One critical factor in getting to study in America is the proper selection of a college: one which will offer you both admission and significant worth after passing out. The right college should also provide a competitive atmosphere for personal growth coupled with sufficient financial assistance to help you afford the otherwise numerous expenses of the studying in the US. In this chapter, we shall look at some of the tricks and tips for selecting the best colleges for sending out your applications.
College profiles of 400+ affordable colleges
The College Profiles included in the Information Section (Chapter 19) comprise of a select list of American colleges which will help make your choice easier, saving you loads of time and effort involved in wading through mountains of college guides and literature.
The colleges and universities listed in the College Profiles section are selected on the criteria of:
1. The quality of education,
2. The wide variety of subjects (called majors) offered, and
3. The large amounts of financial aid they have been offering to international students in the previous years by way of outright grants, assistantships and other campus jobs.
Other factors that we have considered in short-listing are:
- Acceptance rates.
- Percentage of accepted candidates who actually enrolled.
- High school positions and merit of the enrollees.
- Average scores in the SAT/GRE.
Financial resources considering the school’s fiscal expenditure, the sum spent per student by the school on instruction, student services, computers, libraries, and other facilities.
Alumni satisfaction as judged by the 1995 Survey of US News measured in terms of the number of former students who participated and contributed to the school’s fund-raising drives, etc.
Thus, in all, four hundred or so colleges which give overall high value for money within a limited budget are listed in the College Profiles section along with their vital statistics which should help you in deciding which colleges you must finally apply to and also the total number of colleges you should send PAFs to for application forms and program details.
Rating your priorities
The College Profiles section, being vast in itself, you will have to interpret the given information to come up with your own list of best colleges.
The profile on each of the 400+ colleges includes information on tuition costs, location, average test scores and difficulty of entrance, etc. However, you must first rate your priorities on the basis of the factors listed below to decide what exactly you are looking for:
- Do you want a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. degree?
- Are you talented in your field of study?
- Do you have any published work, article, poem or book to your credit?
- Are you comfortable with the opposite sex?
- Will you prefer living in a small or a big city?
- Can you adjust in a large student body?
- How much can you afford?
- Are you willing to work four-five hours every day?
- How good are your test scores?
The criteria are detailed in the following sections.
Interpreting the college profiles
Tuition and other costs
The College Profiles section gives the 1995-96 tuition “fee details. Tuition fee in the US campuses has been rising by 7% or so annually. This will help you estimate the current tuition fee. Besides that the housing costs, food, book purchases and travel can add significantly to your actual expenses. As discussed in Chapter 8, you have to take into account all these while evaluating your total cost of attendance.
A typical good but low-cost university is University of Nebraska at Kearney where a Master’s degree student without aid can manage in $7,000 a year, all included.
You can get a room for as much as $350 a month to as low as $40 a month, depending on the location. In a larger city, the cost of living could be several times that of a smaller city. But at the same time if you live in the outer suburbs and the cost and effort of daily commuting justifies it, you could as well, choose a bigger city college or university. The cost of boarding as well as that of food and other expenses will be cheaper in suburban places than bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The place where you live will have a major influence not only on your lifestyle but also your living costs. New York, for example a cost far more than living in a smaller city like Tallese, Florida does. This will, in turn, reflect in your expense totals.
“Should I consider tuition costs while applying?”
Yes, you must certainly consider tuition costs before applying since this is a major factor. You are still better off in an $8,000 p.a. college, rather than in a $25,000 p.a. college with a 50 per cent scholarship.
Set your own afford-ability limits and compare colleges in the College Profiles section of this book.
Big city or small location?
While selecting a college, keep in mind whether you want to live in a bigger city or in a smaller
Here’s a tip
Costs can be checked from city guides as well as local chapters of the YMCA.
One, although understandably opportunities will any day be more abundant in a bigger city.
Whether you opt for a college in a big city or a small one referred to in the College Profiles section as urban and suburban locations could be a major factor deciding the cost of renting a room in case you are planning to live off-campus rather than on campus. You can always share a room with three or four persons, perhaps even from your own country, and reduce the cost of boarding and lodging.
