Why study in America?
In the latest QS World University league tables, 10 of the top 20 universities are U.S universities. This is partly due to the billions of dollars invested in US university research and in creating a more vibrant campus life and a huge range of extracurricular activities. US higher education is popular for its distinctive flexibility and interdisciplinary format, with most students graduating with a richer mix of degree disciplines. Today’s employers are increasingly looking for graduates with global experience and an open-minded attitude, combined with a broader range of skill sets.
A US bachelor’s degree ordinarily takes four years to complete, hence the academic flexibility, compared to the UK’s 3 Year typical degree. Most community colleges offer two-year associate degrees, which often have direct transfer arrangements with four-year universities, making it more affordable and less rigorous in terms of entry requirements.
There is no direct equivalent of UK’s UCAS in America, but about 650 US universities or colleges (as they interchangeably use these 2 terms) use the Common Application, an online portal that helps students manage their applications. Whilst a few US colleges and universities do not require admissions exams, most will expect students applying to take at least one of the major standardised admission tests such as the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the American College Testing (ACT). These tests are primarily aimed at providing a common measure for comparing the abilities of students who come from a wide range of educational backgrounds. Test scores will be submitted alongside your application, essays, references, transcripts, work experience and other supporting information.
US universities or colleges, include:
- Four-year private research universities such as Harvard, Stanford or Princeton.
- Four Year private technical Institutions such as MIT and California Institute of Technology.
- Four-year private liberal arts colleges such as Amherst College, Wellesley College and Williams College
- Four-year public universities such as University of California, University of Florida and Michigan State University.
- Two-year community/junior colleges such as Altamaha Technical College and Maryland Community College.
|US Private Universities||US Public (State) Universities|
|Funded through fees, grants, donations, alumni||Mainly funded or subsidised by the state & fees|
|Generally higher tuition fees (Average: $35k)||Generally lower tuition fees (Average: $23k)|
|More demographically & geographically diverse with more national/international students||Less demographically or geographically diverse (in-state students)|
|Top ones generally higher ranked, but not all of them||Mixed rankings, some higher some lower|
|Generally smaller class sizes & enrolments||Average class sizes and enrolments larger|
|Narrower range of subjects, academic focussed||Wider range of subjects|
|Closer relationships with professors||Less close student-lecturer relationships|
Factors to consider when making applications to US Universities:
size and location of university
- affordability or chances of getting full funding
- colleges that you have a perfect cultural match with
- degree of selectivity
- Subject areas (It is very possible that when you apply to American colleges, you may end up not studying one degree discipline/area of study)
Funding & Tuition
Quite a lot of students are able to fund their studies through scholarships or financial aid from the US universities themselves or from external funding bodies. More than 600 US universities offer international student scholarships worth $20,000+, with over 250 institutions having opportunities for ‘full ride’ scholarships.
Tuition fees in America vary significantly, ranging from the most expensive private university such as the Ivy league Universities, which charge upwards of $50k, to low cost state universities, which may charge as low as $5k per year. International students tend to pay higher ‘out-of-state’ fees and are not eligible for the US Federal Student Aid, neither are they eligible for UK’s student loans and grants. However, international students can apply for highly competitive scholarships or university funding packages. Other costs such accommodation and living expenses often range between $15k and $20k.
Scholarships & Financial Aid
International students may consider applying for financial aid by completing the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile, which enable then to be considered for a limited range of aid based on their family income and assets.
‘Need-aware’ universities consider a student’s financial situation when making admission decisions. Some ‘need-blind’ universities (such as Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Yale) do not consider a student’s financial situation when making admission decisions but may also meet the full financial needs for international students.
Scholarship assessments are generally not based on the student’s family financial situation and affordability. Scholarship opportunities include:
- University/College specific means-tested (need-based) scholarships – limited and very competitive for international students
- Merit-based University/College Scholarships – awarded for academically or extra-curricular talented students. Extra curriculars range from art to drama, music and dance.
- Sports Scholarships – mostly governed by bodies such as NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA
- External Scholarships – based on specific criterial that may include religion, ethnicity, character, discipline or talent.
- Attribute based scholarship such as the UNC’s Morehead-Cain Scholarship consider character, leadership and assertiveness.
- Some competency-based scholarships also consider art portfolios, video/live auditions or essays.
- First Year Abroad Programs – selected universities allowed students who have completed their first year to pay significantly lower in-state tuition (e.g. Florida State University).
- Liberal Arts, Southern and Midwest colleges are generally more generous and are keener on attracting international students.
Work-Study Options – F1 Visa
- Only awarded to students who can demonstrate full financial support. Employment income is classified as supplementary income and cannot be used as annual proof of financial resources.
