South College at UMass Amherst
Student Voices

Five Things You Should Consider When Applying to College in The U.S.

If you are attending high school at the moment and considering applying to college in the US, congratulations, you just found the right article to help you build your vision! 

1. Environment

When leaving home and going to a different country for higher-level education, the most important thing is adapting to the environment you will be in for four academic years. The first thing to consider is the weather. Do you prefer going to somewhere like Florida, enjoying warm and sunny days all year long, or would you rather go to somewhere like Massachusetts and Virginia, experiencing the distinct seasonal climate changes? Compare the weather with the one in your hometown. What kind of weather do you think your mind and body are ready for? Even if you love a particular state or city, look into the worst weather-wise aspect of it and think: do I feel comfortable with the relatively extreme hot/cold temperature? Is my emotion ok with the numerous cloudy days? Mental health should be your priority when making an important decision like going to a new place for college.

When you have a general idea of which states or area you want to explore, zoom in with the more detailed locations. If you prefer to live in a quiet and peaceful place, suburban schools will be a good fit for you. If you are interested in living in a more populated and flourishing environment, you should take a look at those schools set in the cities.

The third thing to consider is what campus size you prefer. There are pros and cons for both big and small campuses. A big campus has more opportunities and activities, but it can also overwhelm students with a large population; a small campus makes everyone more connected to each other — but can disinterest students with the limited space. 

2. Cost

To make sure you can afford and finish your education without putting too much burden on yourself and your family, do some expense research based on these questions:  

  • What is your ideal tuition range?
  • Which school provides merit scholarships to international students?
  • What does off-campus living look like? What is the average apartment rental price?
  • What are the living expenses on necessities?

Some schools are generous with giving monetary support by offering merit scholarships to decrease the tuition. Note that even if some schools’ tuitions seem intimidating, their scholarship amount can cover a big part of the tuition amount; on the contrary, some schools may have tempting scholarships but only reduce the tuition by a small portion. In addition to the merit-based scholarship, look into the school website and see if they have any scholarship opportunities for international students to apply. As for living expenses, check the tax rate and tax policy for your preferred states. A couple of percent in tax rate can make obvious differences for estimating the off-campus expenses for housing, groceries, and leisure.

3. Do thorough research on the academics

After you finish steps one and two, you should be able to have a couple of insights and pick some schools. Now is the time to look deep into the schools and narrow down the number even more. What do the ranks look like for your schools? What are the ranks for the major you want to pursue in those schools? Do they have any sub-programs that you are interested in having as a minor? Do they have outside classroom activities for you to learn knowledge and skills different from your majors? By researching those common questions, you will have a general idea of how your majors’ programs run differently in each school, as well as what directions each program can lead you to in your future career. Use social media to gather a better sense of the students’ lifestyles. Take a look at students' comments on some popular and credible communication platforms (eg. Niche, Quora, Unigo, etc.). If you happen to get in touch with one or more students in your selected schools, hang out with them through phone calls or in a café to ask about their experiences. The conversations will provide a more vivid and closer look at the typical days for undergraduate students there.

If you want to dig through even more about the colleges’ academic history, look into the scholar achievement. How many articles got published in the past few years? What are the well-known projects that make significant influences? Are there any Nobel Prize winners who graduated from here?

4. Alumni 

Once you pick up the schools that match your preference about the environment and academic atmosphere, it is time to look into the future. What does the alumni population look like? What companies did they join? What is the average salary for people who graduated with the major you want to pursue? What are the connections between them and the school after they graduated? You can’t ignore the power of alumni for your future career because they could be your first guidance in your future career. Networking is very important with our generation, and most people start networking by building connections with alumni. In addition to that, check on the school’s career center for the department, is there any “coffee hour” meeting? Are there any campus recruiters from this school who hold info sessions? Any alumni from your country?

5. Culture

Now it is the time to look for the fun parts of campus life! Let’s start from a general group perspective: are you a more science-focused person or a more humanities and fine arts focused person? Or are you still trying to figure it out? Search about the student activities and clubs and get a sense of what the schools feel like. How many activities match your interests? Generally speaking, technology institutions focus more on scientific study, and public schools tend to be equal on both sides. Second, look into the on-campus facilities and amenities:

  • What do the dorm areas look like? Most schools require students to live in an on-campus dorm for the first year, so choosing the right dorm can improve your college experience. Each school has its dorm room guide, usually involving pictures and videos, which will give you a general outlook about on-campus living. Sometimes you can find student blogs about their experience living on campus, and you will find out useful information about the dorms’ atmosphere and vibe. You should pay attention to the size and structure of the dorm rooms and common area/lounge, building security, and the distance to the classroom.
  • What are some typical student activities? The activities could refer to many things, including culture clubs, student organizations, volunteer works, games, public exhibitions, and school traditions. Compare your personality and interest with the available activities in the school, figure out what attracts you the most and how much effort the school put into this activity building.
  • What kind of diet will be provided to students? Many people think it’s unnecessary to consider school diets for selecting colleges. However, after hearing so many students complain about bad campus food, I decided to use diet as one of the campus comparison elements. A pleasant diet can help students maintain positive attitudes, thus assisting them to be more efficient in study and exercise.

Do you agree with this school checklist? Did you successfully narrow down your college lists?