Choosing a College or University
There are many factors that will influence your choice of college or university. You need to do your research carefully to choose the school that will best suit your needs and talents. Weigh all of these factors and choose the institution with the best balance.
Accreditation Status. A basic indicator of the quality of any U.S. college or university is its accreditation status. It is important to check that all institutions you are considering are appropriately accredited. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not have a central government body that approves educational institutions. Instead, it relies on a system of voluntary accreditation carried out by nongovenmental accrediting bodies to ensure that schools meet standards. While almost all U.S universities hold widely recognized forms of accreditation, it must be noted that accreditation in the United States is a complex area; there are different types of accreditation (institutional and programmatic) and a large number of accrediting bodies. The Moscow EAC can advise you whether a particular U.S. degree-offering institution is appropriately accredited.
Ranking. There is no official list of the top 10, 20, 50, or even 100 universities in the United States. The U.S. government does not rank universities. Rankings that you may come across are usually produced by journalists and are likely to be subjective. They generally are based on a wide range of criteria that do not necessarily include academic standards or general reputation as a primary factor. Be particularly wary of rankings that do not explain the criteria on which the ranking is based. The more established rankings may give you a starting point for your decision; however, the "best" college or university for you will be based on many other factors, given below.
Degrees. Select schools that award the degree you wish to earn associate, bachelor's, master's or Ph.D.
Majors. Some large schools offer just about every area of study. Smaller schools are generally more limited. Find schools that offer a good selection of courses with a variety of faculties that specialize in different aspects of your field of study. This is especially important for graduate study. Although a university may offer a doctorate in your field, it may not have a program in the branch of that field that interests you. Also consider research facilities, computer centers, library holdings, and flexibility or variations in the program that interests you.
Selectiveness. This is the point in which you should be honest with yourself concerning your own academic background and intellectual potential. Strive for the best university you can get into, but be realistic. If your scores and grades are not at the top, you should not apply only to the most selective universities.
Faculty and Their Research. It is important for graduate students to consider these criteria. If you are planning to conduct research, you want to be sure that there are faculty at the university who will be able to help guide your research. Students can substantially benefit from making direct contact with researching professors at the beginning of the application process. Students applying for a graduate degree should keep in mind that they are evaluated and recommended for admission by a group of faculty members, rather than a central admissions office. The reputation of the department and its faculty is the thing to look for.
Type of Institution. Two-year or four-year, public or private religiously affiliated? Choose the institution best suited to your needs - community college, liberal arts college, or university, for example. Universities can be public or private, may be affiliated with a specific religion, or may admit only one sex. You should understand the differences before deciding.
Cost. Look for tuition and fees, room, and board. You will need additional funds for books and miscellaneous living expenses.
Financial aid. Be sure the institutions you choose do offer financial aid if you require it. Scholarships usually go to the students with the best academic qualifications or special talent in sports or the arts at the undergraduate level or significant research or work experience at the graduate level.
Location and Housing. Consider which state the school is in and whether it is located inland or on the coast. What is the climate in that area of the country? Is the campus setting city, small-town, or rural? Which of these settings would you be most comfortable in.
Size. Student population on U.S. campuses can range in size from 200 to 60,000 students. Check the size of the university and the size of the academic department. The size of the university will dramatically affect the atmosphere of the school. A large institution may offer a greater variety of subfields within a given discipline, but professors may be too busy to give students individual attention. A small university or college may offer smaller classes and more contact with professors, but the courses offered in your field may be too narrow. You need to weigh which is more important to you.
Internship or Overseas Study Programs. Many U.S. universities have incorporated into their curriculum internship (voluntary or paid work placements) or overseas study ("study abroad") programs that may be of interest to you, particularly if you are undertaking a professional master's degree.
Student Body. Consider factors such as male-female ratio, number of foreign students, average age of students, number of full-time vs. part-time students.
Housing. Is university housing in a dormitory or student residence hall available, or will you have to search for an apartment? Is housing available in the summer? If you plan to live off-campus, check if the school has a housing office to assist you.
Services. Check to see that the school has a foreign or international student office. Advisers in these centers can offer valuable assistance to students from abroad. Some schools may have intensive English classes, international organizations, sports teams or clubs, and musical or other activities that will be of interest.
Services for Students with Disabilities. If you have special needs, make sure that the university you choose can accommodate you. Allow plenty of time to correspond with colleges. It is advisable to begin your inquiries at least two years before you plan to leave for the United States. When you write for information from universities, give brief details of your disability and request information about assistance they offer to students like yourself. You may also want to contact the office on campus that deals with the special needs of students with disabilities to find out more about the services they provide. This may be a specific office, such as the Office of Disabled Student Services or the Office of Disability Services, or services may be housed within a general student services office on campus.
Some universities offer comprehensive programs for students with disabilities, while others make a number of special services available to such students. You should look at the services offered and compare them to your needs. Find out which services are provided automatically and free of charge and which services need to be pre-arranged and incur a charge. When you apply you will need to supply evidence to support the existence of your disability. If possible, try to contact a student at the college who has a similar disability to your so you can gain a more personal perspective. Students with disabilities can, with proper documentation, request special facilities or extended time to take the graduate school admissions tests and any examinations during the academic year.