At this point last year, I was just starting the college application process: trawling through the various university webpages, going through different application systems, and generally feeling lost. Looking back now, there are a few things that I wish I knew before this process started. I would like to share this with the upcoming juniors and the underclassmen.
The first thing that I learned in the past year is that rankings are not everything! Global rankings systems and domestic rankings systems are a flawed measure of the value of the university and the education that you will receive. Most rankings systems that include research quality as a metric are more geared towards postgraduate applications, not undergraduate applications. Different ranking systems place emphasis on various parameters that may not reflect your preferences. Reputation is a vague concept that is usually based on few facts. There is no significant difference between an university that is ranked number 10 and another university that is ranked number 20. I am not saying that you should not be aiming high to go to the institution of your dreams. In fact, I am saying the opposite. If the “prestigious university” has the educational culture and support that fits your style, then by all means apply to that university. However, do not be so fixated on one choice that you forget all other choices. Research your other choices as much as you research your first choice and make sure that you would be happy in your second or third choice university as well. This process is extremely unpredictable and there are no guarantees that you will be admitted into your first-choice university. In short, reputation should not be a deciding factor in your choice of universities and your other choices should be as exciting as your first choice.
What do you want out of your university experience? This is a question that you need to continuously ask yourself throughout this process. What do you think is important? What is your preferred learning style? Would you rather be in a university where you attend large lectures or would you rather be in a university that has mostly small seminar classes? If it is the latter, then perhaps applying to liberal arts colleges like Williams College in the U.S. and universities like Oxford and Cambridge in the U.K. may be a better alternative to applying to big state universities like universities in the University of California system and the Ivies. Just because you have not heard of a university before does not mean that it is bad. As you continue the college search process, keep an open mind to what universities you want to add into or take away from your list. The university that fits you the most might not be one that is mainstream or ranked within the top 100 in a given ranking system. When universities come visiting our school, it would be a good idea to listen to what they have to say. Besides, listening to universities talk about their institution can help you frame what you want and don’t want in the universities of your choice.
What opportunities does each university have to offer and how would these opportunities help you achieve personal and professional goals? Look at the study abroad programs, career service, academic support, contact hours, pastoral support, student societies, placement years, industrial links, co-op programs, etc. in the universities that you want to apply to not as an afterthought but as an important basis of which university you want to apply to. Don’t let other people take control of your future and make sure that the university that you want to attend has everything you need to help you achieve your personal aspirations.
If you can, visit the universities that you want to apply to or have applied to. Listening to personal experiences from people you know and online forums are all helpful but nothing beats experiencing the university yourself. Look around the university campus, sit and have lunch in the campus because when you make your choice, you will be expecting to live and attend the university for a few years. You have to make sure that you would enjoy studying and living around that university or you might bear the consequence of considering transferring after 1 or 2 years and going through this long and arduous process again.
The last point that I would like to make is that it is ok for you to not know what you want to do in life! You do not have to go to university in the exact year you graduate from high school! Instead, you can take a gap year in order to think more about choices you want to make in life. Even after you have matriculated in the University of your dreams, your interests could drastically change over the following years. It is perfectly fine for you to do something later on in your lives that is completely irrelevant to your major in college. So think about university as a learning experience rather than a stepping stone in life to get to a certain career.
Take control of this process! Your college counselors, parents and peers are here to support you but it is your life. Do not let other people define how you want to live your life or where you want to go. If you are confident that you are making the right decision throughout this process after a lot of research, it is perfectly fine to say to the people who are here to support you that you think that the decision you have made is the best for your life. Be true to yourself! Respect other people’s advice but do not allow them to make decisions for you.
I hope that this article would have helped in some way and I wish you all good luck in making these important decisions that will have a significant impact on your lives!