International students who want to enroll in a selective US school need to put extra effort into their decision if they want to get the most out the experience. According to Kate Irwin of US News & World Report, when choosing a school each applicant should consider the part of the world they wish to live in, their post-college aspirations, what major to pursue and the value for money.
Specifically, Irwin points out that while getting a degree in a college that accepts fewer than 20% of those who apply there will almost always be a good return on value, but unless a student wants to make the US their permanent home after graduation, they could probably get an equivalent education for less money back home. She recommends that students also consider that unless a university is one of the best in the world in their selected major, the investment just might not be worthwhile.
For example, my mother, an international applicant, applied to and attended the University of California—San Francisco because its nursing program is one of the best in the world.
For her, it was worth it because it was affordable, offered a practical degree and was a program unlike any she could have found back home.
Additionally, a master's degree carries much more weight than a bachelor's degree does, so for her situation it was a sensible choice. After graduating, she worked in the States for some time.
Unless the university in question has a world-recognized program, getting a US degree could actually hamper job prospects for those who want to get employment back home. Often, potential employers won't know how highly a program stacks up against a local alternative and will simply pass over a candidate whose academic credentials aren't as easy to evaluate.
A good example of this phenomenon are the Five Sisters colleges. Although the small, chiefly Liberal Arts schools are both selective and well-known inside the United States, their fame and reputation abroad are limited. The quality of the education an international student could receive there may not make up for their difficulty with landing a job or getting into a graduate program once they leave the US.
But keep in mind that as a prospective undergraduate or graduate student applying from another country, you are also paying for the social experience, lifestyle, networking and variety of clubs and opportunities at your fingertips that may not be present at schools back home.
In studying abroad, you are venturing out of your comfort zone, allowing yourself to mature and grow as a person. You learn to be self-sufficient and adaptable to a variety of situations and different types of people.