One of the most significant decisions you'll make as a young adult is what university you'll attend. A widespread approach to selection concentrates on rankings, but that is not the whole picture. While rankings are important in some instances, prestige does NOT mean "best-fit," so make sure it is not your sole focus. Here we will dive into why, but first, let's see how rankings became so influential in the first place.
While you can view rankings in different ways (e.g., equating institutional quality with research productivity), we'll focus on the dimension of rankings that intends to measure "reputation." People tend to favor certain institutions regardless of their academic programs' quality, just because of the fame or recognition that precedes them. This is problematic because other institutions and programs may not have a famous name but still provide an excellent education without quite as much recognition. The best name-brand college does not necessarily equate to the smoothest post-college path. Even word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family might not be your best option because what is a good fit for them may not be a good fit for you. After working so hard in high school, being fixated on rankings is understandable, but other factors are equally — and often even more — critical when making your selection.
Getting accepted into a big-name school is exciting, but it does not guarantee that you'll fit in and be happy. You can rectify that by first paying attention to what you want from your college experience and the type of environment where you’ll find it. Looking for fit over name requires a bit of work on your end, as you take time to search introspectively and uncover some lesser-known schools. But, taking this extra time is worth it!
Virtual tours and informational sessions are great starting points. Attending events like WebiFairs allow you to conveniently meet university admissions representatives from 40-60 different global universities in one place. This is another way to knock out research, get all your questions answered, speak to admissions representatives directly, and download brochures in a short time.
As you start to finalize your list of prospective institutions, you'll want to look at what considerations are the most important for you. Here are some questions to possibly consider:
Diversity and global engagement
As an international student in a foreign country, a source of comfort might be to know where your classmates come from and what their support is like for international students: will you feel welcomed there? Are there clubs, organizations, etc., for the students that are studying abroad?
Does this university offer the program you're looking to major in? Do you prefer independent learning, smaller discussion-based classes, or more extensive lecture discussions with bigger class sizes (look for the faculty-to-student ratio)? What is the post-graduation job rate for those in your major of choice?
Location and size
Do you thrive in larger metropolitans, or are you looking for a sprawling campus in a small town? What climate are you most comfortable with, snow, sun, or both? Does the idea of going to a university with 40,000+ students excite or terrify you? Maybe you're looking for a smaller college with a more intimate experience.
Are you looking for a campus with a vast Greek-life to join a fraternity or sorority, or something smaller that offers clubs and organizations to fit your passions? What are you looking to do on the weekends when you're not in school? What is the residential experience like; do you prefer being solo or are you looking to experience dorm life?
While being academically challenged is an integral part of the college experience, so is being socially connected. Having a social group supporting you makes the transition to college, and even a new host country, easier. If you have no release valve to share your experience, ideas, and problems, the college experience can feel isolating.
Even though finding your right-fit university may be more work in the short-term, it provides a better long-term outcome than merely relying on rankings. It's hard to make a "bad" choice when picking a university, as you might find several that are a great fit for you, even if you hadn’t heard of it before or if it doesn't appear on a top 10 list. There are thousands of spectacular universities in the world so it’s impossible to know all of them. Many universities abroad are of very comparable and excellent quality, even if they’re unknown.
Doing the research and asking questions relevant to you will provide you with many solid options to happily spend your college years. Once you complete your research, ask yourself this one pivotal question: "Can I see myself here?" Once you answer, enjoy it!