How to pick the right university


When trying to choose a university that is right for you, ask yourself what is most important to you? Is it the education program and the reputation of the university? Is it to experience a different country and city? Is it to make new friends and embark on an adventure? For many students, it is probably a combination of all of the above and more. For instance, two universities with similar programs but located on opposite side of the United States are likely to differ in culture, climate, and things to do outside the classroom. These are all non-educational factors but will greatly affect how you will enjoy your stay in America. The trick for choosing the right university is to consider all of these factors. We will discuss them below.


Geographic Location

Picking the location could be equally important to selecting the university and the major that you are interested in. It will determine the lifestyle that you will be able to live outside the classroom and the opportunities for doing other things you like.
Consider the following factors when you select your university:

Climate – what is the weather like?
City vs. Rural – Larger city, town, or countryside.
Outdoor activities available – Sports, shopping, entertainment, nature etc.?
Culture – What are people like and what cultural resources are available?
Distance to other cities and sites of interest – How far is it to the beach, ski slope, or nearest town?
Distance to your home country – Living on the opposite coast adds time and money when traveling home.


What should I study?

student at school There are hundreds of different educational programs in the United States. Specializing within a field is also referred to as choosing a major. When choosing a major, consider what is most important to you.

  • What are you interested in? Are you logical, artistic, technical, or business minded?
  • What are the opportunities in the field today and in the future? What are your chances of getting a job using your education?
  • What kind of compensation can you expect? Is it a high or low paying occupation?
  • Where would you like to live after graduation? What is the opportunity to find a job in the area where you want to live? If you are moving back home or to another country, how would they evaluate my education and does it require accreditation to be valid?


You can use Student Guide USA’s free degree and university search tool to find universities offering what you are looking for. Click here to search for university degrees

Choosing a major when you’re an undergraduate student is not as important as when you’re a graduate student. The reason is that undergraduate studies take four years (of which the first two years are dedicated mostly to general education). During this time, students have the opportunity to change majors as many times as they like. Some undergraduate students are undecided until the third year when they finally choose a major. Graduate students, on the other hand, usually only study for two years. These students have to decide from the start which field they would like to study. Graduate students do however have some time to decide their specialization within the field they have chosen. For instance, a graduate business student might decide that he wants to concentrate in finance. In other words, graduate students do have some flexibility, but not as much as undergraduate students. Please read more about undergraduate and graduate degrees in the sections below. For a list of common undergraduate majors, refer to the Undergraduate Major List appendix on page 47.

Value of Education

As an international student, the value of your education will depend on several factors:

  • Type of degree (undergraduate or graduate)
  • Major and minor
  • University quality and reputation
  • International value of education


Your most important decision is the type of degree that you want to pursue. We will discuss this in more detail shortly but let’s start by looking at the importance of picking a university that will fit you.

In the USA there are thousands of universities of all sizes, offering hundreds of different specializations and degrees. It is sometimes difficult to get a clear picture of the quality of the education that is offered. In the United States, universities are not regulated and the government does not scrutinize educational programs in the same way as in Europe and other parts of the world. Instead, most universities seek to be accredited. An accredited university has to uphold a higher standard of quality. For instance, the Western Association of Schools monitors several hundred junior and regular colleges in California and Hawaii

As a student, there are several reasons why you want to know if a university is accredited before you apply:

  • As for any other product you might have bought in the past, you probably want to know what you will get for your money. Accreditation will ensure that the level of quality is of a certain level.
  • Many government backed financial aid agencies only accept accredited universities.
  • If you are returning home to continue your studies and planning to transfer credits, your home school may only accept units if your US school was accredited.


Types of Higher Education Institution

In the United States there are a number of different types of higher educational institutions. Depending on the length and type of the degrees they offer, they fall into one of the categories below:

Levels of higher education in the USA:

  • Two-year community or junior college
  • Four-year college, university or professional school
  • Graduate studies and beyond


Usually, all higher education institutions require that students have completed high school before attending.

The term college is in most cases synonymous with university and refers to educational institutions offering four-year degrees.  A junior or community college, however, only offers two-year degrees or individual classes. In your research you might also come across the term open university. Students not pursuing a degree and only taking individual classes are a part of the open university. A two-year degree is referred to as an associate degree. Even though you are pursuing a four-year degree such as a bachelor’s degree, a community college could offer several advantages.

  • Less expensive
  • Offers many GE classes
  • Easy admittance

Unlike a junior or community college, a university can offer more advanced degrees such as undergraduate bachelor degrees, master degrees, and sometimes even PhDs.


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