Why study in the USA?
There are over 4,000 universities in the USA, each with its own areas of expertise and unique campus atmosphere, and many are amongst the top ranking colleges worldwide. Every year over 1,000 Irish students go to college in America. The quality of education provided is acknowledged worldwide and with appropriate preparation and research, it is possible to find one that is the right fit.
The US education system has a strong academic and social environment which fosters both professional and personal development of individuals. A major advantage of studying in the USA is that unlike in Ireland, a student does not need to decide on the focus of their study immediately. Instead they take a broad range of subjects early on (Liberal Arts) and focus on a 'major' at a later stage.
The US is also reknowned as the home of the latest technologies and advancement. Students can gain first-hand knowledge about cutting edge technologies, coupled with excellent research opportunities, at colleges in the USA.
There are two types of undergraduate degrees offered in the US, the Associates Degree and the Bachelor’s Degree:
Associate’s Degree: Typically two years in length and offered at Community or Junior Colleges. Associates degrees often focus on vocational or technical skills. Similar to a Diploma in Ireland.
Bachelor’s Degree: Usually four years in length. Follows the liberal arts philosophy and typically includes required “core” courses, a major, and electives. Similar to a Bachelor’s Degree in Ireland.
The American degree is based on a Liberal Arts philosophy which requires that students take a wide variety of courses in the arts and sciences before concentrating in one academic area so that they gain a "well-rounded education." The American Bachelor degree consists of:
- A major, which is a concentrated field of study;
- General education courses in a wide range of subjects;
- Supporting courses for the major and
- Electives which are a student's free choice.
Colleges and universities both award undergraduate degrees and colleges are in no way inferior to universities.
Note: MEDICINE, DENTISTRY, VETERINARY and LAW are not subjects studied at the undergraduate level in the United States.
The Different Types of Universities in the USA
These collleges are supported by tuition fees and private donations. They typically have smaller student numbers, a close-knit community better campus facilities and are more expensive to attend. They also have more funding set aside for international students, especially need-based scholarships.
These are state-funded institutions and are usually very large in size. They are cheaper than private universities, but still expensive unless you get a scholarship.
Junior and Community Colleges
Junior and Community Colleges are commonly known as two-year colleges. These offer associate degrees. You can either take the vocational or technical route to prepare for the workforce, or you can prepare for your undergrad degree by transferring to a four-year university in a 2+2 arrangement. Often a cheaper option and less competitive for entry than a 4-Year college.
Ivy League Universities
The prestigious eight sports conference colleges in the USA which include some of the oldest established ones (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania).
Admissions are very competitive, with acceptance rates of around 10% of applications.
Liberal Arts Colleges
These are 4-year Higher Education institutions which allow students to look at a range of different subject areas and thier interconnections, before specialising in any one ore more areas. Teaching is typically in small classes, often with a lower student-to-teacher ratio than at large universities. Liberal Arts colleges tend to have a holistic approach to study, with a residential campus which aims to foster social skills and dialogue.
How to Search for Courses in the USA
Find out as much as you can about colleges and courses in the United States. There are several sites and search tools available to help you:
|Explore the Five Steps to U.S. Study Tool on the EducationUSA website to help with your search.|
Refer to college and university websites - Almost every college and university in the United States has a website with detailed information about degree programs, application procedures, academic departments, on-campus facilities, and other topics. Often, you can also find a copy of the course catalogue (Prospectus) to read online or download to read later.
Write to the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at each of the colleges you are interested in for an application form and a prospectus.
Independent websites allow you to search for institutions by the subject you are interested in studying, by geographic preference, or by a range of other criteria that you specify for example, CollegeBoard
The following link gives useful college information such as acceptance rates, average SAT and ACT scores, college costs, financial aid information, enrolment numbers, college descriptions, photos, and other useful data to help you choose a college:collegeapps.com
The Petersons website also provides an excellent college search tool -www.petersons.com
Application Procedures for Undergraduate Courses in the United States
Colleges in the U.S. review applications holistically, meaning that they look at all elements of “you”, the student.this suits well for students who may have struggled with grades, but have improved over time. An application to an American college will typically require:
- A completed application form
- Personal statement and two to three essays
- Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT, plus SAT Subject Tests, if required)
- Two or three reference letters
- Transcript of final four years of school (all courses, grades, Junior and Leaving Certificate scores)
- Application fee
- Optional interviews
All of the above will be taken into consideration when reviewing your application. Not only are your grades and test results important, but U.S. colleges want to see well-rounded candidates who are involved in extracurricular activities, such as sports, volunteering, the arts, or work experience. Be proud of your achievements and be sure and share them in your application form.
Standardised Test Scores
Students who want to study in the USA must sit a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT exam).
Students must first register to take the SAT, and request the Educational Testing Service and forward their scores to the institutions to which they are applying.
Each section of the SAT is scored on a scale of 200-800, and the writing section will contain two sub scores. The SAT has three scores, each on the scale of 200 to 800. Your score will include writing (W 200-800), mathematics (M 200-800), and critical reading (CR 200-800).
The SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of the critical thinking skills you will need for academic success in college. It assesses how well you analyse and solve problems—skills you learned in school that you will need in college. Your maths and critical reading scores on the new SAT can be compared to the math and verbal scores on the old test. This is something colleges need for consistency in admissions requirements. However, the SAT writing score is completely new.
The SAT is typically taken by fifth and sixth year students. It is administered six times a year in Ireland and students should pre-register at least six weeks in advance. The total testing time for the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Most institutions will require the SAT in addition to school qualifications. Some institutions may also require SAT 2 - subject tests - which measure the candidates' knowledge in specific subjects. Registration bulletins can be obtained from the US Embassy.
