Study Abroad: How should students shortlist colleges and look beyond rankings?

Study Abroad: How should students shortlist colleges and look beyond rankings?

8 mins read13.8K Views 4 Comments
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Mar 14, 2024 18:32 IST

How should students shortlist colleges and look beyond rankings?: Shortlisting colleges and courses is one of the most tedious tasks while planning to study abroad. And while there is a lot of effort and money involved, you would not want to make any mistake in this choice. Read this article to learn about all the crucial points that you should consider while shortlisting college abroad,

How should students shortlist colleges and look beyond rankings?

One of the most critical steps for students applying abroad is to select which colleges to apply to. Creating applications for universities requires a lot of time and effort, making it all the more important that students shortlist colleges based on careful planning and thought. The most common way of shortlisting colleges is to look at rankings, but are rankings really that important? In this article, we will explore why it’s important to look beyond rankings, and how students can do that.

How to Shortlist Universities?

Given below are the pointers that students should keep in mind while shortlisting the universities for admission. 

Be careful with Rankings

There are several companies that publish rankings for universities across the world. Some are specific to one country, while others release global rankings. It is important to understand that every ranking is based on a certain set of parameters, each of which is given different weights by the publisher, before calculating a university’s rank. That is why one usually sees differences in ranks of particular colleges across different publications.

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The question that students need to ask themselves is – does the ranking give weightage to the factors that are important to me? Very often, the answer to this question might be ‘no’. And that’s when students need to tread with caution while shortlisting colleges only on the basis of a ranking. This is because the information captured in the rankings might not necessarily help you find a college or university that is the ‘best fit’ for you.

Another important thing to remember when looking at rankings, is 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 must look at the ranking, focus on those that are course-specific.

Understand your own needs first

Every student has his or her own unique expectations from college life, and their choice of the university has to be influenced by these expectations. Different things could be important to different students when shortlisting colleges.

For example, you might not be able to deal with the extremely cold weather. As silly as it may sound, this is a parameter for you when shortlisting colleges. You may decide not to apply to universities located in geographies where the winters are too harsh! Could any ranking have captured this information to help you identify colleges that don’t have cold weather? No.

Like this, there might be several factors that influence your decision on which colleges you should think of applying to, such as:

  • Does the college offer the course you want to pursue?
  • If you are dependent on financial aid, you might have to limit your choices only to those colleges that provide aid to international students
  • You may want to pursue a particular sport seriously at college, and choose to apply to colleges where that sport is popular
  • The size of the college might impact your decision – are you ok studying at a state college with 30,000 students, or do you prefer studying in a smaller college with just 3,000 students?
  • Some students might prefer studying in a city campus, such as universities in New York, or London have, where there isn’t necessarily a college campus – university buildings are spread across the city. Other students might prefer to study in a smaller city/town where the university life is campus-based, and offers more of a community life.

These are only a 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 can be critical to your decision-making process.

Draw the right balance

It is always good to aspire and work hard to get into a competitive college, but it’s equally important to be realistic about where you stand, and what 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 these colleges should not be treated as a ‘back-up’ or ‘second choice’. You will spend 3-4 of the most important years of your life at college, so you need to be happy with all the choices you make.

Don’t overdo it

Often, students who aren’t able to shortlist colleges with clarity, end up sending out too many applications. There is a danger in doing this because writing applications require a lot of hard work, time, and effort. Applying to 8-10 colleges is usually considered optimal. If you burden yourself with 20 applications, the quality of your essays is bound 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 have to be carefully selected keeping all your parameters, and likelihood of acceptance in mind.

Find out as much information as you can

The best way to find out information about a college is to speak to people associated with it. Students currently studying at the university can give you great insights into what they think is good, and what they think isn’t great about the college. University professors and admission officers are also great resources and will always be happy to give you information that you need. Reach out to them over email and try connecting with students through your network of friends or family.

Although it isn’t always possible, if you can, try and visit some of the colleges you are most passionate about attending. It will give you a very real feel of what student life will be like once you join, and give you the opportunity to meet students and faculty and see the campus.

