Now that you've defined your educational and career goals
(Step 1), you can take
a critical look at American colleges and universities. In
this step, we discuss a few criteria that you need to
analyze before you can come up with a list of schools you
want to apply to.
When should I take this step?
Seventeen (17) to twelve months before school starts, depending on how ready
you to take the standardized exams (e.g., TOEFL, SAT, GMAT). If you are quite
well-prepared, you can start choosing the school twelve months in advance.
If those exams will require a lot of preparation time from you, we recommend that
you start thinking about it as early as 17 months before school starts.
What should I look for in schools?
That depends upon your goals and interests. You need to weigh
different factors depending on why you are attending school. Here
is a list of factors that many students consider:
A schools rank, overall or specifically in your field, is a good
indication of the quality of education you would receive if you
went to school there. However, there are a few things that
you should know about ranking methods:
- The overall ranking does not mean that the institution is
reputable in every specific field. If you are attending
a graduate school, we strongly recommend that you look at
program-specific rankings instead of overall rankings.
- Ranking does not guarantee success in your education and
professional life. Your success can be affected by many
other things such as your motivation, your professor, and your
- School's rankings are not always objective. Quite a few
complaints have been made about the ranking systems. Some people feel that
the weighting of the criteria is somewhat arbitrary. How
can we objectively say that faculty to student ratio is
more or less important than average SAT score of students who are admitted?
- Not all criteria are considered in schools' rankings.
For instance, campus safety is never included in the rankings.
You can attend the one of the top schools in the country, but if
you don't feel safe on campus, you may want to transfer to another college.
Tip: Some students get into a highly ranked colleges by applying to the
less well-known departments as freshmen. Later on, they
transfer into a different, more prestigious department.
Location encompasses a few factors that can affect your life
in the U.S., so you should think seriously about location
before you are looking at different schools.
Job: The job market is closely related to location. Studying in
a university located near an industry related to your major will
improve your chances of finding a job. If you want to get a
computer-related job, you should consider going to school near
Silicon Valley in California.
If you want a job in the entertainment industry (movies, music, or TV),
there is no question that Los Angeles is a
good place to study. New York city is highly concentrated
with companies in the finance, security, and publishing industries.
The oil industry which employs a lot of chemical engineers,
and geologists is mainly in Texas and Alaska.
Tip: Get a head start on U.S. job information for
foreign students by visiting our
Friends and food: a lot of students want to be close to friends
or relatives in America. Certain regions have
high concentrations of international population (e.g.,
Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Seattle). It will be easier
for you to find food and products from overseas if you live
in those areas.
Weather and disaster: America is such a large country that different
regions can have very different climates.
Nevada and Arizona are mainly dessert.
Hawaii and Florida have warm, humid weather most of the
year. Winter in Minnesota could get as cold as
-30 degree Fahrenheit (-35 C).
Natural disasters are also region-specific. California is prone
to earthquakes while the Northeastern States (e.g., New York, Maine) have
experienced several deadly blizzards in the last few decades.
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina (and a few other southern states)
also encounter hurricanes quite often.
Discrimination: unfortunately, racial discrimination exists in many parts
of the world and America is not an exception. Most of the time, if you study
in large metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles,
the chances of facing discrimination are relatively small. However, in certain
parts of the country such as the Southern States, there are more
reports of discrimination.
The quality of faculty is one of the key factors in determining the
academic quality of the school. Another variable is the ratio
of faculty per student. If this number is too low, you may not
be able to seek personal advice or interact with professors as
often as you wish. The ratio is also a good indicator of the
average class size.
If you are a Ph.D. student, you need to be particularly picky
about the faculty. Since the dissertation process requires close
supervision from a faculty advisor, you should choose a school with
faculty that has similar research interests to yours.
Tip: The best way to find out about the quality of faculty in a particular
school is to talk to experts or alumni and students from your field.
Though it is not always the case, private schools are generally more expensive
than public schools. However, don't remove a school from your list
simply because it's expensive. You may be able to find financial
assistance or scholarships later.
- Check out our Finance Center
for scholarships for foreign students.
- Click here to get an idea how
much does it cost to study in the U.S.
Tip: There are actually advantages to attending expensive schools. First, when applying to
expensive schools, there tend to be fewer candidates to compete with since
fewer students can afford them. Second, you may have a better chance to
network at those schools.
What are schools looking for in students?
Strength and diversity. Schools want to benefit from
having you as a student just as much as you want to benefit from their education.
They will look at what you have done and
what you plan to do in your life. These factors will influence the decision made by admission
officers. You can't affect your grades at this point, but you can
prepare for the admission exams, write a good essay, and get former
teachers or employers to write strong letters of recommendation.
Most of the time, colleges and universities not only want to admit the
most qualified applicants, but they also want to admit students who will bring
a variety of interests to their campus. If you play a sports, a musical
instrument, or if you have another special interest, mention it in your application
What is the U.S. higher education system like, in general?
Community Colleges or Junior Colleges are two-year institutions that award
associate's and technical degree, e.g., Associate of Science (A.S.), following the completion of
a two-year, full-time program. Students can attend two types of programs in
community college. The first type is more academic oriented and aims to prepare
students to transfer to four-year university or college that awards a bachelor's
degree. The second type is more applied oriented and prepare students toward
careers in a specific area.
Colleges and Universities
The majority of higher education institutes are colleges and universities. They
award bachelor's degrees to students who successfully complete four or more year
of full-time study, and master's or doctoral degrees to people who continue their
studies past their bachelor's degree. There are both public and private colleges and universities
in America. Public colleges and universities are usually called University of "State" or "State"
University, e.g., University of Ohio or California State University. Private colleges and
universities do not receive funding from the government, so they tend to be more expensive.
Some private universities are affiliated with a religious denomination, for example,
Loyola Marymount University was founded by a Catholic order called the Jesuits.
schools should I select?
At this stage you should select 10-15 schools.
This doesn't mean you will send out that many applications,
but you will take a closer look at each of these schools.
When it comes time to send out your applications,
you will reduce the list to 8-10 schools.
We recommend that you divide the list into three groups according
to the possibility of you getting in to each school. You can measure your chances of being accepted
by several criteria: your GPA vs. the average
GPA of freshman, acceptance rate, and your expected standardized test scores vs. the average
standardized test scores. Make sure that the list of schools you choose fall
into: more likely, likely, and less likely. For example, if
you want to enter a business school and you are not in the top 5 percent of students at your school,
your choice might look like:
By applying to schools from each group--sending more applications to schools on your "more likely" list and fewer to schools on your "less likely" list, you will safeguarded against being rejected everywhere you apply while you are equipped to
capitalize on your luck if you are accepted at a more competitive school.
- Less likely: Harvard University, Stanford University.
- Likely: Michigan State University, University of Arizona, Vanderbilt University.
- More likely: University of Notre Dame, Wake Forest University.
What other online resources I can use to select schools?
There are also many organizations that can help you search for schools online: