With over 4,900 universities in the USA, it is a real challenge to choose the schools that suit you best. The process, however, is an exciting and surprising one, so get ready for an adventure! This journey to the “perfect school” might lead to a school that you have been dreaming of for years or it might take you to completely new campuses that turn out to be just the right match to your interests and passions.
There is no easy recipe for success, so when you make your choices you need to clarify your objectives and consider the factors that are important to you both in terms of education and lifestyle.
We at FEAC are happy to help with the process – we have been through this many, many times during our 15 years of experience! So reach out and let us know what universities you are considering and what concerns you have so that in the end you are perfectly happy with your choices and you put together a smart application that gets you into the school.
When selecting universities, you may like to first take a step back and really think about what you would like a college to offer, based on the following criteria:
Criteria for school selection
The major is the subject in which you choose to specialize. You do not have to declare your major when you apply to university. You will be required to do it by the end of the second year of study. But if you have a specific program in mind, especially if this is not a common specialization (e.g., aeronautical engineering), it is wise to select universities which offer that program.
Check the section dedicated to international students on the university website to get a clear image of the merit- and/or need-based funding available for non-U.S./international applicants. Does the financial aid cover annual costs (tuition and living expenses) or just academic costs (tuition)? More information on this in the Financial aid section hyperlink.
College websites include statistics on the number of applications they receive, as well as the number of students they admit. You will notice that very competitive schools generally receive huge numbers of applications, but accept a very small percentage of them. In contrast, moderately difficult colleges usually admit a larger number of applicants. Visit university websites and check their freshman/class profile. You will see the average SAT scores, GPA, etc. of admitted students and see how competitive you are compared to past successful applicants. If you need financial aid, it will never hurt to aim at having grades and/or test scores that are at least 10% over the average if not higher, where possible.
The U.S. is much larger than Romania, spanning six time zones and offering a very wide range of diversity in terms of geography, local culture, traditions, climate, etc. since you will be spending about four years at your chosen university, location is an important factor when choosing a school.
In terms of the weather, summers are hot and humid, with mild winters, in the South, for example in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, whereas in the Northeast, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, the summers are mild and the winters are cold. Also, the South and Midwest value a more slow-paced lifestyle, friendly atmosphere, conservative values and also have a lower cost of living than the Northeast and West Coast. Be prepared for people to say hi when they pass you in the street and strike up conversations at the supermarket! The West Coast is famous for its more carefree lifestyle. The region also generally benefits from nice weather and beautiful outdoors.
You might also like to consider the campus setting: an urban setting will probably be more expensive, but will offer more public transport and also be more likely to be close to international airports, as opposed to a suburban or rural setting.
Another important aspect is campus size, as some universities are as small as 1,000 students and some are larger than 50,000. Also consider universities and areas that are centers of excellence in your field, where you may find related internships, work experience and networking opportunities.
Which environment is the one for you? Only you know what fits best.
The U.S. hosts a huge number of coeducational schools, but also a significant range of single-sex colleges. The latter take pride in the fact that a high percentage of their graduates become leaders in their communities and careers. For instance, at women’s colleges students are encouraged to excel not only in the humanities, but also in engineering and technical fields, subjects that at a coed school would perhaps appeal more to the male students. For example, Wellesley College, MA where one of advisees in a select women’s college, with Hilary Clinton as one of its alumnae. You may like to consider this option that allows you to put all your energies into your personal development.
Read an article on top women’s colleges here http://collegeapps.about.com/od/collegerankings/tp/top_womens_colleges.htm.
There is no official college ranking by the U.S. Government or the U.S. Department of Education. However, rankings by the U.S. News & World Report http://www.usnews.com/rankings and the like are widely used.
Remember that rankings can be subjective and differ depending on the specific criteria they take into consideration. Therefore, use these instruments with caution, mostly in the initial stages of your college search. Think beyond the Ivy League schools: there are lots of great colleges in the United States where you can get admission and funding. See some reading suggestions later in this volume.
Consider your objectives and motivations first, research the programs carefully and find the institutions that are right for you.
I first went to Syracuse University without being sure what to expect from my U.S. experience. All I knew was that I wanted to study aerospace engineering and learn in a country where this industry was thriving.
Syracuse University was not my first choice, but it was not my safety school either. I managed to get a decent score on my SATs. The test scores, together with my essays and my grades in high school, got me a partial scholarship at Syracuse University without which my family could not have been able to send me to school there.
Bogdan Constantin, alumnus of Syracuse University, NY, Master’s student at MIT
Tools for college search
Here are a number of key sites and resources that are useful for online university search. They certainly proved helpful to Romanian applicants who have worked closely with our Advising Center.
EducationUSA’s Financial Aid Updates: http://www.educationusa.info/financial-aid, the “Undergraduate” section.
Peterson's: www.petersons.com, the “College Search” section.
College Board: www.collegeboard.org, the “College Search” section. CollegeBoard’s “BigFuture” section will help you find the colleges that match your preferences in terms of location, size, financial aid, and more.
The Princeton Review: www.princetonreview.com, the “College” section.
There is a lot of admissions information on the internet, but we suggest you start with these sites: they are highly authoritative, reliable, unbiased, comprehensive, and constantly updated.
