International Education Week – Step 1: Research your Options

Students celebrating finishing their bachelor’s degree at a graduation ceremony. Photo credit.

Step 1.The United States is home to more than 4,000 universities. With so many options to choose from, deciding where to start can be overwhelming. The first step is to research your opportunities and learn more about the U.S. higher education system. It is important to find a school that fits your needs, priorities, and long-term goals – rather than trying to make yourself fit a school.

The U.S. has no official ranking system for colleges and universities. The best university is the one that fits your requirements – academic, financial, and personal. Consider what type of school environment you want and what you want to study. Universities in the U.S. range from large public universities that offer a wide variety of majors to small institutions that specialize in certain areas of study.

Many students get involved with school spirit by attending sporting events and campus activities.
Many students get involved with school spirit by attending sporting events and campus activities. Photo credit.

You should begin researching your options at least 12 to 18 months before the academic year you hope to start studying in the U.S. Figuring out which universities to apply for starts with introspection – asking yourself some important questions about what you want to get out of your education.

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • Where do you want to live in the United States?
  • What are the best atmospheres for you culturally, academically and socially?
  • Which colleges or universities will meet your needs?
  • Will you need financial assistance?
  • What are the application and financial aid deadlines?

After thinking about these questions, you can start to narrow down your choices. Big Future is a free tool to learn more about U.S. universities. The College Search tool lets you input your requirements for a school and shows you what U.S. universities match your requirements.

Berry College in Rome, Georgia was voted 'Prettiest School in America'.
Berry College in Rome, Georgia was voted ‘Prettiest School in America’. Photo credit.

Once you have started narrowing down your choices you can take a look at university websites. Check out pictures and social media to get an idea of what the campus looks like, and many schools even have virtual tours you can take. You can also check the website for the admissions counsellor that covers your region’s applications. Most admissions counsellors’ emails are available, and they would be more than happy to answer questions about the school and application. You can request to be put in contact with a current student to learn more about the school.

Applying to U.S. universities can seem daunting, but studying overseas is an incredible experience. Melissa Derby is a Kiwi who attended Colorado State University. When asked what advice she would give other New Zealanders about studying in the U.S. she said, “DO IT! It can feel overwhelming when you come to apply for various programs, and there is a lot of paperwork! But it is worth it. 100% worth it. My time in the USA has already proved to be a life-changing experience.”


Community College: a post-secondary, undergraduate institution that offers 2-year associate degree programs. Students can also attend community college for generalized education that they can transfer to a university to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Undergraduate degree: a post-secondary, undergraduate institution that students typically attend for four years and earn a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate school: a school that gives advanced academic degrees, such asa master’s degree (M.S. or MBA), or a doctoral degree. Students must earn a bachelor’s degree before attending graduate school.