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Research And Select Schools

So many schools, so little time on a visa. Pick a few now, and let them fight over which one gets to keep you.

1: Goals | 2: Select Schools | 3: Forms | 4: Exams | 5: Financial Aid
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:

1. Ranking
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 environment.
  • 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.

2. Location
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 Career center.

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.

3. Professors
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.

4. Cost
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 essay.

What is the U.S. higher education system like, in general?
Community Colleges
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.

How many 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:

  • Less likely: Harvard University, Stanford University.
  • Likely: Michigan State University, University of Arizona, Vanderbilt University.
  • More likely: University of Notre Dame, Wake Forest University.
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.

What other online resources I can use to select schools?
There are also many organizations that can help you search for schools online:

1: Goals | | 3: Forms

Undergraduate Ranking
1. Princeton Univ.
2. Harvard Univ.
3. Yale Univ.
4. CIT
5. MIT
6. Stanford Univ.
7. Univ. of Penn
8. Duke Univ.
9. Dartmouth College
10. Columbia Univ.
Graduate Ranking
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