There are two parts to preparing to study abroad— one is getting a handle on the application process, which is what we covered in the last two issues. The other is deciding on a set of colleges to apply to. The latter can also be a daunting exercise, given the plethora of choices and the numerous criteria that come into play.
So, how does one go about creating this list of colleges? How long should this list be – two pages long or just three to four colleges? What criteria should be used to select these colleges?
There are more than 4000 private and public colleges and universities in the US alone, and around 280 universities and higher education institutions (with several colleges affiliated to each university) in the UK. Over and above this, we have several universities and colleges in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and UK. Feeling overwhelmed? Let’s do this step-by-step.
Student, know thyself
To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying ‘Amen’ to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to keep
your soul alive.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
The first thing a student should do is to take a long, hard and brutally honest look at himself. What are his academic interests? What does he want to study and develop into a career? Some children are very sure of what they want to be – a software engineer, an entrepreneur or a musician. This makes narrowing down the choice of schools much easier. And then there are the vast undecided majority of students, who are still unsure about their choice of career. This is perfectly fine – there are many colleges, particularly in the USA, who do not require their students to declare their major until the third year of study. (Most colleges in the UK, and Singapore, however, require your child to declare his major at the time of applying). However, it will help to winnow down the list if your child can narrow his choice down to two or three preferred areas of study.
Next, what is your child’s academic profile? Some children are very good at independent study, while others will blossom under a good teacher. Undergraduate courses at large, competitive universities like the Ivies are often taught by TAs who might not have much teaching experience, while some of the smaller colleges usually don’t have graduate programmes, so students are usually taught by professors with more years of experience. Again, some students are able to work under fierce competition and academic pressure, while others need a gentler environment in which to learn. Be honest and decide what kind of academic profile your child has – there is no point in spending three to four years in an environment where he is miserable and unable to fit in.