Posted by nStephen
Authored by Kelly Mae Ross, Staff Writer of

Chinese national Kexin Zhen says she first learned about U.S. liberal arts colleges during a meeting with her high school counselor.

From then on, Zhen focused her college search on this type of school, which offers a more general education for undergraduates in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, as opposed to having a professional or technical emphasis.

“I didn’t really know my major and my career direction, so I preferred to go to a liberal arts college,” she says.

Now she’s a rising junior at Wheaton College, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts.

Narrowing the scope of a college search is important because in 2015-2016, there were more than 4,500 colleges and universities in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s a lot of schools to choose from.

Here are some steps prospective international students can take to begin an effective U.S. college search from anywhere in the world.

1. Learn about the U.S. higher education system in general: This will give students a sense of the variety of U.S. school options, from community colleges to liberal arts institutions to large research universities, says John Wood, senior associate vice provost for international education at University at Buffalo—SUNY.

The U.S. has “an institution for everyone or every interest, and really, every ability level as well,” Wood says. “That’s one of the reasons the U.S. is so attractive, because there is something for everyone.”

Students can ask high school counselors for information about the types of study opportunities in the U.S., like Zhen did. There are also helpful online resources, such as the College Board website, experts say.

2. Connect with people who can help: In addition to counselors, there are other people who can offer information and support to international students as they research U.S. colleges.


For example, EducationUSA advisers are available in more than 170 countries. EducationUSA is a network of advising centers supported by the U.S. Department of State that offer free assistance to international students interested in studying in the U.S.

Students can visit the centers in person, or they can connect with advisers via phone, email or Skype, says Umair Khan, country coordinator for EducationUSA Pakistan.

Current international students are another good resource. Prospective students who don’t have friends or family on a U.S. campus can reach out to a college’s admissions office and ask to be connected with an international student there, says Khan.

Prospective students can also attend an education fair to meet with representatives from U.S. colleges and universities. These events, also known as college fairs, offer a way to learn more about U.S. higher education in general, as well as get an introduction to some specific schools.

“I think it’s a very good place to build a foundation of understanding for how the higher education system works in the United States,” says Joshua Stevens, director of admissions at Earlham College in Indiana.

3. Determine what you’re looking for in a school: There are many factors prospective international students can consider when searching for a school in the U.S., such as their budget and intended major.

Admissions experts say one commonly overlooked but important factor is a school’s location.

“That’s a big one,” says Stevens, “because the United States is such a massive country.”


Clara Colas, a rising junior at Wheaton who hails from Paris, says she limited her U.S. school search to areas on the East Coast where she has family. “I didn’t want to be completely alone,” she says.

Experts say students will also want to consider whether they want to study in a big city versus a smaller town as well as what type of climate most suits them.

4. Research specific schools: Khan says when Pakistani students meet with an EducationUSA adviser for the first time, they are often encouraged to research colleges and universities and create a spreadsheet of 20 to 25 they like. Students gather information about the schools’ location, cost, financial aid availability, standardized test score requirements and the academic programs that interest them, Khan says.

After completing their research, Khan says the students in Pakistan work with an EducationUSA adviser or their counselor to narrow down the list to the five to 10 schools they’ll apply to based on the criteria the students believe are most important.

“I always tell the students, ‘You’ve got to ask the question to yourself: What kind of school fits for you?'” Khan says.


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