Friday, March 4, 2016

How to Decide Whether a Program is a Match For You

By Xiao Lu
World Education Services

Pursuing a degree in the U.S. is a huge investment of time and money, so of course you want to pick a program that fits your goals and gives you the best return on investment. Here we will highlight how to decide whether a program is right for you.

Some students look at program rankings to inform their decision of where to study. However, if you are going to live and study in the U.S. for several years, there is more to consider than just ranking. 

Here are a few other elements you should consider when you evaluating a program:

School Cost
An important question to ask is: are you able to afford your education? The cost of school varies depending on things like location and school type (public vs. private). There are many factors to consider when estimating overall cost such as:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Food
  • Books
  • Health Insurance
  • Flight tickets
  • Transportation costs
Also, graduate programs tend to be more expensive than undergraduate programs. For example, a Harvard University first-year law school student pays $57,200 (U.S. dollars) in annual tuition, plus an estimated total of $28,380 (U.S. dollars) in dormitory housing, food, medical fees, books and supplies, activity fees, and personal and travel expenses. That comes to a combined total of $85,580 (U.S. dollars) for the student’s first year.

Tuition for an undergraduate program can be much cheaper. For example, the tuition for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) undergraduate program in the 2015/16 academic year is $13,251 (U.S. dollars), with an estimated $20,647 (U.S. dollars) combined cost of housing, books, health insurance, and personal expenses, bringing the overall cost for a first-year student to $33,898 (U.S. dollars). However, since UCLA is a public university, a nonresident supplemental tuition of $24,708 (U.S. dollars) will be added to international students bills automatically. Ultimately, a nonresident UCLA freshman will pay $58,616 (U.S. dollars) out of pocket.

Residence Halls

Off Campus Apartments

Living with Relatives
Tuition and Fees
Room and Board
Books and Supplies
Health Insurance
Total – California Residents
Nonresident Supplemental Tuition
 Total- Nonresidents

Source: UCLA website

From this comparison, you can see how expenses can vary depending on the school, location, and major. Check your school’s website and make sure you and your sponsors are able to pay the full tuition and other expenses.

Location has a direct impact on your out-of-pocket money. It is also a key factor in your quality of life here in the U.S. In metropolitan cities, such as New York City, Boston, and Chicago, you may have better accessibility to a variety of entertainment and cultural activities, but living in a rural area can be a lot cheaper and easier to navigate.


There tend to be more museums, theaters, and restaurants in metropolitan areas. If you come to the U.S. with the purpose of seeing more of the cultural side of this country, urban areas might be a better choice for you. In a smaller town, you may only have a handful of places you can go in your free time.


In larger cities, it is wise to use public transportation. You can commute by subway, bus, or taxi. In a small town or rural area in the U.S., you may need to rent or purchase a car as driving is more of a mandatory skill. On the plus side, it gives you more of an excuse to go on a road trip and see other places!

Work Opportunities

Think about where you want to gain U.S. internship or work experience before you return to your home country. See what services or opportunities the school might provide for you to find work. As a Brookings report shows, 45 percent of international students doing Optional Practical Training (OPT) work in the same metro area where they went to school. The report indicates that 75 percent of OPT graduates in and around New York City find jobs locally, but this percentage drops for students from non-metropolitan areas. On the other hand, while there may be fewer job opportunities in smaller cities, the competition for those positions will not be as high as they would be in a large city.

International Student Groups 

Alumni groups and networking events can be great resources when you are looking for professional development. For students who decide to go back to their home country for jobs, networking with your peers will be more important. If your program or university has a good reputation back in your country, you can benefit from that reputation when you return to your local job market. In addition, being surrounded by a group of people who come from the same background as you may help with overcoming homesickness. Check the school’s website and see if they have any international student clubs or societies that you could join.

Your journey to studying in the U.S. will be full of hard work but it will also leave you with an experience that you will always remember. 

What factors helped you determine where to go to school in the U.S.? Tell us in the comments below!
Xiao Lu is a Marketing Associate with the WES Advisor team. With a passion in both marketing and research, she manages WES Advisor social media accounts in an analytical and strategic way. Xiao was once an international student from China herself and holds a Master’s in Marketing Intelligence from Fordham University. She now enjoys her travel and life in the U.S. 

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