Choosing the Right US University: Part 1

Berkeley - Sproul
Photo by LAgirl5252

The single most difficult question that haunts most prospective applicants is the choice of the university or school to apply to. It is a mammoth task considering the future of an applicant depends on the program chosen and the opportunities it has to offer. The United States has a vast choice of universities on offer (about 4000) covering all sectors of education (some offering subjects you might never have heard of!) and all are very international-student friendly.

So, how do you choose the right school?

For undergraduates it’s a lot simpler and more flexible because one can switch majors even after enrollment. Graduate programs are a little rigid because it is expected that one is attempting to opt for a specialized graduate degree only after careful consideration of choice and interest. Although choosing a school sounds like a difficult task at first, it becomes fairly simple with some thorough research on the internet. Yes! It’s the big R word “RESEARCH.” Nothing can substitute personal online research when choosing a program (unless you are in the US and can arrange a visit). I believe it is very important to do this research on your own instead of asking someone else to do it for you. How a university is aligned with a prospective applicant’s interest is best known only to the applicant. It’s very important that one chooses a university that’s a “best fit” in all aspects. Universities can be selected according to a lot of parameters. On this post I shall talk of the factors that play an important role and give some more details in successive posts.

Things to Consider

Before beginning the search an applicant must set some parameters against which to choose universities. The most important factor is seeing where you fit in that school or university, its academic program and whether it satisfies all your parameters. Parameters could either be a choice of programs on offer, school size, location and ranking. Locational preference includes factors such as the weather, setting, transportation, cost of living and professional opportunities in the area. Some other factors taken into consideration are: reputation of the university, ranking of the program, curriculum of the program and job prospects after the course.

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A lot of search websites like the US News Education, Collegeboard and BigFuture can assistant in narrowing your search. These websites give a brief overview of the university and programs on offer. Reliable and authentic information is available on official university and departmental websites. Departmental websites are generally very detailed and give out information about programs on offer, application requirements, areas of ongoing research, faculty, current students and other additional details. Shortlisting universities can also be done on the basis of the cost of education. The cost of college education can be quite steep in the US and choosing universities according to financial viability is also popular amongst international students. Many universities try to offer some form financial aid to international applicants, subject to availability and individual student profile. Departmental graduate coordinators and officials from the financial aid office can give information regarding these.

The next step would be to rank these parameters in order of preference. Some students rank reputation ahead of cost of education, whereas some others choose the location over cost or ranking. It’s a matter of personal choice which factor is most important and which ones to consider in the ranking rubric. Once an applicant is done with the parameter list things start getting a little more serious because the research gets somewhat detailed henceforth.

Let’s talk more about trimming the school list in the next post!


  • Omanjana

    Omanjana is the Magoosh TOEFL Student Blogger. She is a graduate student from India moving to the US in the fall to pursue her doctoral studies in Environmental Science at Rutgers. Each week, she writes posts about her experience with the TOEFL and US admissions!

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