With six universities in the top ten of the QS World University Rankings®, the USA offers a multitude of options and variations for those choosing to study abroad.
Creating a country guide for studying abroad at a top university in the USA is a challenging task. Not only are we talking about the world's fourth largest country (behind Russia, Canada and China, if you were interested) but the USA has a very advanced education system that varies greatly across the country. It might be better to think of the country in smaller terms, perhaps by region (for example north-east, north-west, south-west, deep south and mid-west). Even then there are characteristics between states that are hard to generalize. Having said that, we're going to try!
The US has the most universities in the world, six of which are in the top ten of the 2011 QS World University Rankings®: Harvard, MIT, Yale, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia. In total there are literally hundreds of public and private higher education establishments offering a range of courses that you could barely imagine. The first trick is to work out the kind of course that you'd most like to do and then bear in mind the cost.
Some private institutions charge thousands and thousands of dollars while others, such as community colleges, prevalent all over the country, are significantly less expensive. Medical studies in the US differ from the rest of the world. There are no undergraduate medical degrees (Northwestern being almost the only exception). Would-be medics have to take another subject in their first degree, whilst at the same time preparing for and passing their MCAT - a nine-hour multiple-choice test - to gain entry to medical school. As a result, very few international students attend US medical schools - less than 0.5% of their classes. Law studies in the US are similar to medical studies. There are no undergraduate law degrees. Students take a liberal arts degree, whilst having to pass the LSAT test to gain entry to law school.
There are famous hotbeds of learning. Boston, and neighbouring Cambridge, for example, have a staggering number of public and private higher education institutions. It seems like every building around the Avenue of the Arts and Huntington Avenue, in Boston is another college while Cambridge, home to Harvard, has created a large local commercial area devoted to catering for and serving the students and staff of the colleges.
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, all have large numbers of students. For international students the picture is not entirely rosy. It is not easy to get a visa to study in the USA, especially since access to the F-1 visa was made even more difficult in 2002. If you are serious about studying abroad at a top university in the USA, here is some advice: get as much information as you can from your local US Embassy, fill in everything you need correctly in the best English you can muster and if you make the smallest mistake, start over again. They will find any reason they can to deny you a visa so don't make their job easy for them.
Pros and Cons
|+ Large number of highly reputable universities |
+ Well resourced private and public universities
+ Streamlined online admissions processes
+ Generally high quality campus support services for international students
+ English language-based
+ Strong employment opportunities
+ Many scholarships and financial aid for international students
|- High tuition fees|
- Low acceptance rate for international students
- Tough student visa requirements
- Difficult post-study visa situation for employment
- High competition for places on top courses
- High crime rate in some areas
International student accommodation
As an international student in the US, you will often begin your university life in a dorm - sharing with other like-minded international students who are new to the country, or you can usually opt to live with US students to get a better feel for the place. Aside from university housing, home-stays are also quite popular. This may range from being part of the family who will welcome you and incorporate you in their daily activities, to others who will simply rent a room on a tenant-landlord basis. Another form of university housing takes the form of fraternities and sororities which still form a fundamental part of student life on many US campuses. Whether it is Kappa, Delta or Gama, these college groups offer private buildings where you can party, or relax in smaller cohesive groups. It is a great way to get to know people and they offer alternative accommodation to university dorms.
Click here for more information, tips and advice on international student accommodation and university housing.
In a country of this size, weather patterns are incredibly varied. In the north-east, the weather is generally four-seasonal with very marked and distinct variations, particularly in New England. Spring and fall (autumn) are characterized by beautiful changes in leaf colours that have people from all over the world paying a visit. The interior mid-west, and north, have very pronounced and long winters and summers while spring and fall are much shorter seasons. The north-west seaboard and inland are affected more by rainfall and fog as warm sea air is forced up over the Rocky Mountains and is largely a temperate climate. The south-west presents fewer seasons and a dry desert climate with a large percentage of hot days and cold evenings. Further inland, in the south, you enter the plains with their blue overarching skies, hot summers and cool winters and, of course, a twister season that is famous across the world. The south-east is also hot and sunny in the summer, a Mediterranean-type climate, with cool winters and, of course, a hurricane season off the Atlantic that can present complications of its own, especially in Florida.
Despite being the wealthiest country in the world, the US, with notable exceptions, does not have the world's best transport system. True, interior flights across the country link any city to another with one or no changes, and usually very cheaply. However, other options are harder to find. The train system is not the envy of the world and was not developed as comfortably or extensively as it was in Europe. It is said that most Americans haven't ever used a train, and generally only the major cities have subways, such as New York's famous metro, the 'T' in Boston and Chicago's well-known 'El' or elevated railway.
The famous Greyhound buses, while providing passengers with an interesting experience, can take a very long time to get from A to B and may not be all that cost-effective when you take the food and drink you need into account.
It is the great American invention, the automobile, that dominates the US transport system and why oil is so important to the government there. If you are able to drive, bring your driver's license and, if possible, International Driver's License too. Each state has separate rules on driving so check your legality depending on where you are. Generally you are able to drive in the US quite easily. In Texas, for example, you can drive for up to three months but, if staying longer, you have to register for a Texas Driver's License for a small fee. Cars are inexpensive and, despite protestations by American drivers, gas (petrol) is far cheaper than in most other parts of the world. If you don't live in a big city you are going to need a car to get the best experience of America. If you can't drive, learn before you go. Or quickly find a friend that can!
Two countries divided by a common language
It is common knowledge that British and American English are quite different but, generally, you should be ok. If English is not your first language, keep persevering as most Americans will try their hardest to understand you. But just in case, here is a selection of words that are used in both languages.
|Quater past four||Quarter after four|
|What's up?||How are you?|
|What's the matter with you?||What's up?|
|Ground floor||First floor|
|small bottle of beer||US$0.95|
|litre bottled water||US$0.95|
|loaf of whole wheat bread||US$1.45|
|New York hot dog||US$1.50|
|litre of gas||US$1.55|
|1lb ground beef||US$1.85|
|printing a roll of film||US$5.00|
Dialing code: 1Currency: US Dollar (US$)
Time zone: GMT/UTC -5 (Eastern), GMT/UTC -6 (Central), GMT/UTC -7 (Mountain), GMT/UTC -8 (Pacific Standard)