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Choosing Colleges - Study in USA

After you’ve completed your research about studying in the U.S, it is time to start making a list of colleges you wish to apply to. This is possibly the most important step in the complete application process and making wise decisions at this point of time can be very beneficial for you in the future. The whole procedure of making this ‘list of colleges’ involves finding out about the colleges that offer your course and then selecting the most ideal ones. These ideal colleges will be the ones you will finally apply to.

This is an extremely important step because there are hundreds of colleges in the U.S for almost every course and it will be very difficult or rather impossible to apply to each one of them due to the amount of costs and efforts involved. Applying to any of the top colleges costs above 70 dollars and involves a lot of work as you are required to arrange several documents like the mark sheets of your Class 12th exams and Entrance Tests (TOEFL, SAT etc.), recommendation letters, statement of purpose etc. Therefore it becomes important to apply to only the most suitable of colleges so that you do not end up wasting your time and money.

Making the right list of colleges is also very important because if you end up applying to colleges that are not ideal for you, then there is a chance that you might not get into any of them. And by the time you get to know the response of these colleges to your applications, it might be too late to apply to other colleges and you might miss out on this semester/year’s application process.

You should ideally apply to around 4 – 7 colleges. Keep in mind that this list should have an ideal ‘mix’ of colleges that includes your desired colleges as well as colleges that are most likely to grant you admission easily.

What are the factors to consider while choosing which colleges to apply?

Choosing a college that is ideal for you is not an easy task. There are hundreds of colleges to choose from and each one of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. The process can be confusing and can make you take decisions that are not wise.

Below are some of the factors you should consider while short listing colleges that you wish to apply to. Considering these factors will help you make decisions regarding which colleges are beneficial for you and which are not.

Course Content

The most important factor that you need to consider before short listing a college is to see whether the college offers the course you wish to pursue or not. Not all courses are offered in every college. For example, you may find hundreds of colleges that will offer Computer Science and Engineering, but might not find as many colleges for Ballet Dancing. If you wish to pursue Ballet Dancing, you will have to first ensure that the college offers Ballet Dancing as a Bachelor degree course.

It is equally important to go through the structure of the course before making a decision regarding that college. Go through the amount of credits the course requires and the amount of work you’ll be required to do. The duration of the course and the nature of the degree (Associate, Bachelor’s or Diploma) are all important factors to consider as well.

 You also need to be sure that you will get to learn all that you want to learn about the subject and that the curriculum will help you achieve your aims and goals in life. For example, if you’re an aspiring Film Director, you should not join a theoretical course in film making as practical experience will be very important. However, a theoretical course in Film – making will be ideal for an aspiring movie critic.


‘Competitiveness’ of a college basically refers to how difficult it is to get admission in a particular college/university. This usually depends on how many students apply to that college as compared to the amount of seats available. The competitiveness of a college increases if the number of applicants increases. Generally, colleges that receive a vast number of applicants are very selective during the admission process and tend to select only the best applicants with exceptional academic and co – curricular records. Some of the most competitive colleges/universities include the ‘Ivy – league colleges’ (Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth etc.), Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

It is very important to consider the competitiveness of a college before you apply. You need to realistically judge whether you have a genuine chance of getting through or not by assessing your overall record. Consider your academic records (school and SAT etc.), list of extracurricular activities (theater, music, athletics etc.) and future aspirations (statement of purpose etc.).  All these factors are important if you’re planning to apply to a competitive college. Even if you have scored very well, have a big list of extracurricular activities and your statement of purpose is very well written, you might not get through as there are many others who might have better qualifications than you. For example, the acceptance rate for Harvard is less than 10 percent. This means that out of every hundred applicants, only 5 – 10 students are admitted.

The general rule is that if you feel you excel in all three departments, i.e. academics, extracurricular activities and other factors (statement of purpose, recommendation letters etc.), then you should aim for the top colleges. If you excel in only two departments, then you should aim for the medium level colleges and if you only excel in one department, then aim for the colleges that are easier to get in to.

As specified before, applying to colleges in the U.S is a difficult, time consuming and expensive process. Considering the competitiveness of a college/university beforehand can help you assess whether you have a chance of getting in that college or not. This might end up helping you by saving on a lot of time and money.

Reputation of the College

The reputation of the college can play a major role in your decision making process. It is important to know whether the college is known for the course you wish to join or not. If it is, then it is most likely that your degree will hold greater value and you will get bigger and better job opportunities. Colleges that are a part of the ‘Ivy – league’ (Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth etc.) have a formidable reputation all across the world. But there are many other relatively unknown Liberal Arts colleges that are known for their education standards such as Swarthmore College and Williams College.