Choosing the right university is a personal experience, and hence it is very important for students and parents to identify the parameters that will influence their decision while shortlisting colleges to apply to. Once these parameters are laid out, students can do research to identify which colleges meet their needs.

Safety and Security

First of all, check the city where the college is located. Check if the city is safe, what is the crime rate, and how late the public transport run in the area. After this, check the university’s web pages to see if they have their own security services on campus and student accommodation sites.

University facilities and support services

 Apart from feeling safe, it feels nice if you have someone to talk to. Here, we are referring to the professional staff who know how to deal with all types of problems a student may have. This includes financial problems, health and well-being services, and library services.

Funding opportunities and reasonable tuition fees

Your studies abroad will take some years to get completed, so it is clever to be on the safe side and make a financial plan. If you are moving away from home, you need to think about the living costs, travel costs, tuition fees, study materials, and so on and so forth.

Social life and free time

When you are not studying, you need to relax, socialize or find a hobby. Many universities offer the option to join a student society or club within their student union. The clubs and societies act like small university-based NGOs that you can join for no to a little fee. They can be art, sports, religion, social or hobby based. Another thing that you have to check is if your campus has sports facilities like a gym or swimming pool.

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Q. How to shortlist universities for MS courses?

A. To shortlist universities for MS, you need to consider the factors like total expenses like tuition fees and cost of living, the course that you want to study, acceptance rate, on-campus placement opportunities, location of the university or college, weather challenges, etc.

Q. List some of the top factors to consider while shortlisting universities.

A. Some of the factors to consider while selecting a college are safety, internship opportunities, academic support and career services, campus life, athletics and extra-curricular activities, campus life, etc. You can check what kinds of safety measures does the university have, know what type of internships and study abroad opportunities the school provides, keep in mind what is the placement rate of the university, etc.

Q. What are the top factors that colleges look for in applicants?

A. The important elements of an application that the college admission officers look at when evaluating the application of students are grades, standardized test scores, essay, resume, recommendations, interviews. The admission essays are an important part of your application, so make sure your personality shines through in the essay. The admission officers will evaluate your passions through your resume.

Q. What makes someone a strong candidate for university?

A. A high GPA, strong test scores, a specific, honest and well-written personal statement and / or essays, a unique extra-curricular interest or passion are the important elements of a great application. The application would turn out to be outstanding if a student has some volunteering experience, compelling letters of recommendation, any work experience, etc.

Q. How can I stand out in front of the admission officers?

A. In order to stand out in front of the admission officers, be prepared and research about the school in advance. In case, you have an interview with an admission officer, make your impression memorable, and take academic studies seriously. Apart from these points, demonstrate problem-solving abilities and highlight your uniqueness and passions.
About the Author
Written by
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert

Rahul Singha is a seasoned editor with Shiksha Study Abroad, specializing in overseas education. With over 8 years of domain experience, he has made a significant impact in contributing to the study abroad industry ... Read Full Bio

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Adithyan Pv

4 years ago

Thank you, this was really insightful. Especially the part about rankings. Merci beaucoup

Reply to Adithyan Pv

Hi Adithyan, thank you for your feedback. Glad we could help!


Manpreet kaur

4 years ago

Hi . I am UG aspirant for either computers or AI or finance. I am not quite able to decide which course to pursue which just makes the application process super confusing for me. I am apply to universities in US and UK.

Reply to Manpreet kaur

Hi Manpreet, your course selection should depend upon your future goals or the career you want to pursue. For more guidance, you can contact our experts here: Thanks!

4 years ago

UG Aspirant I am looking for electronics and communication engineering in UK. I wanted to know about the basic requirements for which the universities look into. I also wanted to know is there any particular website where we have send a application.

Reply to

Hi Chaayank, you have to fill in the application on the university website itself. The requirements are exam scores IELTS/TOEFL and GRE/GMAT. Also, each university will have its own set of eligibility scores so you need to check the website. First, you can start with shortlisting universities accord



aravind m

5 years ago

I was looking for a post graduate course in hydraulics and pneumatics , I couldn't find any colleges related to it . So could you please help me in finding one??

Reply to aravind m

Swameeka Medhi

5 years ago

Hi Aravind, you may explore options here Also check university and college websites for complete program details along with specializations offered.