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How Should Students Shortlist Colleges?

A critical step when applying to universities abroad, is to select which colleges to apply to. One of the most common ways of shortlisting colleges is to look at rankings. But are rankings really that important? If not, how should students shortlist colleges?
BY Lisa Jain |   21-08-2014

Rankings Alert

Different companies publish country-specific or global rankings for universities across the world. Every ranking is based on a set of parameters, each of which are given different weights by publications, before calculating a university’s rank. So it’s common to see differences in rankings across different publications.

What students needs to ask themselves is – does the ranking consider factors that are important to me? Very often, the answer to this question is no. And that’s why students need to tread with caution while shortlisting colleges only on the basis of rankings. Information captured in the rankings might not necessarily help you find a college that is ‘best fit’ for you.

Another thing to remember is just because a university is ranked high overall, doesn’t mean that they rank high in the course you want to pursue. So, when you look at rankings, focus on those that are course-specific.

Understand Your Requirements

Every student has their own unique expectations from college life, and their choice of university should be influenced by these expectations.

There might be one or many factors that influence your decision of which colleges you apply to. Does the college offer the course you want to pursue? Does it offer financial aid to international students? Are you ok studying at a state college with 30,000 students, or do you prefer studying in a smaller college with just 3,000 students? Is extreme weather a deterrent for you, restricting you from applying to colleges where winters might be too harsh? Are you keen on a particular sport and only want to apply to colleges where that sport is popular?

These are only a few of the criterion students might think of. There are several others. Bottom line is, that rankings don’t capture this kind of information, which can be critical to your decision making process.

Don’t Overdo It

Often, students who aren’t able to shortlist colleges with clarity, end up sending out too many applications. There is a danger in doing this, because writing applications requires a lot of hard work, time, and effort. Applying to 8-10 colleges is usually considered optimal. If you burden yourself with 20 applications, the quality of your essays is bound to suffer. Also, remember that applying to every college costs money, so it’s important to be practical during your shortlisting process. The 8-10 colleges you choose have to be carefully selected keeping all your parameters, and likelihood of acceptance in mind.

Choosing the right college is a personal experience, and hence it is very important for students and parents to understand what they want, before shortlisting colleges. Once they define the parameters against which they will shortlist colleges, they can do research to identify which colleges meet their needs. A great place to start is here, a free college planning website for undergraduate studies run by the College Board, which allows students to search for a wealth of information about universities in the U.S. and across the world.

Lisa Jain is the Representative of The College Board in India. In her role, she works extensively with schools across India to support implementation of College Board programs. She also interacts directy with students and parents, educating them about how College Board's programs and resources (such as SAT, AP, PSAT or Big Future) help in the college application and admission process.

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