of “chances-of-getting-into-college calculator.”
There are also tons of lists ranking schools according to overall academic achievement, success in various subjects, specific scores to college entry tests, and so on. But the methodology used to assemble these rankings is subjective, inconsistent, and not based on any universal standard, so don’t give the lists too much weight in your decisions.
However, if you already know your possible major or what type of career you want, you should look at which tools, contacts, resources, and so on are offered by that department. If a school ranks high on your personal list but doesn’t have a strong program for your future job, then it’s probably not the right place for you.
Because most schools in the USA are expensive, it’s important to find out which schools offer financial aid for international students, and, preferably, if you can get a student loan without a cosigner. And make sure to look into the availability of scholarships for international students, so you can get a comprehensive idea of how much tuition and other costs you might have to cover on your own.
Last, but definitely not least, you’ll want to know if a school has an international student center. This office will be able to help you navigate possible culture shock, English-language classes, visa issues, and more. You’ll also want to know how many international students attend the school and can act as a possible social support system for you. If a school you’re interested in doesn’t have these resources, you may want to think about what you can handle on your own to help you determine the importance of support services.
How to research
There are thousands of schools in the USA, so how do you even begin to figure out which school is best for you? Your first plan of action should be to visit an EducationUSA center, which are located all over the world and provide resources about schools and the general college application process in the USA. You can then check out the websites of possible schools to get more details on what they each offer.
As a potential international student in America, however – emphasis on “international” – you probably won’t be able to visit the schools you’re interested in. However, technology is pretty cool these days, and many schools now offer virtual tours on their websites. You can take these tours to get a sense of what the campus looks like and how big a dorm room really is; this will help you discern which facilities, locations, and student population size are the most important to you.
Another great way to get to know more about schools is to speak to the students who are actually there. Contact the schools’ visitor department to ask if they can put you in touch with current students or alumni so you can ask about the school’s culture, and also contact the international student center to get their perspective on what the school has to offer.
You should listen carefully to others’ input and suggestions about choosing which schools to apply to. But here’s the most important advice: 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.