An Insider’s Guide for International Students How to Select a University and Finance and Education in the United States Selecting a university is a major investment in time and money and will in many ways affect you for the rest of your life. For the past several years, research indicates that one out of every two university students will not graduate from the school they enter. I am certain that there are several factors contributing to this statistic. One of those factors includes the university selection process. There are more than 3,500 institutions of higher learning in the United States. For many students, both American and international, their university selection process begins with an examination of schools and in such publications as Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges or Peterson’s Guide to Four Year Colleges. These publications give basic, statistical data. However, your examination of the best university for you should not end there. The tips contained here are designed to help you, the international student, and your family to ask the questions and obtain the information that I believe will help you to select the university that will meet your needs? My opinions are based on my 30 years of experience as a university administrator. I hope you will agree with me that this guide is useful in helping you decide on the right school for you. Marguerite J. Dennis Vice President of Enrollment and International Programs Suffolk University Boston, Massachusetts Where to Begin You may want to consider the following when selecting a college or university in the United States: 1. Size Many students prefer schools that provide an opportunity to have small, interactive classes with lots of individual attention from faculty. Other students prefer large, auditorium-style classes. In larger schools, the chance of getting called on to answer questions is less likely? But some students prefer a more impersonal learning environment, and so prefer a larger school. Insider Tip: Some universities claim to have small class sizes. However, what you should ask about is the average class size for freshmen. Since first-year students often take introductory courses, those classes are usually larger than the elective courses students take in heir third or fourth years. Ask what courses you are likely to take in the first year and the average size of those classes. Find out if classes are lectures of interactive discussions and if examinations are essay or multiple choice questions. The latter type of test is sometimes indicative of larger classes. Ask about English-language placement options for international students. 2. Location Many university freshmen look forward to living independently. However, after the first flush of freedom passes and the reality of the school’s location and dormitory living sets in, most students feel differently. Insider Tip: The location of your school can be a critical factor in your success. Ask yourself the following questions: Is it important for you to have access to films, plays, concerts, restaurants and museums? Do you want to live near the mountains of the ocean? Do you like to hike in the spring or ski in the winter? If you answered yes to the first question, you may want to limit your choice to schools near a major city. If you answered yes to the second and third questions, maybe you should investigate schools in a more rural setting. The school’s location can be a critical factor in your academic success. You must also determine if you want to enroll in a university with a large or small international student population. 3. Faculty One of the most important aspects of your university selection process is the school’s faculty. These men and women will influence your university experience more than anyone or anything else. How can you evaluate the school’s faculty? Insider Tip: Find out who teaches freshmen courses. Are they taught by full-time faculty or graduate assistants? Also, find out the number of faculty with PhD degrees, the number of full-time and part-time faculty, and the number of graduate and undergraduate students. Find out if the emphasis is on teaching or research. Ask about faculty advising or after-class availability. Find out how many of the faculty are international or have teaching experience abroad. Also find out if there are special faculty advisors assigned to advise international students. 4. Students Are you interested in a school with a large student population from your country, or do you want a school with a diverse student body? Insider Tip: It’s only natural for students to want to associate with people from their own country, to speak their first language, and to have opportunities to share similar cultural and social backgrounds? However, many international students enjoy meeting students from other countries and prefer a diverse community of students. Only you can decide. 5. Academic program Here are some questions you should ask about academic programs at a university. Insider Tip: Find out how much time is typically spent studying, what courses are needed for graduation and the number of credits required to graduate. Examine core courses, integrated studies programs, largest majors, language requirements, major requirements, honor courses, double-major opportunities, internships, and combined degree programs. What are the school's strongest majors? What are the weakest? Why? The number of American students participating in study abroad programs is indicative, in part, of the school’s internationalization and the importance it places on exposing its students to different academic settings and cultures. Compare this information with all of the schools you are considering. 6. International Student Services Are international students met at the airport on arrival? Are international students given appropriate temporary housing if permanent campus housing is not available? IS there a separate orientation program for international students? What information is given to students before they arrive on campus and during the orientation program? What information is given o the student’s family? Are international students assigned special faculty advisors? Student mentors? What is the relationship between international students and international student advisor, the dean of students, the registrar, and the financial aid officer? How involved are school personnel in the academic and administrative life of an international student? Insider Tip: It is important that international students and their families feel that are an important and integral part of the university. The manner in which your application is processed and the communication after acceptance and enrolment can be indicative of a school’s policy towards its international student population. 