The US of A is enormous — there are approximately a total of 5,300 colleges and universities in the country. How do international students even begin to choose one?

One way is to narrow your choices based on region. East Coast or West Coast? Location matters — it can even make or break your experience here. Choose the right region for you and you’re set for an incredible time ahead.

The main difference you need to know between the East Coast and the West Coast is the climate. East Coast cities see frigid temperatures in the winter. The West Coast is luckier; winters are milder and you can expect pleasant weather year-round.

No matter which coast, international students can enjoy living amongst the stunning landscape, from beautiful beaches, snowy mountains, green forests and sandy deserts.

The East Coast has an edge in its iconic cities such as New York and Boston. The quintessential American college towns you’ve seen on films? They’re here too. From Harvard to NYU, there is a range of well-ranked colleges and universities for international students to choose from.

Here are five of the best US cities on the East Coast that international students choose time and time again:

New York City

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Sunbathers in Central Park, New York City. Source: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images via AFP

When Alicia Keys sang “concrete jungles where dreams are made of,” she was right. New York City is flush with arts and culture, richly diverse boroughs, and impossibly tall buildings. These are the impressive imagery you’ve probably seen several times over in countless films and ads — but it is also so much more than that.

Many locals would boast the city’s best feature is the sheer number of migrants hustling to make it in one of the most famous, though notoriously expensive, cities in the world.

Chinatown, Little India, Koreatown — there is no shortage of options for adventurous foodies. Muslim students can expect Halal Carts all over the city, serving rice, greens, and grilled meat either in a shallow foil dish or in a sandwich.

Besides the famed New York University and Columbia University, other notable college and universities for international students in New York are CUNY-Borough of Manhattan Community College, Barnard College and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Boston

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A view of the Prudential Center and the Boston City skyline on March 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. Source: Maddie Meyer/AFP

Known as the brainiest state in the country — there are over 50 colleges and universities in the area — this is a city for those serious about their academics.

On the banks of the Charles River, you have two of the nation’s foremost intellectual centres: Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. BU, which stands for Boston University, the same place Mark Zuckerberg was referring to when he said “You don’t have to study — you go to BU” in the film “The Social Network,” is only a mile or so away.

There’s a certain geeky flair here (and hopefully, less snarky than a certain billionaire startup founder), many bike lanes, and in recent years, a rising arts and culture scene. Central to all of these are students.

Expect plenty of bars, restaurants, and shows to catch on the weekends. Students who live in the city can easily walk or commute to nearby parks, cafes, museums, and theatres.

Other universities in the city include Northeastern University, Tufts University, Boston College, and Brandeis University.

Savannah

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People walk around the Historic District in Savannah, Georgia, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic on April 25, 2020. Source: Chandan Khanna/AFP

Ghost tours? Check. Prestigious art school? Check. A rising craft beer scene? Check.

Located in the state of Georgia, Savannah serves a fine mix of the old, new and interesting for international students looking beyond what’s depicted of the US in popular culture.

In this peaceful city, there are plenty of historic and outdoor attractions to check out such as the Savannah Historic District and Forsyth Park. Want to see some Oscar de la Renta gowns or Nari Ward’s solo exhibition of works? The SCAD Museum of Art is the creative heart of the city to be.

What’s more, there’s no need to suffer through the harsher winters of other cities on the East Coast.

Top universities in Savannah include Savannah College of Art and Design (the same SCAD referred above)  and Savannah State University, with growing international student populations.

With Atlanta nearby, where many corporate headquarters are located such as CNN and Coca-Cola, Savannah makes a good base to source in-demand internships or placements too.

Washington, DC

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Fireworks explode over the White House as part of the Fourth of July celebration July 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump is hosting a Salute To America celebration that includes flyovers by military aircraft and a large fireworks display. Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP

The administrative heart of the city will excite any public policy buff from anywhere in the world. To study here is to be in a place where some of the most important decisions in the country and the world are being made. From the US Capitol to the Pentagon to the headquarters of Washington Post, there is no shortage of buildings and monuments to bask in awe at — or scorn or analyse apathetically — in this capital of power.

Stay longer and you’ll find out that the above isn’t everything Washington, DC is about. There are swanky farmer markets, a vibrant multicultural population, and creative restaurants to check out while you’re not too busy studying. With many metro stations and other public transport options, it’s easy to get around too.

The  top universities here are Georgetown University, American University and Gallaudet University.

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