Even after all these years, the United States is still a land of opportunity, particularly when it comes to education and learning. Students from around the world flock to America each year in search of an excellent education and a little piece of that "American Dream." The following questions will help you frame your decision whether or not to study in the US.
Do I want to live in a big city or a small town?
America is a big country, with graduate schools spread throughout. Therefore, you have a virtually limitless number of options when it comes to choosing where you want to attend graduate school. So, while your task is to narrow down the list of potential schools to those that offer you the best education in your field at a price you can afford, the first question you should ask yourself is whether you want to study in a big city or in a smaller town.
A big city school may seem overwhelming at first. The hustle and bustle of American cities can seem ridiculous to people who are not used to the pace of country founded on the concept of enterprise; all of that stimuli coming at you from every direction may make you feel insignificant and hopelessly foreign. It's expensive, too. But it can also force you to adapt much more quickly than you would have otherwise. Further, attending school in larger cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles will likely provide you the opportunity to meet many other people in your situation; that is to say, foreigners who have come to America for an education. Also, big-city life will provide the opportunity to experience the culture like no other; from theater, to concerts, to restaurants, to street culture, cities are chock-full of the kinds of things that shape and define American culture.
Attending graduate school in a smaller town will allow you to take your time adjusting to your new surroundings, and to focus a bit more on your studies. It will also afford you the opportunity to explore American culture at a slower pace, to ask more questions along the way, and to get to know more people in your community, each of whom can potentially help to make your transition easier. Plus, it's generally cheaper than living in a big city.
How many international students attend the school?
It may seem obvious, but too many students neglect to consider this issue when choosing where to attend graduate school. There are, after all, some schools with large populations of international students and others with virtually none. So, while you should not base your decision entirely on the answer to this question, you should nonetheless take it into consideration.
There are two advantages to attending graduate schools with large numbers of foreign students. The first is that there will likely be more of an institutional infrastructure to help you adjust to life in the United States. It only stands to reason that the greater the number of foreign students at a school, the better the school's facilities should be in order to take the most advantage of all that diversity. The second advantage is that you will feel less alone and more a part of a community. Regardless of where the majority of foreign students come from, or from how wide a variety of countries, you will all have one very important thing in common: You will be new to America. Thus, the bigger the community of foreign students, the richer and deeper the support structure you can build for one another as you transition to life in the United States.
Of course, there is nothing terrible about attending a school with no sizeable international population. In fact, there is the very real possibility that, without an overabundance of other people going through all the same trials and tribulations you are, you will be forced to adjust more quickly than you otherwise would have. That having been noted, however, your transition to life in America, and your support system for getting through the period of culture shock, will likely be better if you attend grad school at an institution with a relatively large number of foreign students.
Is it expensive?
Unlike many other national governments, the United States does not universally supplement the cost of attending graduate school. While there are certainly scholarships offered at both the state and federal levels, graduate school can be more expensive than it is in your own country. You need to ask yourself how you plan to pay for your American education.
One of the first things you should do is research scholarships for which you are eligible. These may come from the American government, your own national or state government, religious organizations, and sometimes from the school to which you are applying. You can look for both general awards based on merit, and for those you are specifically eligible for as an international student. You will be amazed by how many organizations are out there just waiting to give you money for graduate school. It's simply up to you to find them.
After that, you should also look into work-study options that may be offered by the schools you're considering, By either working on campus or teaching introductory-level classes in your field, you will often be able to offset some or most of the cost of attending graduate school. In fact, many programs offer stipends on top of scholarships, and these can make it much easier to afford to maintain a decent quality of living while you're in school.
Be sure to consider all of these issues before you decide on a specific school. Remember, the more you know about what you're getting into before you decide, the better your decision is likely to be, and that will lead to a better graduate-school experience.