YOUTH TALK : Choosing Right University: Through the Lens of Uni Student
I’m writing this article as a fresher in Computer Science at the National Institute of Technology, Warangal, India. I have been through the phase that most of you’re going through, right from Grade 11 when I’d picked up my stream (the options CBSE students mostly have is Science, Commerce and Humanities and I believe that the other curricula allow students to pick it up a year earlier). So once you get into the stream of your picking, you realise that the world is a big place and the options are innumerable.
Through the course of this article, I shall not focus on the career options but shall focus on something that’s as important as picking your field of interest: picking the right university for you, through my experience as a high school senior. The right university depends on a number of factors, which include and are not restricted to, the size of the campus, their faculty, the course they offer, their geographical location, research opportunities, alumni base, clubs/fraternities on campus, fee structure and their education system.
Picking the right university, or rather a set of universities, is a little bit tedious and the best way I think one should be doing that is through visiting their websites, talking to people studying there and reading about the university on different forums like Quora or College Confidential. Once you’re done, you’re good to go. So, once you pick your university/ies, visit their website and look at their timeline and keep a note of it. Most of the US universities begin their Fall admission process by the month of August-September. Let me tell you this, picking the right university should be done at the earliest, and an ideal time would be about 3-6 months before your last year at high school.
Most of the universities in the US, UK and Canada require students to write a few standardised tests, the most common of which are the SAT’s, ACT’s, TOEFL and the IELTS. All the universities in the above mentioned countries require one of these exams (please do check their respective websites for which test is preferred by the respective university) to test the individual’s proficiency in the English language. The SAT and ACT are offered 7 times a year, TOEFL about 30-40 times a year, and the IELTS depends on the country you reside in. The SAT Reasoning test has both English and basic Math. The SAT also has an additional test called the Subject Test which includes Math, History, Literature, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and a variety of other subjects that are all optional, and you need to pick them based on the course you’re going to be heading for. For example, a student applying for engineering should take up Math Level 2 and Physics. The ACT comes with a built-in Science and Math section, along with the regular English segment.
I’d request all of you to plan your time out judiciously because every shot at writing these tests counts, because these standardised tests are a very important parameter in your application. I’d recommend students to start taking the tests right from their penultimate year at high school. This would help you understand the test and could help your prepare better for the next attempt. Please note that the number of attempts can be seen by the university, thus try to give in your best at every try.
Coming to the application process: I shall focus on the STEM related applications since I was one of them. I applied to some of the top universities in the US, and fortunately was accepted by quite a few of them. Most of the applications have a Personal Information section, an Academic section, Co-curricular section and the Essay section. Each section should be worked upon carefully and everything should be mentioned to the best of your knowledge.
There’s a misconception in people that universities in the US look only at the co-curricular activities and the academics are given a back seat. Let me tell you, that is 100% false. The universities do look at your extra curriculars, only after looking at your academics. Essays are an integral part of your application and mastering them can take you places. One major aspect students in the MENA region lack at is the co-curricular activities in the field of the STEM activities. Therefore, individuals applying to the universities should try their best to boost their experience and resume on this aspect. The activities could be as simple as completing courses online from reputed institutions and professors on websites like Coursera or edX, and applying that knowledge to an activity.
A few universities, such as the Ivy League ones, have something called the Early and Regular Decision, in which students are allowed to apply in a slot that is before the university starts accepting regular applications. Usually, this takes place about a month before the university opens up for regular applicants. Please note that, although on average the Early Decision plans have a higher acceptance rate, the decision is binding, which means that you commit yourself to the school. I recommend people apply for the Early Decision for universities that are at the top of their list. And for the rest of the universities, you can always go as a regular applicant. So before you apply, weigh up your options carefully. On the other hand, the University of California has only one set of applications, the regular ones.
Financial aid and scholarships are not very often given to international students. So the cost factor has to be taken into serious consideration and in the US, the top universities have an average annual fee of about $45,000. So, try to find out from the universities you apply to whether they offer any sort of scholarship or aid.
As a last reminder, I’d like to request all those who are genuinely interested in applying to university to keep a track of their timeline and formulate their own timeline to get things done in a very systematic procedure, because this is one place where a lot of people tend to mess up.
With this, I wish you all a very best of luck for your applications and hope to see you scale greater heights.