As the sun sinks lower into the sky earlier and earlier the time to go back to school draws closer. Even if you’re not beginning university this fall, school is in the air and it’s a great time to start thinking and planning for next year.
Some of you may know the exact university you want to attend and the field you want to study – great! Or, you have no idea what you want to study or the school to attend. This is okay – promise!
No matter where you’re at in the school search process, one thing is true: life is unpredictable. You may not be accepted to the university of your choice. Or, what if after a year you decide the college or major you chose is not the one for you?
Before you whirl yourself into an anxious mess, know that these things are very common and the U.S. education system is flexible.
Here are some tips on how to choose a university or college, whether it’s for the first, second or third time!
Step 1: Know Thyself
When beginning your school search, start with what you do know about yourself. This can give you some direction and narrow down your search.
Ask yourself questions like these:
- What are my career goals?
- Where do I want to live and study?
- What kind of educational experience do I want to have? Does it include social and cultural experiences?
- Do I excel in a learning environment with fewer students?
- Is cost an issue?
- Do I have any particular religious affiliation that needs to be considered?
As an international student, you must also consider these questions:
- Are the American universities’ or colleges’ degree programs recognized by my country’s government?
- Does my home country impose any regulations with respect to studying in the United States?
Step 2: Define Your Priorities
Think about all those questions? Now you need to prioritize what’s important to you and your family. Your list of priorities could be ranked …
- School must have a reputable, nationally recognized business program
- Business program must offer internships and partner with noteworthy companies
- School must have on-campus housing and career services
Or, you could simply have a general list of what’s important to you …
- Prefer a school with small class sizes
- Would like to live in a city
- Tuition costs must be within my/family’s budget
- School must have at least three good programs that interest me in case I want to switch majors
When you’re writing your list remember to be realistic and open-minded.
Step 3: Get to Know Your Options
In order to be realistic and flexible you should know your options. There are thousands of universities and colleges in the United States and there are good choices for just about everyone, from community colleges to career schools to private, liberal arts colleges to large, public universities. The ivy leagues aren’t the only universities with stellar programs.
Don’t start meticulous research just yet. Simply start reading, talking to people, exploring websites, etc. Here are some fantastic resources to get you started:
- Your local EducationUSA Advising Office
- Study in the USA magazines
- Attend a CollegeWeekLive virtual fair and talk to school representatives
- Attend higher education fairs in your country
- University and college websites
- Your high school counselor
- U.S. News and World Report
- American newspapers and news websites
Step 4: Research
"The ability to research is a skill that will benefit you both personally and professionally. Period. Although each field requires a different set of skills the common and preeminent quality of a researcher is resourcefulness", says Richard Shenkman, journalist, historian and publisher of the History News Network.
“If you don't find what you're looking for on Google, try another search engine. If a search engine doesn't help, talk to a librarian. Just keep trying.”
- Now that you’ve explored resources such as the ones in Step 3, go back to them and get specific, either with your questions or your search
- Only consult credible sources
- Use your list of priorities as inspiration for search terms. For example, “small class sizes,” “business internships,” “merit scholarships,” etc.
- Don’t take costs at face value. Thoroughly read through the cost information, which will include tuition, fees, cost of living, etc.
- Don’t begin and end your research with rankings, which may not give you the complete overview of the school
- If you want to know about the surrounding area go to websites like yelp.com, tripadvisor.com, and check out local news websites and blogs
- Check out school’s official social media pages on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest and Youtube.
And don’t forget to go to the source – the school!
American universities and colleges want to hear from you, so contact them, ask questions and request information. Your education is an investment in your future. Invest the time to find the right school for you!