7 Basic Steps for Choosing the Right University

Given the variety of academic disciplines and the differing levels of degrees, as well as the many other options available, choosing the university or college most suitable for your experience and background can be very challenging. A search for the right university is itself an educational process and will turn out to be a major step for you in preparing for a career.

It is only natural for most students to want to study at a world-class university. The following considerations are designed to help you as you seek to identify the college or university which best suits your needs and aspirations.

1. Admission Criteria:

Since each college and university maintains its own admission guidelines, it is important for you to check each institution’s admissions criteria and application processes. Some universities have a minimum GPA/CGPA requirement or some indication of class ranking. Some require a standardized examination, such as the GRE, or, depending on graduate program, the GMAT for business, LSAT for law, or MCAT for medicine. Most will require a personal statement, and many will want a personal interview. An actual on-site visit to the university, if possible, can also be of great help. The university’s website is the prime source for getting information on admissions criteria, though professional online guides available on offline/online platforms are highly useful as well.

Students planning to apply for universities outside their home country should check for language proficiency and English score requirements for admission. The preferred English language exams, IELTS and TOEFL, are widely available in almost all countries. Generally:

  • United States and United Kingdom colleges and universities prefer the TOEFL exam
  • European business schools favor the IELTS exam
  • IT and computer science students allow a lower IELTS score

2. Picking the Right Academic Program:

All colleges and universities offer different study programs and different degree levels (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate.) The following points should be considered in selecting a university course of study.

  • Content: For undergraduate education (bachelor’s degree) the study program (“discipline,” “concentration,” or “major”) should primarily reflect your intellectual interests, while vocational concerns are at this level not so central. Check to see what topics and courses are included in the discipline, and which courses are required and which are optional, or “elective.” But do consider, as well, what career options your undergraduate major may eventually feed into.
  • Career options:For graduate degrees, professional and career considerations, of course, become primary. Many graduate programs are directly connected to specific professions, e.g., the MBA with various branches of business and finance; the MD with medicine; MPH with public health, the JD with law, and MPP with government service and public policy, and so forth. Doctoral programs (PhD) often indicate a commitment to a career in university teaching and research, since for most university faculty the doctorate is mandatory.
    In choosing career-oriented programs, you would be well advised to consider the employment market for your program. IT and STEM programs are much in demand, as is the MBA. Marketing, of course, also depends upon location—where do you want to begin your career?
  • Choice of optional courses:Some disciplines and graduate programs provide considerable choice among non-required courses. For example, a literature major might also select courses from history or philosophy or some other discipline, related or not. On the whole, graduate programs, especially those that are closely linked to a specific vocation, have a more tightly prescribed curriculum with fewer non-required options allowed.
  • Faculty: faculty experience and expertise are vital since they will impact the student’s educational and professional development. Many universities provide faculty names and qualifications on their website
  • Teaching style and accessibility: Students learn in different ways. Some learn more effectively from lecture-style courses; others prefer smaller seminars and group discussions; still others benefit most from one-on-one tutorials, when available. Most universities offer a variety of instruction.
    Relative emphasis on faculty teaching and faculty research also varies from institution to institution. Some universities emphasize teaching and counselling of students, while faculty at other universities are expected to be more committed to research. Sometimes student-faculty ratio suggests the amount of faculty attention you can expect as a student.
    Professional college admission advisers as well as offline/online platforms can help you get a sense of how central a particular college or university considers faculty accessibility to students to be.

3. Checking for University Ranking:

Colleges and universities are ranked nationally and internationally, based on various academic and performance criteria. Differing ranking lists make use of different criteria, such as: institutional reputation, research productivity, library size, institutional endowment, faculty-student ratio, admissions selectivity, student employment performance. Times Higher Education World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings are frequently referenced in the UK. They list around a thousand world universities. In the United States US News and World Report, Princeton Review, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, offer reputable rankings of American colleges and universities.

Rankings can be useful in guiding student choices, but you should pay attention to the criteria and methodology used in each ranking system to determine how useful the list is for you.


The expense of studying abroad can be significantly affected by university’s location. University and living costs in a large city usually tend to be higher than if the university has a suburban or smaller college town location. But universities located in a large city may provide easier internship and career opportunities, as well as a more diverse shopping, entertainment, and cultural environment. Still, suburban and college town universities often provide easy access to nearby cities and often provide, as well, a very lively campus learning, entertainment, and cultural environment. Oxford and Cambridge hardly suffer, for example, for not being located in London. The same may be said in the United States concerning Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth—all non-urban Ivy League universities. Many of the most elite liberal arts colleges in the United States are located in smaller cities. The color and excitement of a great metropolitan city may be the best locale for some students; but for others, the city is a distraction from a student’s primary focus.

Employment Placement and Internship Opportunities:

Pay some attention to a university’s job placement record. If considering an undergraduate degree, include the college’s record as well in student admissions to quality master’s and doctoral programs.

Most universities have close connections with a number of business corporations, as well as links with alumni in government, legal, medical, and other professional agencies. Because of this, they are able to assist a student in internships, both paid and non-paid, and job placements. For closer guidance, ask admissions officers and alumni you may meet at alumni and admission fairs, or seek assistance from professional online/offline platforms for job placements.

Costs and Financial Aid:

Higher education always comes with a cost. The major costs include tuition, board and lodging, as well as transportation to and from school. Additional expenses will include books as well as laboratory and computer fees along with personal expenses.

In the United States private colleges and universities are generally considerably more expensive than state supported universities, though the gap between the two has substantially narrowed during the past several.

All universities have an office devoted to financial aid for students admitted by the university. Most will ask for a family financial report in order to determine your financial needs. Few students are in a financial situation making it possible for them to pay for their entire university costs. Financial aid is, therefore, more common than not. Financial aid is provided in various forms, including, for example, tuition reductions or waivers; scholarships, based either on need or on merit; grants and loans; work-study (paid student employment.) Many schools have scholarships and grants set aside especially for international students. American and European universities, moreover, consider the presence of international students on campus a valuable element of community diversity which enhances the educational environment for the entire student body.

Campus Facilities:

As a university student you will spend at least two years of your life pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree. Campus facilities and living conditions are consequently of great importance. Living arrangements variously include dormitories, hostels, fraternities and sororities, and out-in-town rental apartments, often owned by or approved by the university.

In addition, campus facilities should provide:

  • A well-stocked library as well as e-book and inter-library loan capabilities, since students spend a great deal of the time making use of library reading halls and computer rooms.
  • Well-equipped science laboratories and computer labs, and widely accessible computer terminals and wi-fi access.
  • A wide variety of extracurricular facilities such as gymnasia, basketball, squash, racquetball, and tennis courts; ample playing fields; swimming facilities; theatre and music concert and chamber halls, industrial and vocational shops, etc.
  • Career counselling and development personnel, university career and employment fairs, resume reviews, a strong record of faculty recommendations for student graduate admission and employment opportunities.
  • Some access to public transportation.

Ultimately, the “right” university is a college or university of prominence and distinction which is most suitable to you individually–your background, your experiences, your comfort level, and your aspirations.

Choosing such a university is an important step in your education and for your career. It is well worth your while to approach your search with seriousness and care. At the same time, you are well advised to seek detailed guidance from an education counselor, perhaps at your current school, or from an admissions and mentoring professional, which you can find on an online platform. Best luck in all cases!

Prof. Ralph Raymond – ex-Professor DePauw University, Rhodes Scholar, ex-Chairman of Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee for US