1.) Not all information about a college is relevant to you.
2.) The social facilities of a college are just as important as the academic ones.
3.) The best person to determine what is and isn’t important is you.
At the American Scholar Group (ASG), we recognize that the university admissions process can be intimidating, especially for international students who may not where to start or how to do s because they lack the background knowledge and experience that U.S. students and families possess. The U.S. university admissions search process can be tedious and very time-consuming. It’s important to acknowledge and accept this from the beginning. All colleges and universities present an enormous amount of information to prospective students, and it can be difficult to decide what information is important and what is not. This article aims to give each student a set of guidelines for making his/her university search more personally meaningful!
Don’t Simply Rely On:
University Rankings from sites like USNEWS give us a good indication about an institution’s strengths and reputation. However, relying on rankings alone to make a decision is often short-sighted because they fail to provide you a full picture of the college’s offerings. Referring to rankings may be a good place to start your search, but completing it requires more independent research.
Commonly Used Statistics
Colleges will throw many different statistics at prospective students to make the college seem more impressive, but many of these statistics have little to no relevance on the student’s academic experience. Every college will boast a low student-to-faculty ratio or a low average class size. The actual numbers will vary from institution to institution, and course to course. Your freshman introductory to biology class may very have 300 students but a higher-level class in advanced calculus could only have 7 students.
What to Look for Academically:
It is perfectly alright not to know what major you want when you start college, but it is important to be aware of the programs and options the college offers you! Every college will have an English department and Mathematics department. Every college has a Business, Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Political Science, History, and Modern Languages department. Unless a college has high renown in one of these fields, choosing a college simply because it offers one of these programs is not enough. Instead, if you are interested in studying these subjects, be sure to do your homework. What programs and resources does the college offer? Do you have opportunities to do research? Internships? Are there specific specializations within majors that cater to your interests?
Arguably the most important academic factor, the graduation requirements of an institution will determine what you have to do during your four years at college. From mandatory study abroad programs to compulsory chapel hours, required internships to senior projects, it is important to make sure you know what your expectations are before applying and potentially committing yourself to an institution. Graduation requirements vary from college to college, the requirements vary within the disciplines themselves of those colleges. Getting into a top institution may be very important, but your academic experiences over the next 4 years is arguably more important to you in the long run.
Short for General Education courses. Large universities will require their students to take classes from multiple different disciplines to promote a holistic education. This can be useful for students who are unsure what they want to study when they start their undergraduate career, but it can also mean that students must take classes that they have no interest in. Liberal arts schools typically give their students more freedom in choosing classes, but the onus falls on the student to figure out what they specifically want to study. Gen Eds can limit your ability to double major or minor, but conversely, they can also give you the opportunity to explore topics of interests you may not otherwise take anyway. Note: Liberal Arts colleges often give students more flexibility for choosing required classes while large institutions may have more stringent uniform requirements.
Like high schools, colleges have their own schedules for when they have classes and when they don’t, but not every schedule is exactly the same. Most schools operate on a fall and spring semester, but others may have trimesters or quarters, as well as intersessions between major semesters. The composition will determine how many weeks out of the year you will be studying, i.e. how many weeks you will not be working, interning, or vacationing. Although very simple, a college’s session composition can influence your time management needs and planning greatly.
What to Look for Socially:
Size and Population of Student Body.
Are you interested in attending a large university with over 20,000 people or would you rather go to an institution with 2000 people? The size of an institution’s student body can influence your experience in many ways including, how many classmates you have, your access to professors and opportunities, among other things. You may be considering graduate study one day. If so, it’s important to develop strong relationships with your undergraduate professors who may one day write your recommendation letters. This is easier to do at a smaller institution than at a larger institution where professors have limited time for a greater number of students, for example.
Sports and Special Interest Clubs.
Does this institution offer you extra-curricular options that help advance a current interest you already have or explore any interests you have but otherwise do not have the opportunity to cater to? Your social experience is tantamount to your academic performance, and personal extracurricular activities can be the difference between a meaningful college experience and a miserable one. Extra-curricular options matter.
Academic Social Opportunities.
At the collegiate level, the line between hobby and career begins to blur, and there is often room to use the former to bolster the latter. Theatrical performances, symphony concerts, and research fellowships can make you marketable beyond your degree. It is important to keep in mind that where there are more opportunities, there is also more competition.
This is rather self-explanatory. Invariably, there will be a time on campus when you are bored, and the distance to the nearest big city will become very important. Colleges in the north will have snow. Is weather and proximity to city-life important to you? These are factors that can influence your experience and therefore need to be considered.
Room and Board Opportunities and Food Services Options.
Room refers to where you will be living and board to what you will be eating. How many food options does this campus have? Do you have access to options outside of your campus? Are you expected to live on campus? If so, for how many years? An old, cold dorm room and bland, few food services options can affect your social experience, even if you are in the best academic program. Therefore, it’s important to learn ahead of time what these options are. A word of caution: college tours will only show you the nicest dorms, and the nicest dorms are typically taken by the upperclassmen.
The guidelines and should not be used as the definitive criteria for choosing a college. The purpose of these guidelines is to get you thinking about what is important to look for in a college, namely what is important to you on a personal level. Ultimately, the college you go to affects your life the most, and so you want to make the best decision you can.
ASG Advisors have created the following graphic below to help you with your university search process. In all cases, it’s important to first determine you career goals and the academic and social interests you wish to pursue in university. These can be very specific or varied. Then, in your search, be sure to research what options and opportunities a particular university offers and understand how they complement your interests.