As an international student, there are four questions to ask yourself as you consider applying to the American school system or a selective U.S. university: Where do you want to live? Where do you want to work? What are you studying? What will you get for your dollar?
Let's consider a selective school to be one with an acceptance rate of about 20 percent or less – so think of schools like the ones in the Ivy League, or others like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California—Berkeley and University of Chicago.
Of course, obtaining a degree from any well-respected university is "worth it" in some regard – but what about the price tag? Can you justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an undergraduate degree in an area of study that is nearly just as comparable to a less-selective school back home?
[Get tips about finding the right school for you.]
Consider applying to a selective school if you have a desire to work and live in the United States after graduation and if the program offered at the selective school is particularly exemplary or not offered back home.
For example, my mother, an international applicant, applied to and attended the University of California—San Francisco because its nursing program is one of the best in the world.
For her, it was worth it because it was affordable, offered a practical degree and was a program unlike any she could have found back home.
Additionally, a master's degree carries much more weight than a bachelor's degree does, so for her situation it was a sensible choice. After graduating, she worked in the States for some time.
If you plan on returning to your home country permanently after graduation and aren't interested in living or working in the States, studying in the U.S. may not be worth it unless you receive a full-ride scholarship.
Often, employers back home won't know how selective U.S. schools compare with the ones within their borders unless the American school is particularly famous, so your degree won't necessarily give you an edge if it isn't at a "well-known" school.
By this, I mean a school with an international reputation – not just a strong reputation within the U.S. There are many great schools in the United States that are selective but are too small to be recognized on a global scale.
These schools are usually small, private liberal arts colleges in the United States that are selective and incredibly expensive but are virtually unknown at an international level. In my opinion, these types of schools are not worth the money, especially for international students who want a degree and a school name they can take anywhere.
[See the World's Best Universities rankings.]
But keep in mind that as a prospective undergraduate or graduate student applying from another country, you are also paying for the social experience, lifestyle, networking and variety of clubs and opportunities at your fingertips that may not be present at schools back home.
In studying abroad, you are venturing out of your comfort zone, allowing yourself to mature and grow as a person. You learn to be self-sufficient and adaptable to a variety of situations and different types of people.
If you are an international student accepted to a selective, well-known U.S. school and the tuition is financially feasible for you, I guarantee you will not regret accepting the opportunity. The social and intellectual benefits will change your life forever.
Kate Irwin, from Canada, is currently studying English and creative writing at the University of California—Berkeley.