Almost eight years ago in Mexico City, I met a student, “Matias,” and his parents who had attended a program at the local EducationUSA office. After the presentation, they’d stayed behind to discuss questions about an art program that was offered at the private college I was working for at the time.
The family was engaging and welcoming, and I was excited to get to spend some more time with them chatting about college in the U.S. I asked, “Matias, if you had to list five things that you want from your university experience, what would that include?” That question got to the heart of good fit.
I wanted Matias to consider his university experience as a whole, not just something that could be captioned in perfectly framed photographs in a glossy college brochure. Stepping back, I knew Matias and I had a breakthrough when a smile crawled across the faces of him and his parents as he gave my question some thought.
Good fit calls into consideration many characteristics of both a student and an institution in finding the right match. Factors such as institutional and program-specific rankings, majors and programs available and campus location often stand out and can typically be found without too much effort. What truly starts to differentiate a good fit, however, is a bit more nuanced.
Digging into qualities that can set one great university apart from another requires a little more diligence and personal thought when researching study options in the U.S.. It’s very helpful to admissions officers when prospective students can express to us what they hope to experience during their time at university.
1. What does the international community of the campus and the surrounding community look like?
Some students will appreciate a smaller international community – one in which integration with students from many backgrounds is aided by smaller numbers of international students. Other students will appreciate the diversity of large populations of international students where it may be easier to find others who have a similar background.
2. What do the classes look like from an international student perspective?
This question can show how internationalized the classroom environment is. A truly internationalized university or college is one in which the curriculum and classrooms use the diverse experiences, perspectives and backgrounds of international students in creating an integrated and enriched learning community.
This question is also a great way to uncover the broader international engagement of a university, such as international university partners, study abroad opportunities, and global internship programs.
3. How will I put what I learn to work?
What sets many U.S. colleges and universities apart is the way its professors teach. Engineering programs that use problem-solving-based curriculums, business programs that facilitate professional development programs, conservatory music programs; internships, service learning programs and other learning activities will not only put into practice what a student learns, but also provide solid experience in a field of study.
Asking a university for examples of students who have completed these programs or asking to be put in touch with a student who has completed one of these programs is a great way to learn what your experience would be like.
4. What happens when I graduate?
Many admissions officers tell students that the school is only as strong as the students that graduate. As an international student, asking about job placement rates for specific majors, alumni networks and U.S.-based work programs specific to their student visa can provide some great insight into what you can expect when you’ve earned your degree. An important goal of any college or university should be to help you put to work what it is that you’ve learned.
Finding a good fit almost always requires conversation. Do the research, ask the questions and remember that U.S. universities and colleges want to start those conversations well before you arrive on-campus.
U.S. college admissions officers to see a smile spread across your face as you start to think about what your perfect university experience will look like – like I did with Matias.