Online sample questions and preparation materials are available at the SAT Preparation Centre.
The SAT exam is held in Ireland at three locations: St. Andrew’s College, Booterstown; St. Conleth's Ballsbridge; St. Augustines, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford) on various dates from October to June. Details are posted at www.collegeboard.org
When to Apply
US universities have 4 intakes annually: Spring: January/February; Fall: August/September; Summer: April/May; Winter: December
The main student intake is in September each year with a smaller intake in January (rolling intake for some graduate programs and institutions)
The application deadline for the September intake is typically March or April (around the middle of 6th Year). It can be earlier for more competitive courses, so begin preparing your application as early as possible.
Completing a successful application to a college in the U.S. will take up to 18 months. Ideally students should begin the process 12-18 months in advance. (See 'How to Apply' below). Students should begin exploring areas of interest and thinking about all available college options in 4th Year or Transition Year. By 5th Year they need to start pinning down the right colleges for them and preparing for the SATs. Beginning the process early will mean students are ready to submit their applications in 6th Year, during the Autumn/Winter application period.
Application forms for the Autumn or Fall term (beginning August or September) are available in August of the previous year. Each university has its own deadline which may be as early as November. Allow six months for processing the application. Some universities will accept students for January admission.
Students should read carefully through all the application forms received and complete them carefully. Incomplete information will cause delay.
How to apply
Typically, the process is as follows:
- After you have selected the colleges to which you would like to apply, complete and return the application forms direct to each college before their individual deadline dates.
- There is no limit to the number of colleges you can apply to, however, most students apply to between three and eight colleges to keep costs down.
- An application fee is required with each application form. Submit the appropriate amount in U.S. currency with your application. Most institutions will not process your application without the fee.
- The information accompanying the application forms will give you the college's deadline for admission, required tests, required documents (such as school records), possible essay questions and the application fee (non-refundable) for processing the application. Note: There is no clearing house (e.g. CAO) in US higher education so deadlines are usually firm.
- Colleges usually notify their applicants between April and June. Note the deadlines by which you have to reply if you are accepted.
- If you are accepted by more than one institution, write to the one you decide to accept (pay a deposit if required)
- You should also write to those whose offers you wish to decline. It is courteous to notify an institution if you will not be accepting their offer of admission.
|Useful Link: The Common Application - over 750 public and private colleges and universities in the USA are members of the Common Application system. Website provides details of appplication deadlines, fees and other requirements for first-year applicants to member colleges.|
Minimum Visa Requirements for College in the USA
If you are accepted by a college, you will receive a letter of admission, together with the form required to apply for a visa, the "Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant F-1 Status”.
In order to apply for a visa you will need:
- Acceptance form from your chosen university
- Application fee ($50.00 US Dollars approx.)
- Evidence of financial ability to cover costs (tuition and living expenses)
- Application form - Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant F-1 Status
Where to apply
As there is no single, centralised application process in the USA that compares with our CAO system here, each application will vary according the requirements of the particular college.
Course Duration in the USA
Undergraduate programs at US colleges are 4 years and graduate programs from 1 year
An undergraduate degree is designed to be completed in four years, however, unlike Ireland, there is no fixed timescale in which students must complete their degree. Instead, a degree is awarded after a student has completed a required amount of coursework expressed in terms known as credits/units or semester hours.
Usually a student will need to accumulate approximately 110-130 credits in order to graduate, with each course on average earning 3-4 credits. Continuous assessment is a feature. Each course (class) per term is graded and then the grade is converted into a numeric equivalent called a Grade Point Average (GPA) on a scale of 0 - 4.0 which indicates how well a student is performing
College Fees and Living Costs in the USA
Estimated living expenses for students in the US is $10,000-$16,000 per year
Average annual tuition fees for US colleges:
- Public college 4-year average US $20,770
- Private collee 4-year average US $28,500
- At a 2-year (Junior or Community) college average US $8,000
The eduPASS website has information on Calculating College Costs as well as lots of practical information about living in the USA.
It is worth noting that students in the US are allowed to work 20hr/week during their course and 40hr/week during vacation which helps them to earn and learn.
Funding Opportunities and Scholarships for Studying in the USA
Many Irish students have in the past secured scholarship support to study in American colleges, in particular, sports scholarships (among them, famous Irish athletes Sonia O’Sullivan and Eamon Coughlan).
Some funding opportunities available from US universities (but not all) are open to international students, and offer a variety of scholarships that recognize academic record, scholastic achievement, demonstrated leadership ability, contributions to the community, or special interests and talents….
Students should be aware that full funding is rare unless you have academic, athletic or artistic talent. Scholarships are hugely competitive, so studenst should make contact as early as possible with potential coaches or faculties. It can be advantageous to use social media opportunities to showcase talent, whether its sport or performance and bring it to the attention of prospective colleges or coaches.
The best approach is to contact the university you plan to attend and ask for information on potential scholarship options. Students should do this well in advance of actually submitting an application, as they will then know what scholarships they might be eligible for. A seperate application for Financial Aid will typically be required.
Another option is to search for external sources of funding. The Education Advisory Service (EAS) at the US Embassy has a resource library that can assist students with this search:
The internet can also be used to identify sources of funding. Here are some relevant sites for advice on undergraduate funding:
The International Education Financial Aid website - provides a database of financial aid information for students who want to study in a foreign country. The site contains a comprehensive list of grants, scholarships, loan programmes and other information that may be helpful to students interested in studying in Europe, or other countries abroad CLICK HERE
See also The Student World - Autumn Edition 2013 - this edition has specific focus on Studying in the USA.