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Applying to US Universities: Some Myths Debunked

19/08/2016 12:37 | Updated 19 August 2016

Why has the number of UK students enrolled in US universities increased by 20% between 2011 and 2015? Will it continue? And how can you increase your chances?

There are many reasons for the increase in the number of UK students enrolled in US universities such as increased fees and concern for value for money, students unable/unwilling to commit to one subject for their university experience and greater awareness of international opportunities. This trend is likely to continue and so for students considering attending a US university, there are several myths that must be debunked.

Myth 1: The Ivy League are the only good universities.
Now known as the top universities in the US, the 'Ivy League' was originally created for the all-male, east-coast university sports teams of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell. Stanford is not Ivy League.

Not only does the US have some of the leading universities in the world, it also has over 4,000 different universities to choose from. A world of choice for students; type of university (Private or State?), location (sunny California or snowy New York?), academics (huge lectures or small seminars?), campus activities (Greek Life or Ultimate Frisbee?).

Myth 2: Subjects. You're stuck with the course choices you made at 17.
Most students at US universities change their major at least three times; finding themselves interested in marine biology, then aviation and then finally settling for 19th century French poetry. You can change your major as many times as you'd like and even change University by transferring credits and courses. No time or money wasted.

Myth 3: Debt. US university is too expensive and you come out with mountains of debt.
Yes, but with the increase in UK university fees, the US provides more for your money. On average, students spend 15 hours in class and many hours individually with their professors during 1-to-1 mandatory professor office hours. Everything is included in the sticker price: books, medical insurance, accommodation and food. Many US universities also allocate funds for international students, mostly based on academic merit, but also based on need, athletic ability or flair in the performing arts.

Myth 4: Job Opportunities
Some claim that 50% of the jobs that will exist in 2025 do not exist today. Perhaps the greatest advantage to US universities is that they teach you how to think from multiple perspectives. They want to give you the skills to solve problems, to discuss issues, to question facts, to navigate the global job market, to create your own positions if you need to in order to help students succeed.

Myth 5: I'd never have a chance
It's competitive and a drawn-out process with a raft of requirements; to venture to another country for university is brave and nerve-wracking for everyone involved, but it's possible provided you:

1. Research. The most accessible, free and unbiased source of information for finding somewhere right for you is College Board (www.collegeboard.com). Here you can narrow your search using criteria that are important to you such as size, location, difficulty of admission, etc. Do not be blindsided by 'Name Brands'. While many of the 'big name' universities that you have heard of are excellent, they may not be excellent for you.

2. Answer honestly. What do you want to achieve by studying in the US? Would you be happier in an urban or rural environment? Would you prefer a small college or a large university? Which climate is more appealing to you? What types of campus activities interest you?

3. Choose wisely. Applying to any more than 6-8 universities implies you haven't done your research! At Nemecek Bonas MacFarlane, we advise potential students to have 'reach' schools,' likely to accept 'schools and 'safety 'schools to avoid disappointment.

4. Prepare. Even before you begin the application, you may need to take SAT/ACT exams. Spend your time and money in preparation and not for re-testing. Let your school know well in advance that you are applying to US universities. There are many documents they need to prepare that take much more time than UCAS applications.

5. Follow Up. It is your responsibility to ensure that the school has received your application. If you are given the opportunity to interview, take it. It will likely take place in the UK, be very relaxed and conducted by an alumnus. They are simply trying to get to know you and it is another opportunity for you to show your enthusiasm for the school so be prepared to ask lots of pertinent questions.

While it is an arduous process, the rewards can be great. Good luck!

Anthony Nemecek is Co-Founder and Director of Nemecek Bonas MacFarlane, an advisory service for overseas students applying to US Universities. He is also the Co-Author of Uni in the USA... and Beyond, published by The Good Schools Guide.

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