By Willard Dix
Most Americans think that “Indian food” consists mostly of some curries, rice, naan, and a few vegetarian dishes. Yet for those willing to explore, the variety of Indian food provides an almost infinite and delicious number of options. Just the division between North and South Indian cuisine indicates spectacular differences worth trying if a diner is willing to experiment.
Similarly, most non-Americans considering U. S. colleges and universities know of only a very few. Those like Harvard and Stanford are so famous they overshadow the other nearly 4,000 institutions that make up American higher education. But those willing to explore the college world beyond those internationally known names will find a variety as compelling as any Indian dish.
A Variety of Options
Unlike most of the rest of the world, the United States does not have a single national university to which most students aspire. Each state has its own public university, such as the University of Michigan, the University of California or Louisiana State University, with each of those also having branches in smaller cities and towns. They enroll mostly state residents but also welcome those from other states and many from abroad. And they offer a wide menu of courses and majors. The University of Illinois, for example, offers respected degrees in fields as varied as business, engineering, education, and agriculture.
Four-year private colleges and universities make up the remaining menu, offering educational opportunities for students in every field one can imagine. While an individual private college may not have as many options for students as a large university, it still provides exceptional educational experiences, whether students seek a bachelor’s degree or wish to earn an advanced degree in the future. Small colleges such as Kenyon, Amherst, Davidson, and Lafayette offer many majors along with programs that allow students opportunities to put their educations to work.
Because of their fame, schools like Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT receive many more applications from students in the U.S. and around the world than they can admit. Schools like these reject as much as 95% of their applicants. However, many other institutions in the U.S. accept more than 50% of their applicants. Most gladly welcome students from abroad. American colleges strongly believe that having students from many backgrounds on campus is valuable for everyone’s education, and they are eager to enroll students who will bring unique and varied viewpoints to their campuses.
Brand Name Isn’t Always Best
There are so many lesser-known U.S. colleges and universities that might fit a student’s tastes and desires better than a more familiar one. The schools might be smaller, so students receive more attention; they may have unique programs found nowhere else; or they may have well-funded and equipped laboratories that give undergraduates high-level experiences. Many lesser known but highly regarded institutions specialize in areas such as engineering, the arts, or business. The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Babson College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute offer exceptional programs. Having so many options encourages broad thinking about what students want in their lives and careers.
Making Your Choice
When it comes time to decide where to attend college, parents usually feel that students should be satisfied with their options. At the end of high school there are so many items on the menu that it’s up to the student to choose with parents providing guidance.
Luckily, the internet makes searching for and evaluating colleges easier than ever. Parents and students can search sites like Study in the USA, Big Future or the Common Application together to see the varied menu. Each site (as well as many others) offers ways to search colleges, such as by school type, majors, and region of the country. Discussing these options as a family can be very helpful when considering making such a huge decision. Whether a student is interested in engineering or literature, there will be several good choices available, with the added bonus that many institutions allow students to major in more than one area if they wish.
Looking beyond “name brand” institutions will help you find American colleges and universities uniquely suited to your child’s talents, interests, and abilities. Their variety, while bewildering at first, will provide exciting opportunities for any student.
Willard Dix is a freelance blogger at forbes.com.