Selecting a U.S. University

Major factors in the very difficult business of choosing a university are:

  • Relative selectivity — i.e., how hard it is to get in.
  • Courses of study — all undergraduate colleges offer degrees in the usual academic fields. Students wishing to take a degree in a professional or more specialized field, such as engineering, forestry, or teaching, must seek out universities or professional schools which offer these degrees. The Commission’s Academic Advisor can provide information on universities for most professional fields.
  • Finances — see notes on expenses and financial aid below.

Other factors which may be taken into account are:

  • Size of the college or university: Enrollment can vary from under 1,000 to about 35,000. Some foreign students feel lost in these very large institutions and, at present, small private colleges show more interest in receiving applications from foreign students.
  • Residential facilities: Some universities in big towns have many commuters, which means there is relatively little campus life, and this is usually a less suitable environment for foreign students.
  • Religion: Many private institutions in the United States are of religious foundation. Students with a strong religious faith may feel happiest in a college or university founded by their particular denomination.
  • Geographical area: a student looking for a course in petroleum engineering, for instance, will find most courses in this field in petrol-producing areas such as Louisiana, Texas or Oklahoma. Students may increase their chances of success by applying to colleges in less obviously popular areas than California, New York and the Northeast seaboard.    Foreign students who can go to the United States to visit campuses may find this helpful in deciding where they prefer to study and live. Such visits do not influence the universities’ decision regarding eligibility for admission.
  • Cost: Higher education is very costly in the United States. Tuition alone varies from approximately $5,000 in state-supported institutions to $30,000 in some large private institutions. These figures cover only tuition and do not include transportation, or living expenses. The following chart is an estimate of costs for one academic year (9 months) at public and private universities in the high- and low-cost categories:
Medicine & PharmacyMédecine & PharmacieGeneeskunde & Farmacie
Philosophy & LettersPhilosophie & LettresLetteren & Wijsbegeerte
Pure ScienceSciencesWetenschappen
Applied ScienceSciences AppliquéesToegepaste Wetenschappen
Economic, Social
& Political Science
Sciences Sociales
Politiques et Economiques
Economische, Sociale &
Politieke Wetenschappen


Search for Colleges and Universities

Some websites are independent of colleges and universities and allow you to search for institutions by the subject you are interested in studying, by geographic preference, or by a range of other criteria that you specify. We provides links to a number of different college search engines such as the ones listed below.

College Board
College Net – Internet Guide to Colleges and Universities
College Opportunities On-line (COOL) – U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics
College Source Online
National Association for College Admission Counseling – International Student Resources
Online Schools – Search Engine for U.S. Online Programs
Peterson’s Find-a-School Search Engine
Princeton Review
Princeton Review B-Schools and Careers

Community College Search Engine


Sample criteria for selecting a college or university


The following is a list of things that students may wish to consider when selecting a college or university program. Not every item will be important to every student; however, items marked with an asterisk (*) are considered to be basic criteria to begin the search for a college or university.

  • Academic competition level among students
  • Academic Program (availability of intended major, dual majors, class size, off-campus opportunities, strength of desired program, etc.)
  • Academic requirements for graduation
  • Academic support programs
  • Admissions criteria (selectivity: percent of applicants admitted, average test scores, grade point average, importance of interview/recommendations)
  • Advanced placement credit given
  • Affiliation of the college or university
  • Application deadline
  • Athletic facilities
  • Backgrounds of other students
  • Calendar plan of the college
  • Climate
  • Consortia opportunities (opportunity to take classes at neighboring universities)
  • Cooperative work-study programs
  • Cost
  • Counseling services available
  • Course offerings
  • Cultural opportunities on and off campus
  • Enrollment (total number of students)
  • Environment (appearance of the campus; setting: rural, suburban, urban)
  • Extracurricular offerings
  • Facilities
  • Faculty (professors and instructors: availability, percent holding doctorates)
  • Financial aid availability
  • Geographic location
  • Grading system
  • Honor system
  • Housing options
  • International baccalaureate credit
  • Library facilities and holdings
  • Placement record (graduate schools, employment)
  • Pre-professional programs
  • Religious affiliation of the institution
  • Religious organizations/activities
  • Research facilities and opportunities
  • Student-faculty relationships and ratio
  • Transfer possibilities
  • Transportation (bus service, airport nearby)
  • Type of school (college or university, two- or four-year, liberal arts, pre-professional)
  • Type of student body