Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Your International School Search: 10 Questions to Ask

By Chinmayee Raj
San Jose State University

The hunt for the right university can be both an exciting and a stressful experience; it is easy to get lost among all the many school websites and mailing lists. To make the process easier when I was searching for schools, I assessed the major criteria that were important to me. Then, I created a spreadsheet and used it as a guide to decide whether a university was right for me. Here are the questions that guided my search: 
Does the university offer the exact course of study I am looking for?
This can be tricky. While majors may have the same names, their curriculums at different schools can vary. For example, I initially thought bioengineering and biomedical engineering were one and the same. However, after extensive research, I learned that biomedical engineering is the field which concentrates on human anatomical study and designing related devices, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Does the university have a good reputation?
The U.S. is a big place; it has many universities. To understand national school status, check university rankings online to gauge your chances of being admitted. For example, you can see whether your test scores match with the university’s cut-off. Keep in mind though that each university has its own methods for assessing student applications — some may place stricter importance on things like grades and test scores than others.

Does the university offer scholarships or work-study programs?
This is an important criteria for many international students. Be sure to research to see if the school offers financial aid, or contact them directly if your decision will be heavily influenced by tuition cost.

Is there the potential to gain work experience? 
Is the university located in close proximity to businesses that offer internships or even hire college graduates? Ask the university about this directly and check and to see what businesses in the area offer entry-level jobs and internships. You will want to know whether it is easy or not to acquire work experience.

Is the university safe?
Check crime rates in the area. Also, ask what safety and security measures the school has in place (such as campus police) to assess whether it is someplace you feel comfortable studying.

What is the weather like?
This might not be the first item you think to place importance on, but I advise that you do. Depending on your preferences, you may want to avoid an area that is too hot or too cold. If you are stuck deciding between two equally reputable universities, and one of them is submerged in snow for most of the year, you might consider going for the other one!

What is the culture like?
While studying abroad, you will surely miss home. Look to see if your university has student groups and people from your own country and culture. If so, it will make connecting with people in your new environment much easier. 

Does the university offer Ph.D. programs?
If you are planning to continue on to do a Ph.D. program, it would be smart to make sure that the university you are looking at offers that option. If you earn a graduate degree at a given school, it may be easier to get admitted to a Ph.D. program there as opposed to applying to a new university where you do not know anyone and competing with other students.

What is the cost of living?
All places in the U.S. are not the same, and just like any other country, the economy varies. Look to see if the cost of living is reasonable for your budget. However, it is also important to remember that locations with higher cost of living also tend to offer higher salaries when you start working. 

I hope this helps. The most important things to remember are to decide what you want and stick to it while looking for the right school for you. Have a wonderful time hunting for your university, but also do it carefully. After all, you will 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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