It is important to note that the reputation of the course that the college offers in your desired field is as important as the reputation of the college. More often than not, you will find that there are colleges who are very well known for a particular course, but not so much for the others. It is important to keep the reputation of the course and the college in mind before making a decision regarding whether to apply to a college or not. Keep in mind that a good reputation is most likely to translate into good education.

There are many websites that rank colleges and courses in the U.S. Visiting these will give you a better idea about the best and most reputed colleges in the U.S in terms of your course as well as overall. Some of these websites are:


Another very important factor that you should consider before deciding which colleges you should apply to is the costs that are involved in studying at a particular college. Studying in the U.S can be very expensive and includes many other expenses apart from the tuition fees. It is essential to be sure that you will be able to afford studying at the college and living in the U.S for at least 4 years as you would need to specify the source through which you plan to fund your education in the application form as well as during the visa application process.

It is important to consider whether you are applying to a private college or a public college in the U.S. Generally, Public Universities/Colleges tend to be cheaper than Private Universities. You can also choose to join a ‘Community College’ that will provide you with a 2 year degree that can grant you admission directly in to the 3rd year of a 4 year Bachelor course in some other college. Community colleges are much cheaper than other colleges and will help you save a lot of money on the tuition fee of your first 2 years.

Many colleges have differential fee rates for different courses. Consider the nature of the course and then compare the fees with other colleges for that particular course. Some colleges also charge on the basis of per credit. So if your course requires a lot of credits, you will generally have to pay more than you would have to otherwise. Pursuing Double Majors and Minors requires more credits and usually adds to your costs. However, taking up more credits in the first 3 years of a single major course can help you complete your course faster and save up on the accommodation expenses of the 4th year.

Also keep in mind that you might not necessarily have to pay the specified amount mentioned in websites as there are some colleges who give financial aids to international students. This can be in the form of a scholarship, a grant or a financial aid. Such Financial aids make a lot of difference to your overall expenditure. But it is also important to note that are a very few colleges that offer financial aids at the undergraduate level to international students. Go through the eligibility criteria of the college for its financial aids very carefully and consider the college as an option only if you feel you meet the criteria.


The location can also play a major role in the process of choosing a college you want to apply to. You might be dreaming of studying in a city like New York, but that is not always possible. Decide the setting you would be most comfortable with living in. Do you want to live in an urban area, or a more open, rural area? Keep in mind that the location will also make a difference to your costs as living in an urban area will typically cost more than living in a small town.

Each course has specific requirements that might get affected due to the location of your college or university. For example, it its best that a Filmmaking school is in or around Hollywood, whereas it is best for a Business school to be in or around New York. Like this, students might get regular access to the more practical side of their field and also make very important contacts within the profession they wish to pursue.

Consider the location while choosing which colleges to apply to. Keep in mind the course requirements and the costs involved. Some students might also choose to consider the climate and culture of the place before making a decision. It is best that you research about the place before you choose a college to apply to so as to have an idea about whether the location of the college/university is an asset or not.

Campus Life

The campus life at a college can play a major role in your development as an individual. Hence, it should be considered during the process of choosing which colleges to apply to. You might be comfortable in a college/university that has a number of international students as opposed to a university that has very few international students. You might also want to be actively involved in pursuing your hobbies and talents apart from your academics during college. The Campus Life at a college/university can make a huge difference to your overall education experience as well as your dreams and aspirations. An exciting and adventurous campus life can build a foundation for a strong future.

Try and find out about the various ‘Clubs’ and ‘Associations’ that exist at the college/university. This will give you a better idea with regards to whether you will get a chance to pursue your talents such as Theater, Dance etc  or not. If you’re interested in sports, find out about the sporting culture of the college/university and take a look at the facilities available.

Public Universities generally have a very dynamics campus life due to the vast amount of students studying in the college/university. However, many Private Universities like Harvard also have a vibrant campus life. Students interact with other students from other cultures and backgrounds which helps in broadening their horizons and thinking. Information about the campus life of a college is generally available on their official websites.

How to gather information and shortlist colleges?

You can gather information about all the above factors through various resources including college websites, books, educational fairs, the U.S embassy etc. Many colleges and universities provide international students with the option to contact them through phone or E - mail regarding any query or information. It is highly advisable to go through the official website of the college/university thoroughly before referring to other sources of information.

The short listing of colleges is generally done in the order given above, i.e. consider the course content first and the campus life last. The ideal way to go about is to look at all the above features as ‘stages’ of short listing. The first stage is to short list on the basis of the course content. Then short list the colleges that offer the right kind of course on the basis of the competitiveness involved in the admission process. Out of the colleges that you think you have a genuine chance to get admission into (on the basis of competition level), choose the colleges with the best reputation. Short list the colleges with the best reputation (out of the ones you can get through) on the basis of their costs (affordable or not affordable). From the colleges that are affordable, choose the ones with the most ideal location and campus life.

Study in USA