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Educational Options for Higher Education in the U.S.

If you are reading this article, it's probably because you are seriously considering applying to college in the United States of America. And maybe you have already heard people say how diverse U.S. campuses are, especially because of the hundreds of different nationalities represented by the thousands of international students attending U.S. schools. But did you know that there are also many kinds of higher education institutions? From culinary arts in a technical school to political science at a research university, or ranging from a small liberal arts college in a rural setting to aerospace engineering at a large institute - they all coexist in the same country. The plethora of choices is a characteristic of the American lifestyle, a feature which is also transferable to the higher education landscape, and so let me lead you on a short tour through the diversity of the U.S. higher education system.

When you first come into contact with one of those college search engines, you will be prompted to choose from a myriad of criteria that will ultimately guide you to a tangible list of institutions from the over 4 000 accredited schools. And if you allow me to give you some initial advice, each criterion is worth considering carefully. Let's take the two-year versus four-year institutions criteria as an example. Starting your education in a junior or community college, the so-called two-year institutions, may respond to your personal needs and preferences: community colleges are usually smaller compared to the four year institutions, are more focused on teaching, more affordable and the credits are most of the cases transferable to four-year institutions. However, maybe completing a four-year degree in the same institution and having a higher number of courses and departments available to choose from is more thrilling to you.

But there are many other aspects you should consider. Let's say you don't know whether to select public or private institutions. The latter tend to be pricier, but may have excellent financial aid packages for international students which may apply to you. Public universities may be more reasonable in terms of tuition, but financial aid may be limited to in-state residents. Anyway, it is really worth double checking that information since the rule here is that this is a tendency, not a rule.

Another aspect you will be prompted to choose from is the campus setting: would you like studying in a controlled environment where every service you need has been taken care of or find yourself immersed in a big urban setting where your institution is just a small piece in an urban puzzle? You may choose that too. Every big city in the U.S. has different institutions of higher education which may be located in one campus, or spread across various locations, close to downtown or in its suburbs. Campuses like these may let you experience living in an American city, feel the pulse of urban life with all the advantages and setbacks that might come along with it. One disadvantage may be the need to commute which will certainly have an effect on your personal expenses and time. On the other hand, you may prefer an integrated campus which may also be urban, suburban, or even rural. If you want to have control over your time and spend less than ten minutes from bed to classroom, then this might be the perfect match for you. In addition, it may be easier to meet the other students at these compact campuses.

Talking about meeting people more easily, the size and the type of institution may also influence this. There are different names for U.S. higher education institutions, namely colleges, institutes and universities. The name is most of the time related to its foundation and so colleges tend to be smaller and more focused on teaching than large universities, which in turn may be more focused on scientific research and graduate programs. Institutes were often created to do research on specific topics and vary in size. Usually renowned faculty work on research based institutions, but they may or not be directly involved in teaching and have their graduate assistants do the job for them. Teaching-focused institutions usually have their faculty actually in the classrooms teaching.

But we haven't yet finished our list of available choices, although I will leave a few for you to discover on your own. Did you know that there are single sex colleges? More frequently, you'll come across all-female than all-male colleges, but still this might be a suitable option for you. Anyway, if you don't consider this important, then co-ed, i.e., institutions that have both female and male students, is what you should look for. Also, if you are a religious person and think it is important to study in a place that shares the same religious values, you can search for a college affiliated with a specific religious denomination. The list is vast.

However, one feature that sets the American higher education landscape apart in the world is the services provided to students. These also include services for students with some sort of disability, be it a physical or a learning disability. As an example, can you guess the number of U.S. higher education institutions prepared to integrate students in wheel chairs? The vast majority! But there are also universities in which most undergraduate students are hearing impaired and everything is in place to facilitate their study.

As we are coming to a close, I don't want to end without addressing one of the most important and recurrent topic at my advising center: institutions with financial aid for international students. This could very easily be a topic on its own and you should definitely explore this exhaustively. U.S. institutions are probably the most generous in terms of financial aid offered to international students worldwide, and these are usually based on merit or need. From a full ride to substantial scholarships, U.S. institutions award financial aid based on very diverse criteria, but diversity is the name of the game when it comes to studying in the United States.

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