As you start to familiarise yourself with the U.S college admissions process, you will start to notice that each college’s admissions page will refer to their admissions process being “holistic”.
In order for a student to be admitted into the university, the student has to “fit” the university as both an academic and a person, and similarly the university has to “fit” the student.
But how can a student tell if they are the right fit for a school? Amongst many elements to consider, some of the most important are: the major a student is interested in, the location of the school, the school size, the tuition costs, and the culture. A student might prioritise some of these factors more than others.
Regardless of the importance of each of these factors, the best way to get a feel for the school and determine if a student “fits” the university will be a campus visit. Visiting a college will allow students to ask questions to students, student officers, admissions officers, professors, and overall learn more about what they want in their future school. Spending time on a school’s website, taking a virtual tour, and looking up college reviews can some way towards substituting a real visit.
Students often choose to apply to schools based on the overall reputation of the school. However, it is crucial to remember that reputation changes according to the subject of interest. For example, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is highly known for a great mathematics, engineering, and computer programming curriculum, but would not be an appropriate “fit” for a student interested in studying poetry or language arts.
It is important for students to not just consider a university’s overall reputation, but also its specific reputation for their needs. While MIT is renowned for engineering, it also has a strong economics department that receives a significantly smaller amount of applications than the engineering department. Therefore, it is also important for students to spend time researching the major they are interested at a variety of schools to get to know each university’s program.
Unifrog’s US search tools shows you each university’s ranking in national and international subject-specific league tables, and also shows the 5 most popular majors taken by students at each university.
In the United States students can study anywhere from the top of a 30-story skyscraper in New York to an isolated cattle farm in rural California. Location is a major factor, and students should carefully consider where they want to spend the next 4 years of their lives.
In general, university locations can be divided into three categories: urban, suburban, and rural. Urban universities are often in the middle of the city and very busy. These universities often don’t have a closed off campus, but students have the opportunity to find more internships, job opportunities, and volunteer work due to the location of their school. An example of such a university would be NYU, or UCLA.
“NYU offers an incredible location in the heart of NYC, top rated professors, and amazing internship and networking opportunities that you can't get anywhere else.” Junior at NYU
A rural school is almost completely removed from city life, and students often rarely leave campus as the closest city is far away. These types of schools will often have large facilities and a strong campus community spirit. Examples of such schools could be Dartmouth, or Deep Springs.
“I prefer being away from the bustle because it allows to better concentrate on my academics. Plus, I don't have to worry about spending any large amount on nights in town.” Freshman at Dartmouth College
A suburban campus is a mix of an urban and rural campus. These universities often have a secluded campus, but are still relatively close to a big city so students can commute easily to their internships or jobs. Examples of these could be Brown University, or Princeton.
“The atmosphere of Providence supplements Brown. As a student at Brown, you probably won't be leaving Brown's bubble to go interact with JWU students or Providence College students. However, Providence offers what many other cities offer. There are always local concerts, somewhere to go eat, activities to explore.” Freshman at Brown University
Once a student figures out their preferred type of campus, they can easily filter away schools that don’t fit their criteria using Unifrog’s university search tool.
The size of a school will determine the experience a student has while studying there. Small schools will tend to have intimate, discussion-based classes, lots of one-on-one time with teachers, a more close-knit campus community, and often a liberal arts curriculum. Large schools will often have more lecture-style classes, but will also have more research opportunities, more facilities, a larger array of classes, and bigger sports teams. Students should apply to schools in which they will feel comfortable with the size of the student body.
After a student has figured out the size they feel most comfortable with, it will be easier for the student to narrow down their school choices.
“It has small class sizes and professors encourage students to come talk to them about anything that would help them succeed in their classes. Written evaluations are great because students get to know exactly how they need to improve regardless of what level they are at. It's a great personal touch and much more useful than letter grades.” Student at New College of Florida
“UCLA is such a large school (30,000+ students) that how people experience/view it varies widely depending on their major, personality, level of engagement etc. I think this 'make what you want of it' aspect is fantastic, as it allows you to define your college experience.” Student at UCLA
A big part of finding a school that is the right fit for a student is figuring out what that student’s budget might be. Although scholarships are available for students internationally, it is important to keep in mind that schools in the US will prioritise giving financial aid to American students.
If a student is particularly gifted but doesn’t have the financial capabilities of paying a university’s full price, they might consider schools that are needs-blind and full-need-met for international students. If a student is not at the absolute top of their year but still high-achieving, a state school might discount their price heavily in order to increase their international student numbers.
Students who are gifted in a particular sport should look for schools offering sports scholarships. More information on available financial aid is given in other articles.
It is important to keep in mind that different schools have different types of students. Some schools might be more conservative, religious, or politically oriented than others. For this reason, a student should determine what type of environment best fits their own beliefs and opinions.
Unifrog’s search tool offers some basic filters, by allowing students to choose an LGBTQ-friendly school, or one with a massive party culture. For more detailed information, it is also very helpful to read student reviews that have attended the college a student is interested in (for example, check out niche.com).
“Though the political scene may be too much for some to take, I found it extremely interesting and captivating what those around me were willing to do for their beliefs. If you are interested in an indescribable student life patterned with unparalleled academics and location, the University of California - Berkeley could be the perfect fit for you.” Student at UCB