Studying in the US: 9 things to consider when applying to an American university

More UK students than ever are enrolling for US universities. Armed with all the facts, you can give yourself a fighting chance

Anthony Nemecek
Thursday 18 August 2016 13:43 BST

The number of UK students enrolled in US universities increased by 20 per cent between 2011 and 2015, and the trend is likely to continue. Places are more in demand because of increased fees in the UK and concern for value for money, as students are unable or unwilling to commit to one subject for their university experience. As well as this, there seems to be a greater awareness of international opportunities, so if you’re considering the US this A-level results day, here are the nine things you need to know:

1. Studying in the US isn’t as expensive as you may think

The higher education system in the US is different to the UK. In the US, you have one-to-one mandatory professor office hours and, on average, every student spends 15 hours in class as well as their individual sessions. So, essentially, you get more for your money in America, especially given the fee increase in the UK.

Everything is included in the ‘sticker price’ in the US - accommodation, subsistence, books, and medical insurance - and you may also find the university of your choice offers funds for international students, possibly based on academic merit, but possibly also based on need, athletic ability, or talent for music and drama.

2. Research and get ahead of the competition

College Board is your best source of free and unbiased information to do your research. You can narrow your search criteria by size, location, and difficulty of admission. Also, find out if you need to take SAT/ACT exams - definitely worth looking into even before you begin the application. It’s better to spend your time and money in preparation and not for re-testing.

Furthermore, let your school know you’re applying to US universities - the documents they need to prepare take much longer than Ucas applications, so the earlier you can do this, the better.

3. Choice is everything - make yours wisely

Categorise your choices; if you apply to around 6 or 8 universities - or more - it implies you haven’t done your research, so it’s advised prospective students have ‘reach schools’, ‘likely-to-accept schools’, and ‘safety schools’ in order to avoid disappointment. Overall, don’t be blindsided by ‘name brands’ when making your search; although many of the US universities you’ve heard of may be excellent, they may not be right for you.

4. Ivy League institutions aren’t the only good ones

The ‘Ivy League’ was originally created for all-male, east-coast university sports teams of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell. Stanford is not Ivy League. The US has some of the leading universities in the world, but it also has over 4,000 different universities to choose from. So, think about:

  • Type of university (private or state?)
  • Location (sunny California or snowy New York?)
  • Academics (huge lectures or small seminars?)
  • Campus activities (Greek life or ultimate frisbee?)

5. Be honest during the application process

Even though venturing to another country for university can be a competitive and drawn-out process with a whole raft of requirements, it’s important to answer all questions honestly. Be prepared for questions like:

  • What do you want to achieve by studying in the US?
  • Would you be happier in an urban or rural environment?
  • Would you prefer a small college or a large university?
  • Which climate is more appealing to you?
  • What types of campus activities interest you?

6. Follow up after the application process

Make sure the school has received your application. Sometimes applications can go astray, so it’s worth double checking. If you are offered an interview, take it. It’s likely to take place in the UK, conducted by an alumnus, and will be very relaxed. Plus, it’s another chance for you to show your enthusiasm for the school, so be prepared to ask lots of pertinent questions.

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7. Make the most of subject flexibility

In America, you can change your ‘major’ as many times as you like, and you can even change university by transferring credits and courses - for no extra time or money. It’s normal in the US to change your major at least three times, meaning you’re not stuck with the course choices you made at 17 like you are in the UK. The world’s your oyster; you could start with marine biology, move on to aviation, and settle for 19th Century French poetry, so keep an open mind.

8. Be confident about US job opportunities

The greatest advantage to US universities is that they teach you how to think from multiple perspectives. They want to give you the skills to solve problems, to discuss issues, to question facts, to navigate the global job market, and to create your own positions if you need to in order to help students succeed.

9. Stay focused on the reward

Some claim half of the jobs that will exist in 2025 do not exist today, so while the US university application is an arduous process, the rewards can be great.

Anthony Nemecek is co-founder and director of Nemecek Bonas MacFarlane, an advisory service for overseas students applying to US universities

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