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Going to School in the U.S.? How to Choose the Right College for You

By Diane Amato

Published July 26, 2023 • 3 Min Read

There are several reasons for foreign students to consider studying in the U.S. But which colleges and universities might top your list?

You may prioritize academic areas of study, for example, while someone else will focus on location or campus life. Whatever is most important to you in a U.S. school, consider all these factors as you make your application shortlist is worth considering.


Studying in another country will be a significant change, and you’ll want to consider how comfortable you’ll be living away from home. Do you want to be a short drive away from your family, so you can visit each other when you need to reconnect? Or are you eager to see new places and open to attending school on the other side of the continent, returning home once or twice a year?

Areas of study

There are over 5,000 institutions in the U.S. While many will offer all the major degree programs, some specialize in particular areas of study (degrees in music, technical institutes or business schools). Others may be renowned for specific areas that attract significant funding and faculty — like universities that do medical research or law programs. As you research, explore schools with dedicated resources to your area of study.

School size

U.S. universities come in all sizes — from small arts colleges with fewer than 1,000 students to state universities with 50,000+ undergraduates. Consider whether you want a more intimate school year with easy access to professors and a close-knit community or a “Big 10” experience at a large school with state-of-the-art libraries, research facilities and nationally-recognized sports teams. Of course, there are plenty of choices in between!

Campus and surrounding environment

While you’re away at school, you’ll be spending a great deal of time on campus and in the school’s surrounding area — especially in your later college years. As you consider your ideal college, look at the campus to see if it feels right. At the same time, consider if you’re looking for a college in a rural area, small town, or big city. Each option has its merits and comes down to your personal preference.

It’s a great idea to visit campuses in person so you can see for yourself — take a look at our article, The Top 5 Tips for Your U.S. College Road Trip, for inspiration.

Student life

Many U.S. colleges are renowned for their sports teams, music programs and business clubs. Beyond the high-profile student activities, many more will have a broad and robust range of special interest clubs and teams you can pursue. If getting involved in student life interests you, research what’s available at the schools on your list. While at it, check out their programs for international students, career, health, counselling and safety services to feel confident should you need support while away at school.


Going to college in the U.S. isn’t going to be cheap — and unfortunately, most U.S. colleges don’t offer much financial aid for international students. This varies by school and program and should be a factor you review before deciding your top choice.

The U.S. has some of the best colleges in the world, with first-class facilities, athletics, faculty and research opportunities. As you choose your school, it’s worth looking at online rankings and reviews to get assessments on academic quality and student life. With a bit of research and some campus tours, you can narrow down your list of schools and start applying!

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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