7. Financial Aid Program Most international students begin their academic careers in the United States with sufficient funding. However, unexpected circumstances at home can affect a family's financial situation and present financial difficulties. Insider Tip: It is important to know your school’s policy if you are unable to pay tuition. Is there a contingency financing plans, or are you sent home? A university with a strong commitment to international students should have some procedures for meeting the financial needs of international students with financial problems. You should also find out if there are scholarships or loan funds set aside specifically for international students. 8. Dormitory: A big part of the university experience for residential students is dorm life. It’s easier to adjust is you have a comfortable living arrangement and a suitable roommate? However, not all university students live in dormitories. Are housing alternatives available? Find out what options the school offers. Insider Tip: Find out if international students are housed together or if they are mixed with American students. Living with an American student will improve your English and allow you to learn firsthand about people from the United States. Find out if freshmen are housed together or with upperclassmen. What about co-ed dorms? Ask if you keep the same dorm room all four years or if you change rooms every year. What are the options if you don’t get along with your assigned roommate? 9. Social, Cultural and Intercultural Environment Here is where your specific needs and personality come into play. Are Saturday-afternoon soccer games a must? Are fraternities or sororities important to you? Is it important for you to have access to newspapers from home? What about special foods? Insider Tip: Think carefully about a school that has a reputation among students as a “party school” or a school that is known principally for its athletic program? I’m not denying the importance of social activities or athletics in fostering school spirit. However, I don’t think you should enrol in any school only because of the school’s football or basketball teams. Does the university offer intercultural activities for its international student population? If so, what kinds of events are routinely sponsored? This information is an indication of the value placed on making international students feel comfortable during their stay in the United States. Also, how much interaction will you have with American students? A healthy mix of international and American activities is what you should look for. 10. Safety Many families are not aware that all US universities are required by federal law to keep a record of all crimes that occur on their campuses. This is public information and must be made available to all enrolled and prospective students and their families. Insider Tip/ Compare the campus crime records of all the schools you are considering; Ask to receive a copy of the university crime brochure, which should outline safety tips and procedures. Also, find out what kind of protective services are available. Compare the crime rates of all the schools you are considering. 11. Retention Program One of the most important factors, and one of the most overlooked, is a school’s retention program. Remember, one out of every two university students will not graduate from the school he or she entered. Insider Tip: In addition to asking what a school’s graduation rates are, ask the percentage of freshmen students who progress to the second semester and then to sophomore year. Find out what percentage of international students are retained and graduate. Ask about a retention program designed specifically for international students. What kinds of services are available to international students in academic difficulty? How long does it take the average international student to graduate? 12. Alumni It may seem strange to you to think about graduates of a school before you even enroll. However, alumni can assist in helping you to evaluate a university. Insider Tip: Many schools use alumni as part of their admission programs. If this is not part of the admission process, ask an admission counsellor to give you the names of one or two graduates from your country. Ask these alumni what they liked and disliked about the school. Ask them if they would select the sale school if they had to choose again. Compare the answers to these questions with all the universities you are considering. 13. Re-entry Information What happens to the school’s international population after graduation? Do students return to their home countries? Do they continue their studies in graduate school? Does the school assist their international graduates with re-entry information? Is there regular communication with international students after graduation? Insider Tip: It is important that the international graduate continue to have some regular contact with his/her “alma mater”. It is likely that you will want or need an official transcript sometime after you graduate. Be certain to notify the registrar’s office and the international student advisor’s office of any change of address. Ten Questions to Ask 1; Is there a description of a “typical” student at this school? 2. How much time do students devote to studying? 3; How available are faculty advisors? This is an important question, since faculty play such an important role in a student’s life and academic program. 4. Why do students leave or transfer? 5; Are there safety or crime issues on the campus? 6. Is career counselling available? 7. What percentage of the student body participates in intramural sports and extracurricular activities? 8. What opportunities are there for internships and exchange programs? 9 What about computer facilities? Are students required to buy their own computer? 10. This is a very subjective question, but it’s one I like to ask. Can you find out from anyone what is the “best” thing about the school and the “worst thing? Compare these answers with your impressions and with what you have been told. The answers should match up. Ten Reasons Not to Select a University 1. My mother or father are graduates of the school. 2. All of my friends are applying to this school. 3. It’s the most well-known university in my county. 4. The school has a great football team. 5. Great Web site. 6. I think it’s the right school for me. 7. I want to get away from home. 8. I want to ski in the winter or surf in the summer. 