So, you're a high school junior or senior. You've almost made it. You're down to your last year or two of high school, and then the big wide world is at your fingertips. The university selection process might be the first time you've been able to exercise some personal agency when it comes to your education—this is exciting, but it can also be a little daunting!
There are so many factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right university for you. What country and city do you want to end up in? What major are you interested in pursuing? Do you want to spend your postsecondary years in a booming metropolis or the charming countryside?
This week we sat down with Rich Modica, Director of University Advising at Leysin American School, and got the inside scoop on the university selection process to help you narrow down your search and find the perfect school for you.
Begin with some introspection
Before you even begin looking at schools, it's a good idea to lay out your criteria and decide which factors are most important to you. There are many different aspects of university life to take into consideration; some of the ones Rich recommends evaluating include:
- Location: Where in the world would you like to study? Is it important to you to study in your home country? Would you like to travel somewhere completely new? Or maybe you'd like to study in your hometown as long as they offer an exchange program. When considering location, it's also important to think of factors like culture and weather. Studying in a brand new country can be intimidating, especially when there are new customs, cultures, and languages you're acclimatizing to at the same time! Also, consider what sort of weather you'd most enjoy. Do you want to try living in a ski town? Or maybe you'd prefer year-round beach weather. Perhaps you're interested in experiencing a mix of all four seasons. These are all important factors to consider.
- Length of program: Many universities in North America offer a 4-year program, whereas, in the U.K., 3-year programs are not uncommon. The extra year in North American schools is typically accounted for by a year of general study in which freshmen can explore lots of classes across a broad range of subject areas; this chance to test the waters is helpful for students who aren't yet confident what major they'd like to pursue. Conversely, the U.K.'s 3-year programs are often direct entry for students who know exactly what they want to study and are ready to jump right in!
- Major: If you know what you would like to major in, it's important to consider schools that offer strong programs in your area. Universities that offer your desired program with renowned teaching staff, globally-recognized graduates, and good statistics in post-graduation employment are valuable additions to your list of potential schools.
- Finances: Finances can play a big role in the university selection process. Loans, grants, and scholarships offered by universities can have a really big impact on the decision you make!
- Sports/student life: Do you want a school that hosts big sports matches? Are you searching for a strong extracurricular scene, fun nightlife, or great residential programs? Some schools are better than others at facilitating a strong student life experience, so determining how important this factor is for you can be a great help when choosing between universities!
We have, of course, only touched on a few of the possible criteria—there are many others that you may want to consider. Do you want a school that offers an internship/co-operative program? Is the religious affiliation of the school important to you? Think of all the factors you would like to evaluate, and decide which are truly make-it or-break-it when it comes to your postsecondary options.
Start seeing what is out there
Now that you've set out your criteria for your dream school, it's time to start seeing what is out there. There are lots of resources you can make use of! At LAS, our students' primary resource is our University Advisors, who are there to help them every step of the way. Advisors can help you start the list of schools you are interested in and suggest options you may have never thought of. This is also a great time for you to do some of your own research. Chat with university representatives, look at school websites, attend university fairs, and connect with alumni or friends who are attending schools you might be interested in (at Leysin American School, all graduates are added to our large alumni database—this is a great resource for our students to connect with alumni who have attended or are currently attending schools they are interested in). If possible, you should also think about arranging a campus tour! If the campus is too far away to visit, try to find a virtual tour instead. Not only is this a great way to get a feel for what is out there, but showing demonstrated interest is often a hidden criteria schools don't tell you about—in the later stages of the application process, admissions representatives will often check to see if you've been engaging with their school and whether you seem genuinely passionate about joining their community! Doing your research is always a win-win.
Meet with your university advisor
Okay. Some colleges have caught your eye and you're starting to develop a list of strong candidates. Now would be a great time to meet again with your university advisor so they can help you narrow down your choices and shed some light on things you may not have considered before. At LAS, our advisors have visited over 250 different university campuses around the world and have compiled photos and information about each, so they can provide our students with firsthand knowledge from their experiences. They also offer regular one-on-one meetings with our upcoming graduates to answer questions, provide insight, and help get them ready to apply to universities around the world. Students also partake in group student success sessions, during which time they discuss topics including:
Email and web etiquette
How to write essays and personal statements
The process of requesting teacher recommendations
Acceptance criteria for commonly sought-after university destinations including the US, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland
Apply to your top choices
At this point, you've likely put together a list of schools you'd like to apply to—that's great! Before you start sending those applications out, it's a good idea to reflect and make sure you are happy with your options. As Rich reminded us, students should never be forced to apply to a school they won't be happy at—after all, young adults are more likely to be successful at a postsecondary institution of their choosing, rather than a school chosen by them for someone else. We also always stress that students should attend the university that offers the best fit for them. Highly-selective schools and ivy league titles may be enticing, but they can also be incredibly competitive which can lead to high levels of stress and unhappiness. For some students, the university with the best fit may indeed be somewhere like Stanford or Cambridge. For other students, it could be a state university or an American-style university in Europe. There are lots of options out there!
Once you've confirmed that you've got a list in front of you that you are happy with, it's time to start sending those applications out! Congratulations!