Considering the U.S. for College or Graduate School

The U.S. was always the top choice for graduate school for French national Gaspard Delaoustre. Having completed his bachelor’s degree in England, he considered pursuing a master’s degree at Science Po Paris, but decided he didn’t want to return home to study in France. The U.S. was the only country in which he applied to schools.

“I feel like people with American graduate degrees do have a leg up,” says Delaoustre, who is in his second year of the master’s of public policy program at American University in Washington, D.C.

Choosing to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree in another country can be a big decision. Prospective international students still on the fence about whether to apply to a school in the U.S. or study in their home country have a lot of factors to consider, from cost to employment opportunities.

Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether to attend an institution in the U.S. or in your home country.

Think About Your Ideal Location

Location matters when it comes to things like daily life, activities, community and opportunities for growth as an international student.

“Location is one of the many factors to consider in building a list of your best-fit college features that will help you thrive and grow,” says Julie Raynor Gross, founder and president of Collegiate Gateway, an admissions consulting firm in New York.

Where a college is located can impact a student in many ways, including the availability of internships, she says.

“Certain cities may provide greater access to specific internship opportunities,” Gross says. “L.A. for film and television, Manhattan for finance, Boston for consulting and healthcare, Houston for oil and gas and Seattle for engineering.”

If a student is considering the U.S., they should also think about whether they want to live in a big city, near a city, in a small town or in a rural area, Gross says.

“The students should also consider their financial situation and if they want to be in an area that is easy to navigate with public transportation or if they are in a location where they may need to buy a car,” says Sarah Sweeney, director of student support and international education at Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin.

[Read: Tips for International Students Studying STEM at U.S. Colleges.]

Consider Academic Quality

There are about 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., and many are among the top-ranking institutions globally. Students should compare the academic and campus quality of schools in their home country to those in the U.S.

“Your college years offer you the potential of unparalleled intellectual growth,” says Gross. “Make the most of it by exploring in-depth the academic programs offered by the colleges you are considering.”

She recommends looking at majors, minors, interdisciplinary programs, concentrations within departments, professors, courses and research opportunities.

Ravi Shankar, assistant vice provost and director of the International Services Office at the University of Rochester in New York, says it’s important to consider class sizes and faculty-student ratios and to find out if classes are taught by a teaching assistant or faculty.

“Depending on the institution and your learning style, you will have to evaluate the different delivery models and determine your comfort level. American higher education is didactic and demands critical thinking and independent work,” Shankar says.

Prospective international students should try to talk to current international students, he says, to get an idea of expectations and how those students have successfully navigated any challenges with different teaching styles.

“From a campus life perspective, research the support structures available, (and) academic, social, mental health, cultural and recreational opportunities,” says Shankar.

[READ: 10 Mistakes to Avoid as an International College Freshman in the U.S.]

Weigh Differences in Cost

Prospective international students will need to consider everything from the cost of tuition to the cost of living when comparing schools in their home country to institutions in the U.S.

“Cost was definitely a major factor and U.S. grad schools are expensive,” says Delaoustre. “My choice probably would’ve been different if AU hadn’t offered me a scholarship that covered 40% of my tuition.”

Shankar suggests researching whether institutional scholarships, assistantships, on-campus work opportunities or internships are available.

“At the undergraduate level, consider the discount rates admission is willing to give you, as most financial aid is either needs-blind or needs-aware for international students,” Shankar says.

Other factors that can affect cost include location — living costs can be significantly higher in major urban areas — and whether a school is public or private, Shankar says. He suggests checking a school’s website or asking the admissions office for a detailed breakdown of costs.

[Read: International Students: Get Into U.S. Medical Schools.]

Assess Career Opportunities

Students should evaluate career opportunities both at home and in the U.S., experts say.

Shankar recommends that students who are considering staying in the U.S. after graduation research schools’ career offices and request to talk to alumni who can provide insight on the job market.

International students can take advantage of the federal Optional Practical Training program, or OPT, to get work experience in their field of study for 12 months, either during school or after graduation. And those majoring in science, technology, engineering and math fields can apply for an extra two years of OPT work authorization.

“The student will want to consider what type of work is available in the area that the school is in, or what partnerships the school has formerly set up,” Sweeney says.

The contacts students make during college, Gross says, can provide a network that will facilitate a student’s path towards their chosen career. “Given the increasing globalization of our world, studying in a different country will provide invaluable exposure to different cultures and broaden your frame of reference,” she says.

Delaoustre says he has wanted to live in the U.S. for some time and experience the campus life of American grad schools. He believes that attending a U.S. university was a good choice for him.

“I knew that I could get a high-quality degree that would teach me the necessary skills,” says Delaoustre. “And, the networking and career opportunities in D.C. are great.”

More from U.S. News

10 Mistakes to Avoid as an International College Freshman in the U.S.

Options for International Students Denied U.S. College Admission

Common Mistakes International Students Make When Applying to U.S. Colleges

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