Tips for Creating a Strong College Application Part 3 – How to Shortlist Colleges

One of the most important decisions that students need to make when considering study abroad, is which universities or colleges to apply to. Writing applications requires time and effort, and costs money, so students need to shortlist colleges based on careful planning and thought. Often, students select colleges based only on rankings. Is that the right way? Probably not. And in this article, we will explore why it’s important to look beyond rankings, and how one can do that. 

Look Beyond Rankings

Many different organizations publish rankings for universities across the world, and each of them calculates the rankings based on their own set of parameters, which are given different weights by them, before calculating a university’s rank. That is why it’s common to see differences in ranks of particular colleges across different publications.

What students need to question, is does the ranking give weightage to the factors that are important to them? Often, the answer is no. And that’s why we need to be cautious while shortlisting colleges based only on rankings; because the information captured in rankings might not necessarily help you find a college or university that is ‘best fit’ for you.

Also, just because a university is ranked high overall, doesn’t mean that they rank high in the course you want to pursue. So, if you do look at rankings, focus on those that are course-specific.


Prioritize Yourself

Every student has their own unique expectations from college life, and their choice of university should be influenced by these expectations.

There might be one or many factors that determine which colleges you apply to. Does the college offer the course you want to pursue? Does it offer financial aid to international students? Are you ok studying at a state college with 30,000 students, or do you prefer studying in a college with just 3,000 students? Is extreme weather a problem, restricting you from applying to colleges where winters might be too harsh? Are you keen on a particular sport and only want to apply to colleges where that sport is popular?

These are only few of the criterion students might think of. There are several others. Bottom line is, that rankings don’t capture this kind of information, which could be critical to your decision making process.


Do Thorough Research

The best way to find out information about a college is to speak to people associated with it. Current students or alumni can give you great relevant insights into any college. University professors and admission officers are also good resources and will always be happy to help you. If you can, visit some of the colleges you are most passionate about attending.


Be Realistic

It’s good to aspire to get into a highly selective or competitive college, but it’s equally important to be realistic about your chances of getting into your shortlisted colleges are. While students should definitely apply to their competitive dream school(s), they should also apply to some colleges where their chances of gaining admission might be slightly higher. Remember though, that you shouldn’t treat these colleges as a ‘back-up’ or ‘second choice’. You will spend 3-4 of the most important years of your life at college, so be happy with all the choices you make.


Less Is More

Often, because students can’t decide which colleges to apply to, they apply to too many! Don’t do that, because applying is a time consuming process. Applying to 8-10 colleges is ideal, and will already require a lot of effort. If you burden yourself with 20 applications, their quality is likely to suffer. Also remember that applying to every college costs money, so it’s important to be practical during your shortlisting process. The 8-10 colleges you choose should be after keeping all your parameters, and likelihood of acceptance in mind. 

Choosing the right university is a personal experience, and hence it is important to identify the parameters that will influence your decisions in shortlisting colleges. Once these parameters are laid out, students can do research to identify which colleges meet their needs. A great place to start is www.bigfuture.org, a free college planning website for undergraduate studies run by the College Board, which allows students to search for information about universities.


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About Author: Ms. Lisa Jain

Lisa Jain is the Representative of The College Board in India. In her role, she works extensively with schools across India to help with the implementation of College Board programs. She also interacts directly with students and parents, educating them about how College Board’s programs and resources (such as SAT, AP, PSAT or Big Future) help in the college application and admission process.

Lisa was previously the Head of Marketing at an international school in Kolkata and has worked in the Equities division at UBS Investment Bank in London for two years.

She pursued her MBA at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad and her undergraduate degree in Industrial Economics at the University of Warwick in UK, on a scholarship. Lisa has also successfully completed Level II of the CFA Exam.