Choosing a College

I’ve just returned from a five-week trip in eight countries, meeting with students, parents and counselors, and sharing information about Monmouth College. What a great experience! I met many engaging and thoughtful young people, and had good conversations with them and their families. I hope to see some of them again soon on campus.

This will be a short note about choosing your college, with a recommendation that students consider four things as they prepare for study in the United States*.

The  first thing to consider is your level of academic preparation. How well have you done in high school? Were your classes rigorous, college-prep courses? Did you succeed in them? With which subjects did you struggle? With which subjects did you do well? How strong is your English language ability (reading, writing, speaking and comprehending)? Did you participate in student organizations? Did you volunteer your time in school or in the community? Did you take leadership roles in student or community organizations? A thoughtful, honest self-inventory of your abilities and accomplishments will help you decide to which colleges and universities you should apply for admission.

The second thing is to consider your ability to pay for your college education. Most colleges and universities will expect to see documentation of international students’ ability to contribute significantly to the cost of their education. This doesn’t mean that you should make plans to pay for the entirety of your undergraduate education – there are excellent merit scholarships available, and in some instances, at some universities, some degree of need-based aid. However, it does mean that you should assess your ability to invest in your education each year to some degree (it’s good to anticipate costs ranging all over the place, from less than $10,000 per year to over $60,000 per year). Many colleges will not admit students who cannot afford a large part (or at least some part) of the cost of their studies. When you go in for your student visa interview, you will also need to be ready to provide evidence of available funds sufficient to meet the cost of your studies for at least the first year.

The third consideration is your academic interest or interests. What do you want to study? What different disciplines draw you? What is your passion? What are your career goals? You don’t have to decide upon your major before applying for college! Many liberal arts colleges do not expect you to know your major when you enter – and it is almost always possible to change your major, to decide to double-major, and/or to add a minor to complement your major at a U.S. college. However, you may have very particular interests, and if this is the case, you need to be sure that the colleges you are looking at offer courses of study in the areas of your interest.

The fourth consideration is the quality of the overall academic experience you desire. Do you want to become involved in student organizations? Do you want small classes and thoughtful, personalized advising? Are you happier in large classes? Do you want to become involved in undergraduate research? (If this is case, liberal arts colleges are a very good choice.) Do you plan to seek out an internship? Are you hoping to join a choir or a string ensemble? Do the colleges and universities to which you want to apply offer support and mentoring, orientation programs and host families, for international students? Do you want the safety and friendliness of a small town or rural setting, or do you want the bustle and excitement of a city (or some combination of the two)?

Best wishes! Obviously, I hope you consider small liberal arts and sciences colleges. I think such colleges offer the very best undergraduate education available in the States, and that our small classes, excellent student-faculty ratio (13:1), academic focus, distinctive opportunities for research, off-campus study and internships, safety and friendliness make us a very good choice for almost all students.

Choose well and wisely, and remember that there are many excellent college options available. It’s not the case that there is a single ‘dream college’ out there, I’d argue, and that if you don’t get into that one college, your college hopes are dashed. Choose your college, and when it chooses you back – give your undergraduate experience your all! The more you embrace the experience, the more engaged you are, the more you commit yourself to your education and do the best you can in all the ways you can, the better the result and the more rewarding the experience.



With gratitute to CIS for its superb overview of information for international students!

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