Choose Your College or University

When Should I Start?

12-18 months prior to expected enrollment

Study at a college or university leading to a Bachelor’s Degree is known as “undergraduate” education. Study beyond the Bachelor’s Degree is known as “graduate” school or “post graduate” education. US undergraduate degrees have a ‘well-rounded education’ philosophy, which requires students to take a wide variety of courses in the arts and sciences before concentrating in one academic area. There are more than 3,700 accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. offering more than 600 major fields of study. Students can study a wide variety of subjects while in college and often do not specialize in one field until graduate school.

Associate’s Degrees
Associate Degrees are offered at two-year institutions or community colleges which are also sometimes referred to as junior or technical colleges. There are two different types of associate’s degrees. The college “transfer” or “university parallel” associate’s degree is a two-year degree designed to meet the requirements of the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. Students then enter a bachelor’s degree program at a different college or university at the third-year level. The other associate’s degree is a technical program of study, usually a two-year program, that prepares students for immediate entry into the job market.

Bachelor’s Degrees
Bachelor Degrees are awarded at colleges and universities. In the US, the terms college and university are both used interchangeably and refer to institutions that award undergraduate degrees. These degrees consist of 1) general education courses in a wide range of subjects; 2) a major, which is the concentrated field of study and 3) electives which are the students unrestricted choices. Bachelor’s degrees are usually completed in 4 years; however, there is no fixed time scale. Instead, a specified number of credits or semester hours are required and the degree is awarded upon their completion.

Choosing A College or University
With more than 3,700 colleges and universities in the U.S., the wealth of options available presents both exceptional opportunities and certain challenges to the prospective student. You will need to narrow this enormous collection of universities down to a manageable number for in-depth investigation. You should compile a list of the factors that are important to you. Below are some criteria you may want to consider when choosing the right institution for your academic and career goals as well as your individual personality.

  • Cost
  • Location
  • Entrance Difficulty
  • Size and Campus Character
  • Fields of Study
  • Housing
  • Accreditation
  • Facilities
  • Type of Institution

Cost is a major consideration in choosing a U.S. university. International students must prove they have sufficient funding to cover all costs for at least the first year in order to receive a student visa. Look for the total cost of tuition, fees, room and board and other living expenses. Is financial aid available? Would you qualify? Tuition fees may run anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000/year. Students are also required to purchase their books and other supplies, which can add as much as $600 more per year to your costs. Living expenses also vary and are highest in big cities. You will also need to include transportation between the U.S. and your home country, health insurance and personal expenses.

Consider where the institution is located. Is the setting urban, suburban, small town or rural? Middle America, east coast, west coast, northern or southern part of America? What is the climate like? Would you be happy living in this location? Additional living expenses may range from $5,000-$14,000 per academic year (9 months) depending on the part of the country where the school is located.

Entrance Difficulty
The entrance/admission difficulty of institutions varies greatly in the U.S., some institutions accept less than 10% of their applicants and others accept all applicants who meet their basic entrance requirements. You can compare the number of international students who applied to a given institution to the number that were accepted. This will give you a general indication of how difficult entrance is for international students. However it is important to note that most institutions look at more than academic performance when making admissions decisions.

Size and Campus Personality
The enrollment at institutions can range from 200 to 50,000 students, each will offer different opportunities and academic environment for students. Which size school will be right for you? It is also important to discover the percentage of international students and the number of countries represented. Does a specific school have cultural diversity and the blend of international students and U.S. students that you are looking for?

The environment can vary greatly from college to college and many issues can impact the personality of a college. The location of the institution–large city or small town, East Coast or Midwest–as well as the weather will have an impact.
Campus life will also have an impact on the campus personality of a college. Consider the types and variety of social activities on campus. Are there activities that interest you? Can you join extracurricular activities such as sports teams, academic clubs, university newspapers, theatre productions, etc.? It is important that you can “see” yourself living and studying on a particular campus.

Fields of Study
Your chosen field of study will certainly be a consideration in your choice of institution. There are more than 600 major fields of study available at U.S. colleges and universities but obviously they are not all available at any one institution. However, because of the “well rounded” educational nature of the curriculum, you are not required to declare your field of study on your application.

Is there housing on campus? What type? (dorm rooms, 4 or 6 person apartments, etc) Is it available and guaranteed? Is it available during the summer or during school breaks that occur during the school term?

It is important that any university you are considering is regionally accredited, otherwise you may have difficulty having the degree recognized by other universities and employers.

Check out the library facilities, number of volumes, are computers available for personal use? What about laboratories, computer labs, athletic facilities? Make certain they all meet your needs and expectations.

Type of Institution
Is it a two-year or four-year institution? Is it public or private? Is it dedicated to a specific mission, such as religious affiliations, women-only campus or a particular ethnic majority on campus? All of these factors will be important to consider in your decision making process.

Finding the Right School for You
Decide what you need and want according to the criteria mentioned above. Review the profiles of the schools that interest you and eliminate those that do not meet the criteria that are important to you. From this list, narrow these schools down to approximately 20 schools that you will contact for more detailed information. Once you have received the information from these schools, you will need to review the materials, and request additional information if necessary before you compile your final list. Reduce this list to seven to ten institutions that seem to meet your needs best. This will be the final list of schools that you will apply to.