Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finding the Right U.S. College or University

Currently, United States colleges and universities enroll more students from India than from any other nation.  Among the reasons for that is that many United States institutions of higher education actively recruit Indian students by opening admissions offices in major Indian cities and/or by working closely with educational consultants who specialize in assisting students in identifying and gaining admission to colleges and universities meeting their individual needs.

Although an experienced educational counselor can help students navigate through the college selection and enrollment process, professional assistance is not necessary if a student is motivated enough and follows the simple step-by-step process below.

First of all, it is important to begin the process no later than eighteen months prior to the date upon which a student wishes to begin his or her studies.  Starting earlier than that is even better.  Step one is to put together a list of colleges to explore by asking questions like what field(s) of study interest you, where you would like to be located, how large an institution appeals to you, which colleges are most likely to offer you admission, and which are within your budget.  Financial issues can prove to be a bit of a deterrent, since many U.S. colleges do not award significant scholarship assistance to international students studying at the undergraduate of masters degree level, but there are exceptions; some private colleges and universities with large endowments offer generous scholarships and/or financial aid to high-achieving international students, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields of study.  And, almost all PhD programs offer funding to students, often in exchange for teaching or research-related duties.

Graduate students might also want to spend some time on the Internet putting together a list of colleges and universities which have faculty engaged in research in their primary area of interests.  Finding  a faculty member that is doing research in their primary area of interest is likely to improve a graduate student’s chances of admission and increase the likelihood of him or her being offered a good financial aid package.  Also, of course, it almost fully ensures a great academic experience.
Undergraduate applicants would be well advised to put together a “wish list” of important college features to help them decide which colleges to eliminate quickly and which merit further consideration.  Indian students may prefer a college with an already established community of students from India and/or a college with a culturally and geographically student body and/or faculty.  Their wish list might also include study abroad options, self-designed majors, independent study options, internships, and good graduate and professional school placement rates.  Putting together a comprehensive wish list takes some thought, but it winds up being a great time and energy saver, there’s no doubt about it.

While researching colleges and universities, remember that most publish a profile of their incoming freshman class which includes their secondary school grade point averages, class rank, ACT or SAT scores, and other relevant data.  If the profile is not a part of the website, prospective students should contact the Office of Admission or the Enrollment Management Office.  It would be a mistake for a student to eliminate a college because he or she does not fully meet the freshman class profile, and it would be equally foolish to become too confident about being admitted to a college on the basis of comparing yourself to the statistically “average” freshman.  However, by comparing himself/herself to recently admitted students, an applicant should get a pretty good idea of his or her chances.

There are no hard and fast rules, but it’s generally recommended that students narrow their initial list down to no fewer than 6 colleges;  a “reach” college to which they hope to be admitted, 3 colleges likely to admit them, and 2 “safety” schools to which admission is almost certain.  Here is where some students make a serious mistake.  It is important to choose safety schools they would be truly happy to attend, not just institutions virtually guaranteed to admit them.  That way, their college search is bound to have a happy ending.

Unfortunately, most of the inbound students from other countries often consider only the colleges with which they are already somewhat familiar and/or extremely selective institutions like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc.  In fact, there are numerous colleges and universities in the United States you have never heard of which can offer you a great education and a terrific four year experience.  Students who immediately rule out colleges with unfamiliar names often do themselves a great disservice.

Ideally, students should visit at least 2-3 of the colleges that admitted them before making a final selection.  However, if the required time and/or the cost makes that impossible, most colleges will arrange to have admitted students meet with admissions and/or international student office personnel via Skype or a similar video communications tool.

At that point, students can get answers to any remaining questions they may have.

Author Bio:
Dan Rosenfield has served several colleges as a Director of Admission, Dean of Admission, and Dean of Enrollment Management.  He now publishes higher education websites including and


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