Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Your International School Search: 10 Questions to Ask

By Chinmayee Raj
Student Ambassador, 

San Jose State University

The hunt for the right university can be both a sweet and bitter experience. Sweet because the campus and labs are exquisitely inviting, and bitter because your calculations could go horrendously wrong. It’s easy to get lost in university websites and mailing lists. I started by saving the URLs in a document but eventually discovered they were confusing me beyond measure. After about three weeks of an aimless search, I discovered the major criteria I was unknowingly applying. I made a word document with the criteria as the columns and kept on adding a simple “yes” or “no” for each university. Here is the list of criteria I created – the questions that guided my search. 

1. Does the university offer the exact course of study that you’re looking for?

This can be tricky. The majors may have the same names, but their curriculums may be different. For instance, I initially thought bio-engineering and biomedical engineering were one and the same. But I discovered after an extensive search that biomedical engineering concentrates on human anatomical study and designing related devices, which is exactly what I wanted.

2. Is the university well respected?

The U.S. is a big place. It has many universities. Some are sort of insignificant. They may lack in any number of ways and are never counted among the top schools. Check university rankings online and gauge your chances of being admitted. It’s easy to rely on numbers; you can see, for example, whether your GRE scores match with the university’s cut-off. Remember, however, that some universities adhere closely to GRE cut-offs, while others may consider you in spite your score.

3. Is the university research-oriented or industry-oriented?

Not all universities are research-oriented, and not all are industry oriented. Each university has its own priorities and you should make sure they match with yours. It’s important to know what you want. Will a school help you achieve your long-term goals?

4. How hard is it to get a scholarship, TA or RA with a professor?

This is essential. It’s always wise to explore these details before finalizing your choice.

5. Are their businesses hiring in the area?

Is the university located in close proximity to businesses that hire college graduates? Also, check and see whether those businesses offer entry-level jobs and internships so that it’s easy for you to acquire experience.

6. Is the university safe?

Check crime rates in the area. Also, ask if the school has a blue light system (or something similar) and see how easy it is to reach out to police if the need arises.

7. What’s the climate like?

This might not be something that everybody looks into, but I advise that you do. Climate is important to some people; you may want to avoid an area that’s too hot or too cold. If you’re stuck deciding between two similar universities, but one is submerged in snow all the time, consider going for the other one!

8. What’s the culture like?

Trust me, you will miss home. Make sure your university has some people from your country and culture. You will connect with them in no time, and it’s somehow reassuring to have them at a close distance.

9. Does the university offer a Ph.D. program, too?

If you are planning to continue on to a Ph.D. program, it’s smart to make sure that the university offers it. If you earn a graduate degree at a given school, it may be easier to get admitted to a Ph.D. program there. Getting into a new university could be more competitive, since you’ll be competing with their students.

10. What’s the cost of living?

All places in the U.S. are not the same, just like any other country. The economy varies. Make sure you know where you are going. However, this should not necessarily keep you from going to a place with an expensive cost of living; remember, the higher the cost of living, the higher your salary will be when you start working. Just be prepared for the initial shock while you convert your currency to USD.

I hope this helps. Know what you want. Decide and stick to it without oscillating. Have a wonderful time hunting for your university, but do it carefully: You’ll be there for a long time.
Chinmayee Raj is originally from India and is currently pursuing a master's degree in biomedical engineering at San Jose State University. She is a member of the Class of 2017.

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