Everyone thinks they know how you should pick your dream college, and you can find books, guides, magazines and websites for any academic interest you’ve got. But not many of them think about what it’s like to move to the United States by yourself, to a country that you call “home,” and yet did not grow up in.
I’m not pretending to be an expert, but for international students moving to the United States, there are many factors to consider that may be obvious to American students but not as clear to those coming from abroad. If I could do the college selection process again, here are a few things I wish people had made me consider before I hopped on an airplane to the United States.
1. Proximity to a City. For many TCKs who have grown up in some of the most international cities in the world, it’s a good idea to consider universities with easy access to a large city. We take for granted the diversity, entertainment, maturity and open-mindedness that comes with large urban centers. Going without it for four years may be a rude awakening, and TCKs may begin to feel trapped in a small town environment. There are certainly exceptions to this rule – many large universities in rural areas tend create their own thriving urban center or college town, and others may make up for it with lively student life.
2. Regional Differences. For folks who have never lived in the United States before, the country seems like one, giant entity –this is entirely false. The variety in lifestyle between different sections of the United States are so striking, these areas may as well be different countries. East Coast, West Coast, Southwest, South, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest – they all have their own climates, cultures, characteristics, natural geography, food, sports teams, industries, which influence the way its people and communities behave. Do your research, think about what type of lifestyle you want (warm? seasonal? laid back? fast paced?), and figure out whether or not the region will suit you.
3. International Student Organizations. Take some time to explore the university’s International Office (or International Student Center). What percentage of students are foreign? What support system do they provide for them? What types of international student clubs are there? This will give you a clue as to how diverse the student body is. If there the foreign student enrollment rate is low, or there is not much support or structure for international students, that’s something to think about. Though you may be American on paper, your international background may be an anomaly at this school. While some may thrive on being the only foreign student around, many will feel more at home with more diversity.
Steph studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh during her junior year at Northwestern University.
4. Study Abroad Program. Unsurprisingly, many Third Culture Kids have the desire to study abroad their sophomore or junior years. In my opinion, it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do while in college. If you wish to embark on this adventure, be sure to thoroughly research the Study Abroad Office. Do they have a wide range of options for all academic majors, including yours? Do they provide structure and support for the students abroad? Do they have exchanges with the country or university you hope to attend abroad?
5. Career Opportunities Nearby. Being close to the hub of your future industry can be a huge leg up when you start applying for internships and jobs. It also means that your professors, student groups or mentors may have contacts and relationships with nearby businesses that you may be interested in working for. For example, if you’re interested in tech entrepreneurship, take a look at colleges near Silicon Valley. Or if you’re interested in theatre, New York City may be a good bet. Going to college near the industry of your choice means you have the opportunity to complete internships while you are still in college, which can be a big leg up when you start applying to jobs.
Steph is a graduate of Northwestern University. (And yes, if she had to do it all over again, she would’ve still gone there).