It is undoubtedly hard when it comes to deciding on how to narrow down your school search results to the top 4 as an international student. Selecting a graduate school to attend can be as tiring as applying and getting accepted into the school. Trust me, I have been there before. To start with, there are about 51 states and each state has so many graduate schools to choose from. It can really get confusing when it comes to narrowing down your school search results to the top 4 or 5. Traditionally, people have selected schools largely because they have had others recommend those schools to them. Others have also selected schools in states that they have had close relatives residing in. In the case where none of these two situations is applicable to you, then you have more work to do.

Before you proceed to narrow down your school search to the top 4, you should do the following:

Identify the program you want to study

The major factor which I believe will help simplify your choices of graduate school is to first identify your program of interest. If you are unsure about this, then you need to sit down and think critically about your future career path. That will give you an idea of possible programs to study at the graduate degree level. You can read more about careers, projected jobs, median salary and the unemployment rate in the U.S.


Use search engines

After identifying your program of interest based on your career path, go online and search for schools in the U.S. that offer Masters or Ph.D. in that program. The most popular and easy to use search engine I have come across is google search. After obtaining a list of schools that offer your selected program, it is now time to narrow down your schools to the top 4 or 5.


5 tips on how to narrow down your school search

1. Climate

If the weather matters to you especially coming from a hot, dry climate, you may be uncomfortable living in a full range of seasons including very cold weather. However, some people do adjust with time. I schooled in Illinois State which gets really cold in the winter but I did adjust to the weather after I lived there for a while. On the other hand, one of my friends who schooled in Florida used to complain about the slightest drop in their temperature. States such as Alaska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Maine, Wyoming, Montana, and Vermont can get pretty cold while others such as Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and California are considered part of the warmest states.



 2. Location

To narrow down your search results, decide whether you want a school in a rural or urban location. Back in the day, I didn’t think this really mattered much. I was indifferent but the truth is, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Even though schools in rural areas may be less expensive to attend, they may not offer you enough career opportunities compared to schools in urban areas as an international student. Schools in bigger cities may also have more companies that are likely to hire international students lining up when it’s time for career or internship fairs even though this might not always be the case. I will talk about career and internship fairs in detail in another blog.



   3. Cost

Cost, in my opinion, is the most important factor to consider when attending a school in the U.S. You should take into consideration the total tuition plus general fees you will be required to pay after you have been admitted into a school. Also, think about how much you will spend on housing and food if you are not living with family. You can check on the school’s website for an estimated budget.



4. Funding

This is very crucial and will determine whether to enroll in the program or not. It is important to explore the entire school’s website including the department website for all possible forms of funding.

Funding could come in the form of graduate assistantships, fellowships and scholarships, tuition waivers and on-campus employment. Most graduate assistantships are decided on by the department and may come in the form of research, teaching or administrative duties in exchange for monthly stipends and/or full or partial tuition waivers. On-campus jobs are listed on the employment section of your school’s website. The maximum number of hours permitted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for an international student to work is twenty hours per week.

The last option for funding will be to resort to private loans for international students. Some of these private loans may require a U.S. cosigner but not all of them do. If you know for sure that the career you wish to pursue offer very good returns right after the degree program, this will not be a bad option to consider. I will discuss more of the private student loans in another blog. To ensure that taking private loans is a good option for you, research more about your career, its potential job prospects, and unemployment rate.



  5. Accreditation and reputation

This is very subjective and differs from one individual to another but generally, depending on your program of interest, it’s advisable to get good schools in your field while considering your own capabilities as well. Most top schools are highly selective and are likely to admit the very brilliant students. That may be the case for funding purposes as well.  US News and World Report ; Princeton Review’s rankings ; Forbes Top Colleges and a couple of other sites provide some useful information about school reputations and rankings. Take time to visit the websites of your selected schools to learn more about their academic requirements to ensure that you meet the criteria they are looking for in their prospective  students.

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