Research Your Options

Tips on how to find the right higher education institution or program.

By Steve Fox

July 2021

Research Your Options

There are more than 4,500 accredited colleges and universities in the United States providing world-class education. However, this vast array of choices can make it challenging for students to find the institution that best fits their needs. Photograph by elenabs/iStock/Getty Images

Indian students who wish to pursue a higher education or program in the United States have a wealth of choices. There are more than 4,500 accredited colleges and universities in the United States providing world-class education. However, this vast array of choices can make it challenging for students to find the institution that best fits their needs. Here are some tips for prospective students on how to research their options to find the higher education institution or program that fulfills their requirements–academic, financial and personal.

Define your priorities. Finding a “best-fit” institution requires knowing what you want to get out of a higher education. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a school because others you know have, or because you’ve “heard” it’s good. Draw up a list of your specific requirements that includes your short-term and long-term career objectives and use it to identify institutions that offer degrees that will advance your goals.

Be practical. Competition for admission to top U.S. schools can be intense, so take an objective look at your academic record, your capacity for learning and your test scores to determine if they are likely to gain you admission to the school of your choice. If you’re going to need financial aid, bear in mind that assistance typically is awarded to students with strong academic records, high GRE/GMAT scores and, in the case of graduate students, significant research, teaching or work experience. Remember that any school you attend must be certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program. A searchable list of certified schools is available on the Department of Homeland Security Study in the States website. In addition, you must remember to choose from among accredited higher education institutions. Accreditation is a hallmark of quality and provides an additional check on how credible the institutions and its programs are. Accreditation check for U.S. higher education institutions is available through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

Start early. There are a number of different requirements you must meet in order to study in the United States. Therefore, you should begin your research about 18 months prior to the start of the academic year at the schools you’re considering. Make a timeline covering all the academic and financial requirements you must meet and the time required to do so, then use it to guide you in the process. For example, plan on submitting your completed applications almost 12 months before the start of the academic year at your chosen institutions. Applications for financial assistance are usually submitted along with admissions applications.

Access the resources. There are a variety of resources available to Indian students who want to study in the United States. Perhaps the most comprehensive is EducationUSA, a U.S. Department of State network of international student advising centers in more than 175 countries and territories. In India, valuable information from EducationUSA can be found at, or at any of the eight EducationUSA centers in India. For the location of the center nearest you, see Also, check out the EducationUSA India mobile app available through the Google and Apple app stores. Most EducationUSA information is free and there are specialized seminars and workshops on admission application procedures and strategies, education fairs and predeparture orientation programs offered throughout the year.

In addition, most U.S. colleges and universities have websites with detailed information on degree programs, application procedures, academic departments, on-campus facilities and other topics.

Create a financial plan. Before granting admission, colleges and universities in the United States typically require that international students demonstrate the ability to pay for at least one year of attendance by submitting appropriate financial documents such as bank statements, along with a credible plan for how they will support themselves during the rest of their time at the school. In researching how much it will cost to attend a specific school, be sure to include not just tuition and fees but also expenses such as food, living quarters, transportation and other costs associated with living away from home. There are a number of websites that provide information on scholarships and other financial aid. A good place to start is

While shortlisting and applying to multiple U.S. colleges or universities can seem daunting, many thousands of Indian students have successfully navigated the process. There were 193,124 Indian students in the United States during the 2019-20 school year, according to the most recent Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education.

More are on the way. “Over the last decade, the number of Indian students in the U.S. has almost doubled,” says Bhavvna Jolly, senior program officer, EducationUSA at the United States-India Educational Foundation in New Delhi “and Indians continue to choose the U.S. as their top higher education destination.”

Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.


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