1. In the U.S., higher education institutions are sometimes called universities, colleges, institutes, and etc. What are the different types of undergraduate institutions and degrees available? How do they differ?
Let me start by saying that you’ll most often here these terms: “universities, colleges, schools, institutes, and institutions”. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences. In general, I would say as broad generalizations that:
- Universities are more likely to offer bachelor, master and doctoral programs;
- Colleges tend to have a higher focus on bachelor programs;
- and Institutes are more likely to offer highly specialized programs (i.e. Institutes of Art and Design, Institutes of Technology).
There are also institutions who offer Associate Degrees, which generally take two years to complete at community colleges, junior colleges, or two-year colleges and can transfer credits to complete a Bachelor’s degree program at a nearby college or university.
Last but not least, there are also Technical and Vocational Colleges. These types of colleges tend to have a strong “hands-on” curriculum and focus on preparing students for the work force in a particular vocation. These programs are generally one to two years in duration also.
2. Narrowing down the number of schools to apply can often be challenging for students. How should a student go about their search process and what resources are available?
There are so many great places to find information about U.S. universities, especially in our “search engine world”. My advice is to search for academic programs, location, type of institution, size of the institution, and etc.
Below are a few websites available:
- College Board
- College Net
- Princeton Review
- Peterson’s College Search
- Hot Courses USA
- National Association for College Admission Counseling (which has dedicated resources for international students)
3. How do students know which program type best fits their needs and long-term goals? What factors should they base their program selection on?
First and foremost: Start your search with an open mind! There are some 4,500 accredited institutions of higher education in 50 different U.S. states. So dare to explore those that you may not have heard of before. In general, I recommend that you start your selection on the basis of five basic questions:
- What is your academic interest? Compare academic programs based on your focus and if the curriculum inspires you.
- What are the admission requirements? Check if you have the grades and minimum test scores to be accepted.
- What kind of lifestyle do you want for the next four years? Understand your lifestyle preferences and what kind of environment you want to live and study in.
- What are your budget realities? Find out if the institution offers scholarships to international students.
- Do you feel “connected”? The school should be responding to you and providing the answers that you need. Make sure you feel like you are in good hands for the next four years.
4. Adjusting the life in the U.S. as an international student can sometimes be hard. What kinds of student services are available for international undergraduate students in supporting them with these challenges?
U.S. universities tend to have a strong focus on the well-being of their students: academic well-being, physical and emotional well-being, etc. This means that many universities will have a wonderful array of student-services available on campus, such as a health center, sports and recreation centers, writing centers, career center, student organizations, and many more.
In addition, most universities that have a significant international student population provide specific programs, such as International Student Arrival and Orientation Programs, immigration and personal advising services, cultural adjustment and excursion programs, and more. Above all, remember that campus services are generally accessible to anyone who is a student at that particular university. That includes international students!
Ms. Greet Provoost is the Director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss. She speaks from over 25 years of international education experience. Ms. Provoost, an international student herself, holds a Master in Education from University of Sydney and BA in International Politics from Carroll University. She also holds an undergraduate degree in Secondary Education from Belgium.