However, the problem of commuting will arise if you choose to live in a big city suburb. Travel in public transport in the US, however, is not half as bad as what you may be accustomed to in India but then neither are the costs as insignificant as they are here!
To live on-campus or off- campus?
It is for you to decide whether you can afford to commute daily from a distant and obviously cheaper location to the main campus to sustain your idea of studying in a big city college. In case you think this is not a very comfortable possibility, especially if you are on a teaching assistantship for four or five hours a day, you may give up this option. You can also get part- time jobs in the residence halls in exchange for a free stay there, and these can usually be held along with the main assistantship.
If you are going on a limited budget, you must first come to accept the fact that the years you spend studying will be hard work and more hard work and nothing but lots of hard work!
How to assess the chances of financial aid from a college
The ability of a school or the department to offer financial aid can be judged from two factors.
Firstly, the number and extent of research projects and industrial interaction on the campus, which will let you evaluate not only possibilities for research assistantships but will also help you a long way in staying back in the US after finishing your course. But the point to be remembered about these is that you need to hold a Bachelor’s degree in the same field.
Secondly, the size of the college can also make a difference. Not only is a larger college cheaper to some extent, it also has more abundant opportunities for teaching assistants, who need to take three or four classes per day for the Bachelor’s degree students for five days a week totaling about twenty hours per week in the same field in which they hold their Bachelor’s degree.
Then come the outright grants, and these incidentally are very hard for international students to get their hands on since most colleges, despite their claim to the contrary, do show preference to American students for outright and non-returnable grants.
If you are trying for admission to a Bachelor’s degree course, then it’s better to look for a low-cost college rather than anywhere else, since financial aid for pre-degree students is virtually non-existent when it comes to international enrollees.
Financial aid data
The figures quoting the percentage of students getting some financial aid are US figures, so they do not give any proper indication of how many international students receive aid. And this percentage counts persons getting $15,000 as well as $100 in aid as equals! So this is not the thing to rely on. It is better to form your judgment on the basis described earlier.
Size of the institution
The size of student population classifies colleges under three heads:
• Small: Less than 2,000 students
• Medium: 2,000 – 10,000 students
• Large: 10,000 and more students.
The larger the size of college, more the opportunities for teaching assistantships and other jobs. Besides, you may find better possibilities for apartment sharing.
A wider variety of courses, comparatively lower fees and a more diverse range of activities are other plus points. The negative aspect is that lesser individualized attention is available from the teaching faculty. The plus points definitely outweigh the negative.
Which colleges actively encourage foreigners?
Though some colleges do have a larger body of students on campus, as shown in Table 6.1 at the end of this chapter, almost all colleges except for the defense colleges highly encourage foreigners to join.
All colleges described in the College Profiles section have at least three per cent of the student body from other countries.
Aid for international students
Though low-interest loans are one thing you will never be eligible for as a student, all other opportunities for work-related financial aid are open to you as an international student as those available to American citizens.
The College Profiles section also mentions the percentage of female student population. This may help you if you are looking forward to joining a women’s college or one with higher percentage of women, as some more conservative families in Asia would prefer.
Difficulty of admission
The students’ scores in the admission tests give a rough idea about the difficulty of entrance to the university. The figures apply to both Master’s and Bachelor’s degree students.
Since course offerings can change from year to year, the year’s latest bulletin will describe the exact nature of courses. However, most of the colleges will offer you a Bachelor’s in Arts and usually a Master’s too. Taking colleges with obvious names such as XYZ College of Technology or XYZ Institute of Technology or Polytechnic or XYZ Technological University as an indicator, you can list out possible institutions and specifically write to them for their bulletins.
To conclude: the colleges described in the College Profiles section are those offering the best value-for-money, and must NOT be classified as cheap colleges.
Make sure you spend time on selecting your prospective colleges while clearly keeping in mind the kind of college you are interested in.