- Employment limited to 20 hours per week on campus during term-time and full-time during holidays, for first year students. Off-campus employment allowed for second year onwards.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) – allows you to work off-campus after one year enrolment.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – allows working with a job offer for major-related work necessary for your degree/academic credit, after one year of study.
- Major-related work for State approved International Organisations such as WHO, WTO, UN, Red Cross.
KEY WEBSITES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT STUDYING IN THE U.S
Fulbright Commission – Offer programmes, events and advice for UK students, academics and professionals interested in studying, researching or teaching at accredited higher education institutions in the USA.
Sutton Trust US Programme – supports high achieving state school students from across the UK to explore US study and access leading universities. The Sutton Trust US Programme is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore what studying in the US is like. It will give you a taste of what it’s like being an international student in the US and help you see if it could be the right fit for you. It’s a fully-funded programme so they will cover all costs, including travel, residential events, accommodation and food. https://us.suttontrust.com/
IEFA – The premier resource for international scholarship and grant information for students. You’ll find the most comprehensive listing of scholarships for international students. https://www.iefa.org/
IIE-Funding for U.S. study – Funding for US Study Online is an extensive database of scholarships, fellowships and grants organized and maintained by the Institute of International Education (IIE). Funding for US Study includes all types of funding programs, for all levels of post-secondary study, across the full range of academic areas. https://www.fundingusstudy.org/
Edupass – The International Student Guide to Studying in the USA. This site provides information for international students who are thinking about pursuing an undergraduate, graduate, or professional education in the USA. It also contains material of interest to international students who are already in the USA. There is also some information for international students who are interested in studying in countries other than the US, but the main focus is on higher education in the US. https://www.edupass.org/
International Scholarships – the premier financial aid, college scholarship and international scholarship resource for students wishing to study abroad. At this site, you will find the most comprehensive listing of grants, scholarships, loan programs, and other information to assist college and university students in their pursuit to study abroad. https://www.internationalscholarships.com/
ScholarshipPortal – scholarship website for international students looking to meet their financial needs. Find and Compare University Scholarships, grants, fellowships and other student funding. Comprehensive scholarship lists available for a wide variety of destinations abroad. https://www.scholarshipportal.com/
EducationUSA – a U.S. Department of State network of over 430 international student advising centres in 178 countries and territories. The network promotes U.S. higher education to students around the world by offering accurate, comprehensive, and current information about opportunities to study at accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States. https://educationusa.state.gov/
The College Board – a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity as well as promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT and the Advanced Placement Program, grants, scholarships, fellowships and financial aid. https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/
UES (University Entrance Skills) – Provides high quality, personal support to students entering Higher Education in the US. They have an end-to-end service that includes help with standardised test tutoring, building the right extracurricular profile, choosing colleges, writing college essays and personal statements, and completing applications. https://www.ueseducation.com/
NCAA – The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a member-led organization dedicated to providing a pathway to opportunity for college athletes. http://www.ncaa.org/
NAIA – The official clearinghouse for NAIA eligibility. Every student-athlete must register with the NAIA Eligibility Center to play sports at an NAIA college or university. https://www.naia.org/student-athletes/future-student-athletes/index
NJCAA – The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) is committed to providing quality athletic opportunities to enhance the entire collegiate learning experience for its students. https://www.njcaa.org/eligibility/Pros-SA-Guide
Ivy League and Elite US Universities
Ivy League universities are some of America’s most prestigious and highly selective universities. Ivy League universities’ history goes back as far as the 1950’s where they began as an athletic conference/association of eight highly competitive North-eastern colleges. Their athletic teams’ popularity led to more funding which in turn boosted student performance and academic standards. This then resulted in a more competitive and rigorous admission. Since then Ivy League colleges have gained social prestige and a competitive advantage through producing high calibre graduates with lucrative career prospects.
However, Ivy League Uni’s are among the most expensive in the U.S., with average annual tuition fees well over $50,000. Fortunately, some of them are amongst the most generous in terms of scholarships and financial aid.
As expected, getting into these top ranking Universities is really tough as the admission process is extremely competitive, with admission rates below 20%. Apart from your solid academic performance and high test scores, you might need to have a rich and well decorated profile with a solid track record of extra-curricular activities, other unique achievements and recommendations.
Ivy League universities
Harvard University (Massachusetts)
Yale University (Connecticut)
Princeton University (New Jersey)
Columbia University (New York)
Brown University (Rhode Island)
Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
Cornell University (New York)
Four other Elite Universities which, though not Ivy League schools, share a similar reputation and status to are:
Stanford University (California)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) (Massachusetts)
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) (California)
University of Chicago (Chicago)
It is worthwhile to mention that there are thousands of world-class universities and higher education institutions in the U.S., with some of them ranking equally high in university league tables – so it is quite important to keep an open mind and not to only restrict yourself to these elite institutions.