One of the most wonderful things about higher education in America is that it varies from institution to institution. There is no “one size fits all” college experience as each individual university has its own standards and traditions, making it easy for anyone pursuing a degree to find the college that is right for them. At nearly all American schools, there is a seemingly infinite list of degrees to choose from as well, many of which can be tailored to meet the students’ individual needs and interests. Perhaps this explains why so many international students choose to study at American institutions. Every year, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs receives nearly 25 million inquiries from hopeful students around the world interested in studying in America (“Why International Students Come to Study at American Colleges and Universities”, Brain Track, 2011). Equally, statistics show that more international students study in America than in any other country in the world. While many similarities do exist between American and International universities, the American college system surpasses all others in quality, flexibility and diversity, as well as being far more culturally expansive, making it the best place to attend school at a college level.
Higher education in other countries such as France, for instance, is offered at little or no cost to the students. Any American student accustomed to paying the sometimes very expensive tuition fees of US schools would most likely start packing their bags and dusting off their passports as soon as they heard this. What many people forget is that tuition pays for not only a general education, but the overall experience as well, including life on campus. The majority of American college campuses are kept very up-to-date, while still maintaining their individual charm and historic backgrounds. Class settings vary from small, intimate classrooms with a capacity to hold only twenty students to large auditorium-style classrooms that will seat two-hundred or more. Most classrooms provide students access to the best possible technology and resources to aid their learning. There are a great deal of wonderful student services available outside of the classroom, too, including abundant libraries, computer labs and tutoring centers which are generally available to all students at any time. For students living on campus full-time, the list of perks continues: Comfortable dorm rooms, plenty of on-campus cafeterias and restaurants, full-service fitness centers, student lounges, and more. This easygoing environment makes it easy for students to succeed.
Now, compare that picture to what is most often found with free international schools: Ancient, structurally unsounds buildings holding cubicle-like classrooms, out-of-date (if any) technology and resources, incommodious dormitories and far less to do on campus. That doesn’t sound like an environment that would fortify students’ desire to obtain an education, especially when coupled with the almost impossible academic expectations that are usually found in classrooms outside of the US.
The pressure to do well in school, especially college, is something that all students have or will face at least once throughout their academic careers. It is what pushes students to try their hardest to ensure their success. However, the pressure seems to be much worse for students in other countries even before they begin attending a university. For example, British high school students are required to take what is called “A-Level” Tests which quiz on four different subjects. Scores on these tests are used to separate the “serious” students from the ones who might not do so well in the university system. The scores are also used to narrow down students’ choices in majors, which must be decided before attending.
For every degree plan, required classes are only those which apply to the student’s area of study meaning students may not take outside electives that don’t work towards their degree. Work in these classes is said to be extremely challenging in order to further separate the serious students from the not-so-serious ones. This strict academic regimen allows students to fulfill their requirements and earn a degree in only three years. Again, to an American student this would sound great: no useless classes and one less year spent in school. But those “useless” classes are actually incredibly valuable and give students in America a great advantage over their international peers.
The Liberal Arts philosophy is a very unique feature of the American system. It requires all students to earn a general level of education in the arts, sciences and humanities alongside their chosen field of study which can be applied not only to the degree they are working towards but also to any career path they choose to follow later in life. As mentioned by David Crabtree in his essay Why A Great Books Education Is the Most Practical!, these classes are meant to teach students “more general, transferable skills which will provide the flexibility to adjust to whatever changes may occur… These skills would make a person well-suited to most work environments and capable of learning quickly…” (213). The Liberal Arts philosophy allows students to be well-rounded in their education and provides them with skills that could carry them into almost any career field, should the one they choose in college fail them. Other college systems, specifically that of greater Europe, don’t provide that. Instead, they train students only in one field, leaving them with no safety net or “Plan B” if the need for one should ever arise.
The American college system also caters to students by providing a wide variety of both degree-specific and recreational classes, something many other countries’ college systems seem to lack. This gives every student the opportunity to explore their interests thoroughly and discover which field is truly the right fit for them individually, while also making college seem like less of a chore by giving students a break from the classes they find less interesting. One may argue that some of these classes are counterproductive, distracting students from their more important classes and having them spend more time than necessary earning their degree. However, even the most impractical seeming classes are teaching skills that could potentially come in very handy at unexpected times later in life. For example, consider Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios. During his time at Reed College, he attended a Calligraphy class where he learned various typefaces and how great typography was made. Jobs himself said, “None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life.” (Jobs, Stanford Report, 2005) However, ten years later he found the skills he learned in the Calligraphy class to be more useful than ever expected when he was designing the first Macintosh computer, the very first computer invented to have uniquely beautiful typography. Jobs made history and permanently changed the world of home computers, which could not have happened if he had studied in say, Finland, where such a trivial class would never be taught.
The diverse array of classes also ensures that every student can find a field of study that suits them. Students are not restricted to simply education and medical fields, or even basic writing and art. American colleges allow students to study absolutely anything they wish, from Tourism to Dance Choreography. Furthermore, while they study university students are introduced to many wonderful opportunities such as internships, work-study jobs, and study-abroad programs which are designed to help them better develop their skills and expand their horizons of education and beyond. Most universities also take great interest in each of their students as individuals and wish to see them succeed. Students are often given great career opportunities and connections before even graduating, and many universities will do all that they can to help students find immediate job placement after graduation.
Choosing which college or university to attend is one of the hardest and most important decisions a student will ever face. That decision alone holds the power to decide a person’s entire future. Every student is different, they have different dreams and desires and therefore they should have infinite options to choose from to find the place that will best suit them while they chase those dreams. That is why studying in America, where there are hundreds of institutions each with their own individual cultures and traditions and thousands of degree and career plans to choose from, is by far the best decision for any student.
1. “Why International Students Come to Study at US Colleges and Universities”. Brain Track. 2011. <http://www.braintrack.com/ international-studies-in-us-colleges/articles/why-international-students-study-in-us>. 2. David Crabtree. “Why A Great Books Education Is the Most Practical!”. The Composition of Every Day Life. John Mauk, John Metz. Published: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010, 212-214. 3. Steve Jobs.