Step 1: Look into the various forms of education

Consider what you would most like to get out of your time abroad. This can help you find a program that is right for you. All 4,700 institutions offer different programs and experiences. There are countless institutions and programs to consider.

Two-year institutions

You can obtain a two-year associate degree at these two-year institutions, or community colleges. This degree is the equivalent of the first two years of a Bachelor’s program at a Four-Year Institution. After your associate’s degree, you might be able to transfer to a university and complete a further two years to gain a bachelor’s degree. Not all institutions automatically accept students with an associate’s degree. Make sure you research your options if you want to transfer. An A.A. or A.S. degree will facilitate a transfer to a third year of a four-year bachelor’s program while an A.A.S. functions as a vocational/applied science degree by itself.

There are three types of degrees:

  • Associate of Arts degree (A.A.)
  • Associate of Science degree (A.S.)
  • Associate of Applied Science degree (A.A.S.)

The Associate of Arts-program (A.A.) is a general education. You can enroll in five courses per semester, such as English Writing, a foreign language, history, sociology, drama, music, etc. You can also take more specialized courses by declaring a major. The Associate of Science-degree (A.S.) is very similar to the Associate of Arts-degree, except this program is based around courses like chemistry, math, and physics.

The Associate of Applied Science-opleiding  (A.A.S.) is a vocational degree. All courses prepare you for your profession, such as car mechanic, musical instrument manufacturer, dental assistant, etc.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC): is the the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s 1,108 community colleges. Consult them for more information about application procedures, costs and rankings of all community colleges.

  • Community colleges usually have lower fees than universities and four-year institutions.
  • The admissions requirements are less rigorous than four-year universities. This is called open admission: anyone who applies will be accepted. Usually international students have to meet slightly higher requirements than American students.
  • Community colleges offer more guidance because their teachers aren’t also involved in scientific research and aren’t under pressure to publish. They are able to dedicate all their resources entirely to teaching.
  • Community colleges usually don’t have application deadlines, and the schools that do tend to close fairly late. You can apply at any point during the year (rolling admission). Keep in mind that it will take time and effort to complete your application and that you need to request your visa documents in time. This process will take about six months.

Four-year institutions

Bachelor’s degrees at a college, university, or other institution take four years to complete. The two main undergraduate degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and the Bachelor of Science (B.S. or B.Sc.). The B.A. usually requires you to take a foreign language and other general classes. The B.S. focuses primarily on sciences. Other bachelor’s degrees are the B.B.A. (Bachelor of Business Administration), B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts), B. Mus. (Bachelor of Music) and B. Arch. (Bachelor of Architecture).

Two students working towards the same degree at the same university can still follow a wildly different program. Most of the classes you will take during your first year are pretty general. As part of the liberal arts philosophy, you are encouraged to explore your academic interests. You can take courses in a variety of subjects before focusing primarily on your major subject. If you already know your major, you can already enroll in courses that are related to your degree. The final two years of your bachelor’s will be fully dedicated to your major.

You will take several core courses, courses related to your major, and electives. Each will encompass one third of your degree. At the start of each academic year, you and your adviser can discuss the courses you can take next year. You can obtain a minor next to your major, or work towards a double major.

Did you know…
  • … students in their first year of their undergraduate studies are called freshmen. Second year students are called sophomores, and third- and fourth-year students are juniors and seniors.
  • … law and medicine can only be taken at master’s level. You need a bachelor’s degree in order to study law or medicine.

Specialist institutions

Some universities focus their strengths in specific subject areas. Common examples include technical universities, art or music colleges, design schools, or film schools. Applications to these separate schools will often have different requirements and procedures.


Women’s colleges

Women’s colleges are only accessible to women. The most well-known women’s colleges were founded in the 1800s, when other higher education was almost exclusively male. Some women’s colleges in the US still remain. Many women’s colleges have agreements with nearby coeducational universities, so students can register for classes at both institutions.

Public and private institutions

You can choose to obtain your two year or four year degree at a private or public institution. Public universities receive funding from their town, region or state. Students who are from this state pay very little tuition because of previously paid taxes. Students from different regions haven’t paid these local taxes, which is why their tuition is much higher. As an international student, you will be considered an out-of-state applicant for all public universities. However, public universities often charge lower fees than private institutions, even for out-of-state students. The tuition price for private institutions is the same for students from within the region, and those outside of it. These schools are often smaller than their public counterparts.

  • Are you attending a community college? Most students attending public community colleges live at home. Community colleges don’t offer dorms or campuses. Many private community colleges do have a campus. This can be a leading factor in the decision of international students.