How International Students Can Gauge U.S. College Fit

Studying overseas in a new place can be intimidating. But there are things an international student can look for in a U.S. college or university to make the transition more comfortable and the experience more beneficial.

It’s all about finding a good fit, admissions experts say.

“Fit encompasses a lot of things,” says Lindsay Addington, associate director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. She says a school that’s a good fit will meet a student’s expectations with regard to academics, extracurricular activities, postgraduation plans and more.

U.S. News asked admissions experts and others to explain, more specifically, the criteria prospective international students should consider to determine whether a U.S. school is a good match.

• Does this school have what I’m looking for academically? The first thing students need to look into when researching colleges and universities is whether a school offers the major they’re interested in.

“That’s the No. 1 key because you’re about to spend a lot of money and a lot of years working toward a degree,” says Djuana Young, associate vice president for enrollment at Texas Wesleyan University.

Students should also think early on about whether they are interested in a liberal arts program or a more narrowly focused degree program, says Gail Berson, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Liberal arts programs provide undergraduates with a more general education in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, as opposed to having a professional or technical emphasis.

Addington says students should try to identify the type of learning environment in which they perform best – for example, does a student feel more comfortable in smaller classes? This can help them determine whether they would be more likely to succeed at a small, mid-size or large school.

Additionally, students should make sure they meet, or come close to meeting, the academic criteria for international student applicants at the institutions they are considering, says Stephen Lazowski, vice president for enrollment management at Marietta College in Ohio. To do this, prospective students can check school websites to see if their own high school grades and standardized test scores – such as IELTS or TOEFL scores – are within the range of what the school is looking for.

• Will my needs be met outside of the classroom? Experts advise students to think about the type of location they’ll be most comfortable in – such as a big city versus a small town – since the U.S. is a large and geographically diverse country. The culture of a campus and the surrounding community is a further consideration.

Another factor is whether a student has friends or family in the area. Such connections can provide additional support during a student’s time in the States.The extracurricular opportunities available on campus can be one more component of fit, according to admissions experts and the following Twitter user.

 Other types of support services to look for include tutoring and a strong international student office.

An additional way to gauge how supportive a school is of its international students is to talk with current students about their experiences on campus, experts say. Addington, of NACAC, says it might be particularly helpful if students can speak with someone from their home country.

• Can I afford this school? Cost is another major component of fit. Studying in the U.S. is expensive, and students need to be realistic about what they can afford, experts say.

International students sometimes have to pay additional fees at U.S. schools. Lazowski, of Marietta College, says prospective students should research these fees, which can sometimes total thousands of dollars, in advance. “Make sure it doesn’t become too over-burdensome,” he says.

Some schools offer financial aid to international students, but many do not.

• Will this school help me achieve my career goals? Students might also want to consider how well a school will prepare them for life after graduation – either graduate school or work.

One Twitter user offers advice for looking into resources for job-seeking students:

Schools often provide data on how many of their students are employed after graduation. Addington says prospective students can ask institutions to show them employment data specifically for their international student graduates.

As prospective students research U.S. schools, it’s likely that they’ll have questions. The schools themselves are often willing and able to provide the answers.

“Engage with the college,” says Lazowski. “You have the opportunity to reach out at a small school or at a big school and talk to an admissions counselor or director of international recruitment.”

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How International Students Can Gauge U.S. College Fit
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How International Students Can Gauge U.S. College Fit
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Studying overseas in a new place can be intimidating. But there are things an international student can look for in a U.S. college or university to make the transition more comfortable and the experience more beneficial.