9. I wasn’t accepted anywhere else. 10. I have no particular reason why, but I want to attend this school. Financing an Education in the United States Enrolling in a US college or university is both a goal and a dream for many international students. However, being accepted into an American school is just the beginning. How you and your family will pay for that college education is just as important as college admission. You should ask if the college or university you are considering offers financial aid to international students and what you need to do to qualify. Many private schools have generous scholarships for academically talented students, including international students. This section is designed for you, the international student and your family. The information is designed to help you seek out available financial id sources as well as ways to reduce college costs. Expenses involved in Enrolling in US schools Application Fees- Most US schools charge a fee to review the credentials or students applying for admission. These fees range from $40 to $60. Tuition- US universities charge tuition for all enrolled students. Tuition can be as little as $5,000 a year at a community college or as expensive as $30,000 a year at a private university. Tuition and fees are usually paid twice a year, at the beginning of each semester. Room and Board Costs- Depending on the type of housing arrangement, room and board (meals) costs can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per year. Medical and Dental insurance- All international students are required to have insurance to meet any medical or dental expenses they may have while studying in the United States. Travel Expenses-International students should include the cost of at least one round-trip airline ticket to and from the United States in their expense budget. A student must also pay travel costs from a major airport to the school. International students are also advised to purchase travel insurance when planning their trips to the United States. Miscellaneous Expenses- Included in this category are all of the other expenses related to the international student’s educational stay in the United States. International students interested in pursuing an education in the United States should consult the publication of the Institute of International Education, which lists all the schools in the United States and the costs at each university. It is available at all EducationUSA centers. For the Educational Advising Center nearest you visit www.educationusa.state.gov International students should be aware that the expenses listed above are for the academic year only and d not include the costs of attending summer school. Some schools require international student to attend English as a Second Language (ESL) training session and orientation program before enrolment. Also, it is important for international students to know that tuition, fees, and room and board charges will increase each year. Merit Scholarships The majority of private colleges and universities offer merit scholarships or grants based on a student’s academic record. If you have good grades, you may be able to receive scholarship assistance from your college or university. As soon as you have identified the schools you want to apply to, find out about the scholarship opportunities available at that school, the criteria for warding, and the deadlines for applying. Loans for International Students The International Education Finance Corporation specializes in loans for internationals students enrolled in American colleges and universities. For information contact: The International Education Finance Corporation 424 Adams Street Milton, MA 02186, USA Nine Ways to Reduce College Costs 1. In addition to financial aid based on your grades, some schools offer scholarships or grants to students with particular talents. Find out from each of the schools you are looking into if they have categories of scholarships. Get the criteria and the deadline dates. 2. State colleges and universities charge lower fees. Some students enrol first at a two-year school and then transfer to a four-year college. 3. Some schools offer combined degree programs or three-year programs that allow students to take all of the courses necessary to graduate in three years instead of four. 4. Most schools charge a flat fee for taking a specific number of credits within a semester. Take the maximum number of credits allowed. 5. Investigate taking summer courses and a less expensive school or at a school at home. Be certain the credits will transfer. 6. Many schools offer employment programs for international students. Depending on the hourly wage and number of hours you work, you could earn between $1000 and $2,000 per semester. 7. Most residential colleges have resident advisor programs that provide financial assistance to students in exchange for working in the residence hall. 8. Cooperative education programs allow students to alternate between working full-tie and studying full time. Find out if the colleges you are reviewing offer this option. You could earn money and get valuable job training at the same time. Web Sites for More information http://www.educationusa.state.org The official US Government EducationUSA home page for international students. http://www.edupass.org Information for international students on financial aid, cultural concerns, and visa issues. http://www.iefc.com An international loan program for international students enrolled at US universities/colleges http://www.aauw.org A private source of funding for graduate and postgraduate women. Information on fellowships, grants and awards. http://www.collegeboard.org Locates scholarships, loans, internships and other financial aid programs from non college courses that match your educational level, talents and background. Helps you come up with a list of schools that meet your interests. http://www.fastweb.com Free scholarship search engine for all students http://www.iie.org Fellowships and sponsored programs http://www.amideast.org Information on advising centers and English language training http://www.macfdn.org Foundation that provides grants, especially for fields of human and community development, global security, diversity of the media, etc. http://www.nafsa.org Private sector funding to foreign scholars and students in the United States http://www.petersons.com Financial aid help page. Helps you come up with a list of schools that meet your interests. http://www.rotary.org Information specific to Rotary foundation scholarships. http://www.yahoo.com/Education/FInancial_Aid General financial aid information for all students http://www.isoa.org Sources of scholarships available for international students. http://www.IEFA.org a scholarship search engine and other useful links related to international students. http://www.nyu.edu/scholarships Information on several national scholarships. http://internationalstudent.net Information on a range of resources form the college admission process to securing a student visa. http://princeton review.com General information on the process of admission to higher education in the United States including financing. This document was written by Marguerite J. Dennis, Vice President of Enrollment and International Programs at Suffolk University in Boston www.suffolk.edu We thank her and Suffolk University for their very generous offer to share this information with you on line.