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How to Find Your Best Fit College - Part 1

BY Lisa Jain |   28-08-2015

In the next few months, secondary school students applying to U.S. colleges will be busy taking their standardized tests, writing essays, and putting together the different pieces of their application. The most important and overwhelming decision, however, will be preparing the shortlist of colleges and universities that they should apply to. In this 2-part article, I share thoughts on a few factors students should consider while choosing best fit colleges.

The Right Kind of Ranking

Many students use rankings as the single most influencing factor in choosing colleges. While I don’t believe rankings help students pick best fit colleges, my advice to students who wish to use rankings is this - look at rankings in perspective. Every publication chooses different parameters to rank colleges, and it’s important to understand the basis for rankings in different publications. Also, very often, rankings rely on data provided by the universities itself. Therefore, it relies on the institution for accuracy. It is important for students to know this. Rankings that are specific to your course are a much more relevant metric to use. For example, MIT will typically rank very high on any ranking chart. However, MIT is only very well known for Engineering/Science courses. If you wish to study Literature, then MIT, irrespective of its overall rank, may not be a good choice.

Think about SAT Ranges, and not Cut-Offs

In India, we are used to thinking about cut-offs, i.e. how much do we need to score in an exam to get in to a college? The U.S. admission system, being more holistic, doesn’t look at scores as cut-offs. They look at a combination of things to make admission decisions. Your standardized test score, like a SAT Score for example, is just one of the factors that influence admission decisions. There is no guarantee that if you get a particular SAT score or higher, or a certain percentage in your Board Exams, you will get into a college. On the other hand, it also means that if you have a SAT score that is a bit lower than what is typical for a student in that college, but you have other outstanding components in your application, you may still get in.

Once you have taken the SAT, you should look at SAT score ranges published by colleges. What this indicates is a range of scores for students who typically gain admission to the college. Colleges and universities provide this information for the total SAT score, and/or by each section of the SAT. This published score range can be found on each university’s website, and also on the College Board’s free college planning website, BigFuture (www.bigfuture.org).

Location

The location of a college or university can make a big difference to a student’s experience. Different students have different personalities, and will thrive in very different environments. Remember that you will spend three to four years of your life at college, so it is important that you are happy with where you will be living. One student might not be handle very cold weather, so colleges in cities like Chicago or Minneapolis might not be a good fit. Another student may have a strong preference between studying in a big city (like New York) and a small campus town (like Ithaca, where Cornell is located), which will offer very different living experiences. Yet another student may be interested in studying ‘Film Making’, and may decide that being in Los Angeles, at the heart of the industry, would be a sensible choice, so he/she may decide only to apply to East Coast colleges. For some student, the parents may be keen for him/her to study in a place where their relatives stay. It is important to think about whether location is an important factor in your decision making process, for any of the reasons listed above.

In the following article, I will continue to discuss different factors that can, and should influence your decision about which colleges to apply to. 


Lisa Jain is the Country Representative of The College Board in India. In her role, she works extensively with schools across India to help with the implementation of College Board programs. She also interacts directly 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.

Lisa was previously the Head of Marketing at an international school in Kolkata and has worked in the Equities division at UBS Investment Bank in London for two years.

 

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