Which university is right for you?

Factors to consider while making a college list.

When it comes to choosing colleges, there is a proverbial scene in the movie, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, that sums up the conundrum well.

Albus, Harry’s youngest son, is worried that the Sorting Hat would choose his house as he prepares to go to Hogwarts. As the little boy is about to board the train, Harry reassures his son, that the choice would be his to make, if he so wished.

College admissions can feel the same. One waits and waits to be accepted by a college, but in reality, you choose the college as much as it chooses you. It’s important to think through what you want the college experience to be like and pursue colleges which fit into your priorities and aspirations.

Here are a few salient factors to keep in mind, beyond academic and extracurricular life, as you evaluate different colleges:

Location: Where a college is located can determine many things. Usually, proximity to a city means more professional opportunities, an active city life, better food and lifestyle choices. Smaller college town/suburban-rural locales, on the other hand, can provide a stronger college community and a more intimate collegial experience. With limited off-campus activities on weekends, college clubs and organizations end up being more active and offer activities that help create a bond with your peers.

On the downside, urban settings imply a higher cost of living and small college towns can often be quite far from professional networks and circuits. It is important to choose one that balances your needs.

For example, liberal arts colleges like Yale, Dartmouth, Brown are known for tight-knit student communities but are proximate enough to east coast cities such as Boston, New York City to facilitate the right opportunities. Certain colleges like Georgetown offer quiet, enclosed campuses despite being close to central DC. While Parsons and NYU are both in Manhattan, Parsons is located in a quieter, residential setting while NYU is near the buzzing Greenwich Village. On the West Coast, the Claremont Colleges (that include Pomona and Scripps) have small campuses adjacent to each other and offer an intimate setting, while having easy access to Los Angeles, for instance.

A student at Cornell, preferred the isolated location of the campus as the setting of her quantum physics work as she had access to a world-class laboratory. She didn’t mind the distance/time to New York City.

Think about what you need from your college and academic aspirations!

Diversity: As an international student, diversity is more than a buzzword for you. You are what constitutes diversity for a college. A healthy community of international students help freshman ease into their surroundings and get support in intangible ways.

Adjusting to a new place, new culture and new people is not easy at any age. As you leave home for the first time and head off to college, it’s important to think about what support systems you might need. Having people you can relate to, and therefore, the mix of students in your class will likely determine your social experience of college. If you come from an international school and find yourself well-versed in American culture, you might find it easier to fit in.

Think this one through. Reach out to students or attend webinars to understand how colleges support international students. Writers Qi is hosting a series of webinars with university representatives. Attend these virtual meetings and learn about the college culture and get answers to any questions that you may have.

One important point to note here is that usually, diversity figures reported by US colleges pertain to the proportion of Hispanic and Black students. You need to dig deeper and look for the proportion of international students.

Carnegie Mellon, Boston University, NYU stand out as universities with an impressive >20% international students at an undergraduate level.

Size: While the size of your incoming class and college body overall might not strike you as a factor, however, it will determine not just the resources accessible but also your academic experience. While the bigger state schools can offer more majors, greater diversity, and breadth of extracurricular activities, they are less likely to have smaller seminars and competition for those classes will be high.

Small liberal arts colleges will have better faculty-student ratios and with fewer students in a class. The downside is that often most majors will have small departments and be heavily dependent on fewer faculty. An underrated factor is the proportion of graduate to undergraduate students. Princeton is a classic example of a college geared towards undergraduate students. With few graduate programs, more faculty attention and resources such as fellowships are available to undergraduates.

Type of college: Liberal arts colleges are known for their flexibility and focus on skills and training you how to think, and in turn preparing you for a wide range of careers in comparison to professionally inclined schools which prepare you rigorously in certain fields and focus more on technical, hard skills.

Depending on your interest, choose schools which will allow you to shine in your natural way. For instance, if you have always been curious about many different things as opposed to being very interested in a specific field, you should use that to define which colleges you apply to.

You don’t have to make up your mind on your major to apply but think carefully about where your interests lie, and not just the high school subjects you study. After all, college is all about finding a discovering and feeding your passions.

Weather: While it seems an insignificant factor when compared to academic and extracurricular offerings, weather can often affect your overall mental health and well-being. If you find the thought of prolonged winters and indoor activities absolutely horrifying, perhaps consider adding more schools in sunnier parts of the world, like Texas and California. If you absolutely detest long winters without much daylight, perhaps consider fewer schools in Canada or upstate New York. Colleges such as Cornell, which are in upstate NY county, experience harsh winters while University of Southern California, Stanford, Caltech are located in sunny, moderate zones.

Culture: This one is, arguably, the toughest one. At first glance, all colleges will promise friendly, warm communities that are inclusive and welcoming. They probably are, but certain caveats could apply. Some schools are known to be tightly-knit (most students live on-campus) or have very active alumni groups (a sign of alumni engagement) or are known to be artistic or tech-nerdy (more students who prefer arts/sciences choose to attend), or sometimes, known to be competitive (student drop-outs, harsh grading curves). Greek life is another factor to consider. Is the social life on a campus defined by the membership to a frat or sorority? Are you interested in Greek life or does the thought of rushing for a frat membership scare the living daylights out of you?

Now, if you’ve got thinking about all these factors, make sure you do your research well; don’t just rely on college websites, instead:

● Reach out to current students and alumni

● Attend webinars and ask questions from admissions officers (Writers Qi Webinars),

● Use college alumni interviews to ask detailed questions,

● Follow student web pages maintained by student bodies to get a deeper sense of the college

After all, it’s an experience you are signing up for.

Here at Writers Qi, we are here to help you think through your decision. Interact with our advisors, our network of students, take time to attend our exclusive webinars with admissions officers from leading US universities and make sure to read our blogs and other resources!

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