This article first appeared in the Hindu on September 18, 2021.
The U.S. alone has 5,300 colleges and universities with varying sizes, specialisations and marketing pitches. Canada and the U.K. both have close to 100 universities and colleges each. India itself has over 400 private universities and colleges. While a lot of information is available at the click of a button, how do students make sense of what is out there? How do they know which is the right course to pick? To make sense of the clutter, here are some factors to keep in mind before starting to list colleges and finding your right fit.
Things to keep in mind:
1. Ranking vs Subject Ranking
In addition to the institution’s ranking, also look at subject rankings of the major that you are interested in. A top school may not offer the major you want or not be well-known in that area of study. The Guardian subject ranking shows many hidden gems in places like Bristol, Leeds, London Metropolitan and Strathclyde in Scotland, which are highly ranked across Economics and Law.
2. Faculty and research
It is imperative to go through the faculty of the department you are interested in, their work, prizes and grants won in their field of research, and the kind of publications the department produces. Connecting with faculty gives you the motivation to work hard, and can sometimes also aid the admission process, especially in the U.S.
You need to consider elements like whether the weather will suit you, whether it is in the city or outside? Is having a family member nearby important? Will the accommodation and food match your interests?
4. Fees and scholarships
It is helpful to discuss a budget with your parents before you start your college search. Many universities across the U.S. and Canada only provide need-based scholarships; only select universities provide merit-based ones. So, look at the tuition fee and the kind of scholarships the university offers and how that aligns with your plans.
5. Sports, extracurriculars and student life
Some numbers that will help you get a good idea about the size of the institute are: total student population and the number of international students, student to faculty ratio, campus size, and cultural diversity on campus. For instance, the student to faculty ratio at UC Berkeley is 19:1 and NYU is 6:1. So, if you are interested in small classroom size with high faculty engagement, NYU is for you. Apart from these, it is also important to look at non-academic activities to engage yourself in. It helps you develop your creative skills and is a good way to build your network.
6. Finding that perfect number
Students tend to struggle with finding the perfect number of colleges they want to apply to. First, create a longlist of all the colleges that you think you might be interested to apply to and then keep filtering it (with the above mentioned factors in mind) till you have a number that you are comfortable with. You can also divide the college list into dream, target and safety colleges so that you have a perfect balanced list.
As almost all colleges have different deadlines, prioritising your list would be an advantage. For example: In the U.S., colleges follow an early admissions and regular admissions cycle. If you are highly interested in a particular college in the U.S., apply in the early admission cycle and keep the other for regular admissions.
Researching about a college is one thing, getting to know about it through first hand experience is another. While a physical tour would be great if possible, you can always register and attend virtual tours, admission info sessions, student chat rooms or reach out to people on social media.
Richa Dwivedi Saklani is a certified coach from UCLA and is an accredited MBTI trainer who has worked with over 10,000 people across career planning and as a behavioral trainer in companies. She is the CEO & Founder of Inomi Learning and author of “The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers”.