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Watch Out for 5 Myths About U.S. Colleges

Many prospective international students think U.S. colleges are in cities or have a big party scene, but that's not always true.

Teenage girl looks apprehensively at the camera while her classmates gossip behind her back. Horizontal shot. Isolated on white.

Prospective international students shouldn't let their fear of alienation or crime keep them from attending school in the U.S. 

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There are nearly 200 countries in the world, which means that there are a ton of countries to choose from if you intend to study abroad.

Although there are already a fair number of international students pursuing higher education in the U.S., many prospective international students still have concerns about aspects of American colleges that prevent them from attending. 

Fortunately, after spending two years studying and living in the U.S., I have discovered that many of these are just myths and they should not prevent an international student from coming to the U.S. to attend college.

Myth 1. International students don’t receive support: Some of my friends are afraid that their professors and American peers will be insensitive to the fact that they are from a different country and might have a harder time fitting in or face a language barrier.

In my experience, this is 100 percent false. In addition to academic advisers and the international programs office, many universities offer workshops or lectures to help international students with their English.

I've found most professors are aware that international students might at first have difficulty comprehending material in class because of the language barrier, and they are usually willing to help the students out or refer them to people that can help.

Similarly, your American peers are also a great resource. Some think that they don’t care at all about international students, but I've found they are actually very friendly and willing to help make international students feel welcome.

[Get details on campus resources for international students.]

Myth 2. U.S. colleges are located in big, unsafe cities: A lot of American movies are set in big cities like New York, Detroit or Austin, and when a lot of people think of big cities, they think of crime and drugs. This isn’t necessarily true.

It is true that big cities might have a higher crime rate compared with smaller towns, but even then, colleges usually deploy a lot of security officers to keep the campus safe. In the case of robberies, the local police department will typically be notified and the school's security is often amped up to deter further crimes.

At slightly larger campuses, there are usually shuttles to take students from one side of campus to another, and during the evenings, some universities even have shuttles to transport students who live off campus.

Many colleges are located in a wide variety of settings, including rural and suburban settings and small towns, so attending college in the U.S. doesn't necessarily mean ending up in a large city.

Myth 3. American colleges have a lot of students who party: Again, American colleges are seen on TV and movies with big party scenes, and some prospective international students express concern that they won’t be able to fit in because they don’t like partying.

Well, never fear, because you can definitely fit in even if you don’t like to party! I am personally not a big party person, and so far, I’ve survived college and had a blast – and in the process, I’ve only gone to a few parties. When I do attend, it is always a result of my own interest and not because of peer pressure. 

Myth 4. There aren’t a lot of activities for international students outside class: The truth is American colleges look at the whole picture. They don’t just want their students to study all day, they want their students to think critically and be well-rounded.

U.S. colleges have a wide range of clubs and organizations in which international students can take part. At my school, Brown University, I am an active member of the Women in Computer Science group, a photographer for the yearbook and member of the Global Brigade, a club dedicated to public health.

A lot of universities have really strong school spirit too, and are looking for students to join their varsity sports teams, such as American football, basketball, ice hockey and soccer. Volunteering is also a popular option; at Brown, for example, one volunteer opportunity open to students is tutoring elementary school students in math.

[Find out the benefits of participating in college clubs and activities.]

Myth 5: You have to choose a major right away: For the most part, students are allowed to come to college undecided, and it is only at the end of their sophomore year that they are required to declare a concentration.

At Brown, students are encouraged to take a wide variety of classes and try new things, because you never know whether or not you like something until you actually try it out.

Of course, it might be helpful if you know what you want to study coming to college, but it is equally important to try new things and expand your horizons.

That is why a lot of universities have a set of classes that students need to take, called the general requirements. Some of these classes might be completely unrelated to your major, but they are enforced because U.S. colleges want students to graduate with a broad range of skills and a wide foundation.