The United States is home to more than 3,000 colleges and universities, so there are a wide variety of schools to choose from. Because of the diversity among schools, it’s important to think carefully about a variety of aspects, and also prioritize what is most important to you, when you start to consider a list of schools that interest you.
Some of the key factors to consider include:
1. Location – This includes both the area of the US as well as the campus environment. It’s important to think about the weather (will you be happy in an area where it’s cold and snowy 5 months of the year?), as well as network of family and friends in the area (will you be happier if you have family nearby that you can visit occasionally on weekends?). In addition, do you thrive in a large city environment, or will you be more comfortable in a suburban area or small town.
2. Type and size of school – Liberal arts colleges tend to be smaller (1,000-2,500 students) and are often located in small towns or rural areas. They also tend to have more close-knit communities and professors who are dedicated to teaching undergraduates. Universities can vary in size from around 5,000 to more than 25,000 undergraduates, plus graduate students, so these have a much larger feel. They tend to have more resources and facilities, and also diversity of electives, but also larger class sizes.
3. Student population – These factors include diversity of the student body, whether the school has a religious affiliation, how socially aware students are, whether the campus tends to be conservative, liberal, or moderate. For some students this is incredibly important, for others it’s less so.
4. Strength of coursework, clubs, and network in your field of interest – If you are interested in biochemistry, do the schools you are considering have strong programs in this field? If you plan to return to Asia after graduating, how strong is the alumni network in Asia? Even though you won’t be embarking on your career until after graduation, you should investigate things related to your field of interest to make sure they have the resources you will need both during your time there as well as after you graduate.
5. Social activities – What do students do on weekends? At some schools, American football games and school spirit are a large part of social life, whereas at others this is not important. Some schools have a fraternity/ sorority culture, which tends to dominate weekend activities, and other schools don’t have this at all.
All of these factors can affect how comfortable you will feel on campus, and this can impact how happy and successful you are as a student. More than a brand name, finding a school that’s a good fit where you will thrive both academically as well as socially is important to enjoying this experience and graduating with the confidence to success in your career.