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 you and your family. You want to pick the program that fits you best and gives the best return on your investments. Some students like to look at program rankings to make sure they get the best education in their reach. However, if you are going to live and study in the U.S. for several years, there is more to consider than ranking. This blog will introduce you few other elements you should consider when you are evaluating a program.


First, be realistic: are you able to afford your education? The cost varies from school to school and depends on the location and type of school. There are many factors to consider when you estimate the overall cost.

Tuition, housing food and books are the primary costs every student must cover, but as an international student, you need to also think about health insurance, flight tickets and so on. Grad schools, especially law schools, are usually more expensive. For example, a Harvard University first year law school student pays $57,200 in annual tuition, plus an estimated total of $28,380 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 for the student’s first year.

Tuition for an undergrad program can be much cheaper. For example, the tuition for a UCLA undergraduate program in the 2015/16 academic year is $13,251, with an estimated $20,647 combined cost of housing, books, health insurance, and personal expenses, bringing the overall cost for a first year student to $33,898. However, since UCLA is a publicly held university, a nonresident supplemental tuition of $24,708 will be added to international students’ bills automatically. Ultimately, a nonresident UCLA freshman will pay $58,616 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 depend on the school, location, and major. Check the school’s website, and make sure you and your sponsors are able to pay tuition and other expenses.


Location has a direct impact on your out-of-pocket money; it’s also a key factor to 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.

Entertainment: With no question, there are 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 on weekends. If you are the exploring type, that could get a bit boring!

Public transportation: In cities, public transportation is quite convenient and accessible. You can commute by subway, bus, or taxi. In a small town or rural area in the U.S., driving is more of a mandatory skill because there may not be much infrastructure for public transportation and your destinations can be remote.

Internship/ job opportunities: This might apply more the graduate students, but think about where you want to gain some U.S. intern/work experiences before you return to your home country. There are more firms in metropolitan areas, and more career fairs are held in these areas. As a Brookings report shows, 45% of international students on OPT work in the same metro area where their school was located. The report indicates that 75% of OPT graduates in and around New York City find jobs locally, but this percentage drops for students from non-metropolitan areas.

International Student Societies 

Alumni and networking 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 is more important than with U.S. locals. 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 came from the same home country and background as yours may relieve your homesickness a bit. Check the school’s website and see if they have a great international student society that makes you feel welcome.


Studying in the U.S. can be a tough but fun and satisfying journey. What factors helped you determine where to go to school in the U.S.?

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