For instance, if you go on to College Board's Big Future website, follow the steps below:
• In the search bar, type the name of the university you are interested in: for example, Amherst College (make sure you get the school’s name right);
• You will be directed to the college’s Big Future profile, which includes information on admissions and aid. Go to the "For International Students" section;
• From this section you can also find out the average amount awarded in the previous academic year to an international student admitted to the school you are researching. How? Divide the total amount awarded – $7,189,588 at Amherst – by the number of enrolled international students who received aid in the previous year – 141 – and you will get $50,990. So, in 2012-2013, the average amount awarded to international students at Amherst College covered tuition which was $44,610 and part of the living costs which were estimated at around $11,650 for on-campus housing. As you can see, Amherst is one of the U.S. schools that are able to offer massive financial aid to international students.
Strategies for smart school selection
State universities are funded by U.S. state governments to provide access to education to residents of those states. For example, California boasts a famous state university system, with UC Berkeley and UCLA as the gems in the crown.
Public universities tend to be very large, with enrollments of 20,000 or more students. They generally admit a wider range of students than private universities. For example, Michigan State University and Texas State University enroll over 50,000 students each year.
At state universities, tuition and fees are usually lower than at private universities. Also, in-state residents - who live and pay taxes in that particular state - pay much lower tuition than out-of-state residents.
As a rule, international students are considered out-of-state residents and therefore do not benefit from reduced tuition at state institutions. A small number of institutions offer in-state tuition to international students through sister-city/country arrangements or because they have special agreements with institutions in other countries. Good examples are the public universities in Florida, which are connected to institutions across the world through the “Linkage” program.
Generally, tuition is lower at public schools, but the financial aid they are able to offer to internationals is also lower than at private schools, given the state schools’ mission of making education available to as many students as possible.
Private institutions are funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees, research grants, and gifts from their alumni. Tuition fees tend to be higher at private universities than at state schools and there is no distinction between in-state and out-of-state residents. Colleges with religious affiliations and single-sex schools are always private. Generally, private universities have enrollments of fewer than 20,000 students; in fact, they may have 2,000 or fewer students on campus.
Based on our 15-year experience at the Fulbright Educational Advising Center, Romanian students tend to attract extensive financial aid mostly from private colleges and universities.
Living costs vary widely across the U.S. and they also depend on individual lifestyles. Living expenses are highest in large cities, in California, and in the Northeast. Costs can be much lower in the South, the Midwest, and other areas. University catalogs and websites are a good source for information on current living costs.
Within the total living expenses that universities quote, you will usually find an approximate breakdown of costs for items such as room, board, books, medical insurance, and personal expenses. Annual living expenses at an Illinois college can be as low as $6,000, for example, compared to around $20,000 for living in a residence hall on campus at a school in California.
According to the latest figures made available by the Institute of International Education in New York, Romanian students show a strong preference for universities in the states of New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, New Jersey, etc.
Certain U.S. universities boast an encouraging number of Romanian/East European students on campus. Why should this be of interest to you?
A large number of Romanians on campus suggest that the university offers generous financial aid and that the admissions office is familiar with the Romanian educational system and will have all the background info to better assess your application.
The reverse situation may also prove advantageous, because the university might be eager to increase the diversity on campus and build up its European/East European student population. In this case, look out for special scholarship opportunities. An example: Grinnell College, a liberal arts college in Iowa, offers a scholarship specifically addressed to Eastern European applicants.
How many schools should I apply to?
Some of the top-tier U.S. universities have an admission rate of under or around 10%. For instance, according to Yale University’s website, this past year a record high of 28,977 were considered for admissions, out of which 1,975 were accepted (and out of which 1,356 enrolled). That puts Yale’s admit rate for fall 2012 at around 6.8%.
To make sure you receive several positive admissions responses from which to choose, try to put together a balanced list of universities to apply to.Read more...
• 2-3 highly competitive universities: the so-called “reach” schools that are very competitive and where your SAT scores and grades are perhaps lower that the averages from the previous academic year, which you will find in the class profile.
The class profile, also called freshman profile, is usually available on the university’s website, in the admissions section. To roughly compare your average grade with the American-style GPA, a good resource is the Princeton Review conversion chart http://inquiry.princetonreview.com/leadgentemplate/GPA_popup.asp;
• 2-3 “match” schools where your SAT scores and grades are similar to those in the class profile;
• 1-2 safety schools where you are well above the academic profile of last year's admitted class.
Stay organized by keeping track of the universities you are interested in! You can use a table like this:
College name and website
|Intl admissions requirements||Intl financial aid opportunities||Deadlines for intl applicants||Why this school?||SAT scores (freshman profile)||Comments|
Especially if you are planning on applying for financial aid, it would be best of your scores topped the averages in the class profile by at least 10%. However, remember that top grades do not guarantee admissions or financial aid – the U.S. application process is holistic and takes into account both quantitative and qualitative elements that define the applicant.
The article Before They Were Titans, Moguls and Newsmakers, These People Were...Rejected in the Wall Street Journal is an interesting read on the topic of the importance of finding the schools that best match your interests and needs.
My fulbright experience
Students at the advising center