This informal CPD article ‘Factors to consider when applying to US universities’ was provided by UES Education, specialists in international university and school admissions, working with top schools across the UK and Europe to provide a bespoke service for those who want the best possible application support in the UK.
The USA is a big place, and it offers a huge range of university choices for students. This represents a great opportunity, but can also make it difficult to narrow down options. Additionally, US universities see themselves as holistic communities rather than purely academic centres, so students will want to consider more than academics when compiling their college lists. One thing that teachers and schools can do to help students make smart US university choices and get successful offers is to advise them to think about a range of factors.
If students need financial aid in order to attend a US university, they will need to make this their guiding principle from the beginning of the process. It’s very important to ask this question from the outset—it isn’t ideal for students to apply to US universities then, once accepted, realise they won’t have the money to attend. There is more financial aid out there than many people realise, but in order to obtain it students will have to do a bit of research, and be open to attending universities that may not initially have been on their radar.
Similarly, if a student plays sport at a highly competitive level and intends to play for a university team, they will need to establish this at the outset as the application process looks a bit different for sports scholars. For example, instead of applying through application portals, sports scholars should contact coaches directly; the coaches will then be able to specify admission requirements for athletes. (This process can be complex and nuanced, so working with a sports consultant can be helpful.)
Type of college
There are different types of US universities: public colleges, private colleges, arts colleges, technical institutes, and liberal arts colleges. Public colleges are funded by the US state to which they belong, whilst private ones will be privately funded; both types will provide a range of educational options. Arts and technical colleges prepare students for careers in specific areas (e.g. engineering at technical colleges), and liberal arts colleges focus on teaching students critical thinking skills based on a broad study of a range of subjects.
US colleges have very varied curricula, and tend to require all students to take certain courses in order to graduate. Students should assess whether they want to experience a broad base of required courses, or avoid certain courses altogether, then find colleges whose curricula match these preferences.
Another way US colleges vary is in their size: some have a few hundred students, whilst some can have 60,000+!
The geography of the US is massively varied, and there are colleges located in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Cities like Boston and states like Michigan will have freezing winters, whilst Southwestern and Southern states will have extremely hot, humid summers.
On some campuses, Greek life (fraternities and sororities), religion, or sports will be a major part of campus life, whilst on others, these elements won’t be omnipresent. Also, some colleges will have more of a campus feel than others—urban campuses, for example, may be more spread out and integrated into the city. Advising students to think about the environments where they have felt most at home can be a good way to help them envision their best-fit campus culture.
When considering US universities, it’s crucial to encourage students to think about more factors than just academics. There are options out there to suit every type of learner, so thinking through all the important criteria will ensure students end up in the unique places they will thrive.
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