Besides appealing campus shots often seen in college brochures, there are statistics that international students need to scrutinize to determine whether a school is going to be the right place for their undergraduate education.
Examining the following list of data points will help you be more informed when choosing a school that really fits you.
1. Test scores: These key statistics are closely tied to your chances of gaining admission. Typically a U.S college will not accept students whose scores on the TOEFL or IELTS exams – two of the most popular standardized English proficiency tests – are lower than its minimum requirements, unless the school offers conditional admission to students who agree to enter an ESL program.
The SAT or ACT range is also crucial when you apply for scholarships or financial aid. Score percentiles can be found on schools’ official websites or on other college research sites.
2. Tuition and financial aid: The high cost of U.S. higher education is a concern for some international students. For these students, digging into both tuition figures and financial aid availability is a crucial part of researching U.S. colleges.
While aid for international students is limited and competitive, the good news is that prestigious but expensive colleges often offer very generous financial aid packages, and the percentage of students whose need is fully met is also high. Knowing about all of these numbers will help you find a good school that matches your family’s budget.
3. Freshman retention rate: This is typically not displayed on a school’s website, unless the college has a decent percentage of students who decide to stay after their first year. Generally, anything above 90 percent is considered a very good figure.
But it isn’t difficult to find freshman retention rates; you can find these numbers on the U.S. News site or by doing a simple online search. This number reflects students’ overall satisfaction. If a large percentage of the student population transfers or drops out after a year of a particular college you’re interested in, you will need to take that into consideration.
4. Overall and international student population: Making sense of these numbers depends on your preferences. If you like a large institution with an energetic school spirit, then a large public, state university with more than 30,000 students will be a good fit for you. If you prefer to live in a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other by name, a liberal arts school with fewer than 2,000 students will be the place to look for.
With that in mind, you also need to research the international student population at your prospective schools, including those from the same country as you.
Ask yourself if you want to meet a lot of international friends, or if you want to see a lot of people from your home country. For some people, having those friends can bring them a sense of home and familiarity. Others prefer to experience American culture than to be surrounded by those from the same parts of the world.
5. Graduation rates: The four-year graduation rate allows you to look into students’ academic performance in general, and see whether or not they are serious about their education. It is also reflective of the educational quality that the school provides. Based on U.S. News data, schools with the highest four-year graduation rates range from about 75 percent to more than 90 percent.
While researching all of these data points, prospective international students should remember that numbers can’t paint a full picture of what a U.S. college is like – but they can help narrow your choices.