University choices in the US

By: Stef Foster, Columnist

At the moment I am writing about my college experience here in the US of A and how it compares to the university or uni experience back home in Australia. For me, the biggest struggle of this adventure started more than a year before even landing in the U.S., that is the dreaded and monumental task of selecting a college. I really empathize with American high school students as I can hardly fathom the number of higher education options available to you all, more than 8,000 institutions according to the interweb. To give you a comparison, Australia has a grand total of 43 universities and around 150 miscellaneous other higher education providers. In Tasmania, where I study back home, there is just one university, the University of Tasmania that has four different campuses spread out across the island.

The number of variables involved in choosing a college here is phenomenal. Where is the college? What scholarships and financial aid can I get? What will it cost? What’s the reputation of the college? Who do I know who went there or will be going there? Do they have my major? How big is the school? What are the school facilities and campus like? Imagine trying to weigh all these factors solely through the information you can find on the Internet, and absolutely zero on-the-ground knowledge of what the US college system is like. Thankfully though, I was only choosing a study abroad college, not a four-year school (for the record, I am super happy with my choice).

So what’s the process for selecting your uni in Australia? For most people, the selection criteria are as follows:

  1. Where is my major offered?
  2. Is one particular uni program superior to the others for my major?
  3. Which uni is closest to where I live with my parents?

Done, decision made. To expand on criteria point number three, Aussie unis have very limited on-campus accommodation, typically only used by international and interstate students.

The vast majorities of students live at home with mum and dad and drive or catch public transport to get to uni. As students get into their third or fourth year of uni, many choose to move into big houses with friends or random individuals also looking for housing. My first share house included my sister, my sister’s boyfriend, my sister’s friend, my sister’s friend’s boyfriend and my sister’s friend’s little sister, who was about my age. My second share house included a nocturnal New Zealander, a French horn player, a beer-loving, chain-smoking casino bartender, the chain-smoker’s gold-digging boss, a Thai student studying English with a superb fashion sense, a Canadian study abroad student with a local girlfriend and every now and again, our landlord, his girlfriend, his son and his son’s girlfriend. Suffice to say I have many entertaining house-sharing stories.


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