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What International Students Should Look for at American Universities

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What do American universities and colleges look for when they screen the applications of students from all over the world? It's pretty simple, really. They're looking for the same qualities in international students as they're seeking in American students: good study habits, a history of good grades, decent test scores on admission tests, and an overall ability to succeed in college.

Universities and colleges in the U.S. vary greatly in their admission criteria, so rather than ask what they're looking for, you may want to ask yourself what it is that you are looking for. You have thousands of U.S. colleges to choose from and you can find one that meets your needs and whose admission criteria you can meet.

What do you want in a U.S.A. university?

You probably already know what you want to study, but if you don't, then start taking a look at what interests you, both academically and personally. A particular U.S.A. college may have the best research programs in the world, but if the campus and student life it offers will make you miserable, it may not be the best place for you.

Other essential things to consider are size and location. These two variables can greatly affect which schools you rule out. If you like city life and diversity, then look into schools based in urban areas. However, there are many good schools outside of major metropolitan areas that offer a less-busy environment, but still put you within easy reach of city life. Schools of all sizes can be found just about everywhere. You can find small schools in big cities, big or small schools in the countryside, and huge universities in major cities. Decide if you like the idea of a large student population or if you prefer a smaller, more individualized environment.

Once you figure out the general size and location that interest you, you can further narrow down your list of schools and examine other factors that play a part in choosing a school that's right for you.

Consider your values as you consider American universities

Culturally, you should consider what you're comfortable with. Depending on your country of origin, you may find the openness of Western culture to be overwhelming or inspiring—or both. Whether you want to find a place where you can ease into the culture or one where you can dive right in, you can find a school that will suit you.

As you look at colleges, ask what services are available to assist international students in making the transition to life in the U.S. Some schools offer special advising centers, counselors, and even international student dorms.

Most schools can also offer you detailed information about campus and student life. You'll find that there are schools that are only for women, schools with a conservative or religious focus, and schools that are so diverse that you can find just about anything you're looking for. Find out what each school is like so that you can make an informed decision.

U.S. colleges offering greater support might be a better fit

If you're comfortable adapting to whatever environment you go to, that's great! However, you should consider your need for support in a foreign country. How important it is to you to be able to find other foreign students with which you have things in common?

Attending school in a country where the language, clothing, food, and customs are completely different can be fun, but it can also make you homesick. You may need to find a school where connecting with other students from your country and finding support is fairly easy. As mentioned above, there are U.S. colleges that offer very few resources to international students and there are those that have extensive support and social programs in place.

In general, larger universities will have departments dedicated to providing support and programming to international students. Many of these schools offer detailed information on the services they offer on their Web sites. If they don't, make sure you ask the admission office.

Cost is a major factor when attending American colleges

Since financial aid for international students coming to the United States is limited, cost is an important factor in deciding which U.S. college to attend. Seek out whatever free aid you may be eligible for and figure out how much you can afford to pay. There are loan programs to help international students cover college costs but if you are going to borrow money, you want to minimize how much you borrow.

Additionally, in order to get your visa approved, you will need to show that you are financially able to support yourself while in school.

American colleges offer you a wide variety of choices

Remember, what you choose to study should play a big part in what school you choose. Your academic history also plays a big part in finding a school that will accept you. The great thing about studying in the United States is that there are thousands of American universities and colleges spread across the country. There's more than one that will have a program that appeals to you and that you can get into.

Colleges in the U.S. hope you enjoy your search!

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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