Higher education in the US: Looking beyond rankings and brand names

Higher education in the US

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“I want to study in an Ivy League college” or “I want to send my kid to an Ivy League college” I’ve often seen parents and students say this throughout my 20+ years of working as an EducationUSA advisor.

There are more than 4000 accredited universities and colleges in the US that provide associate (two-year programs) as well as bachelor’s (four-year programs) master’s, doctoral, or Ph.D. degrees.

Each university is a “good fit” for some students, however not all schools and colleges can be a “good fit” for all students. US universities and colleges closely assess the student’s academic objectives and academic performance, not the prestige of their previous college may be. There’s a saying: regarding LORs (Letters of Recommendation) the contents of the recommendation letter are more significant than the title of the person who recommends.

Higher education in the US

So, don’t be concerned or think that you’re an unqualified candidate for the top schools in the US if you haven’t attended a top-notch institution. Your application will be a multi-dimensional profile that you present to admissions committees. These committee members are well-trained and have experience in identifying students who are a “good fit” for their department or institution.

In the same way, no matter how good an applicant you might be or how reliable your current or previous school might appear, external aspects that play a crucial part in the admissions decision. For instance, a professor at a university could be seeking a suitable research assistant for their new research project and a candidate with similar research experience could be the winner. Likewise, the college might be seeking more international students for its campus. As an international student, you could gain an advantage over a local candidate.

If you are applying for undergraduate study the factors you consider most important could differ from those who are planning on pursuing graduate (master’s Ph.D.) studies. As an undergraduate student, You may be looking at the dimensions of the college such as you might prefer smaller schools with smaller classes or a ratio of teacher-student that is less than 1:5; or the faculty profile includes full-time instructors or teaching assistants for graduate studies student research possibilities, costs and financial aid, and the place of study.

Graduate students might have different goals. They need to carefully evaluate the faculty focused on a handful of particular areas of expertise and faculty members with research is in line with the student’s interests in research, research resources like laboratory facilities that are essential for STEM research institutions-industry tie-ups for internship opportunities or training in the practical. The cost might not be an issue when it comes to Ph.D. applicants, as the vast they are generally fully funded. But it might be a major problem for applicants to master’s programs because financial aid is limited for master’s degree programs.

Here are some students who succeeded in meeting their academic goals, 

Aarya Deb was a student at Shri Krishna Mission School, Agartala Then, he began his studies at Drexel University with a full tuition waiver for his undergraduate studies. After a year, he moved to Villanova University and remarkably completed his bachelor’s degree, and was awarded a gold medal. He was then accepted into Purdue University to pursue a Ph.D. degree in the fall of 2021. Even though Aarya attended an institution in a small town but he was able to be admitted to highly competitive universities across the US.

Aarya Deb at Purdue University. SOURCE: USIEF

Sayantan (Sunny) Mitra completed schooling at Calcutta Boys’ College and earned his bachelor’s with a double major in Economics as well as Mathematics. He attended the College of Wooster, Ohio an oblique liberal arts institution, as well as being a Clinton Global Initiative University Fellow. With perseverance and an excellent academic record, He was able to pursue research through Harvard University and was admitted to UC Berkeley for a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics. Presently, with support from MIT and MIT, he is examining the impacts of climate change on the world economy. He is also the first trustee international of his university.

Ayan Senguptapursued his high school education through Nava Nalanda High School, Kolkata after which he earned an undergraduate qualification from the Department of Electronics Engineering at St. Thomas College of Engineering & Technology, Kolkata, (a private engineering college) under Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology (earlier West Bengal University of Technology). Ayan was offered admission by eight top universities. Of those, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln along with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County offered the full financial aid for Ayan through a Teaching Assistantships. He later pursued a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at UN Lincoln where was given the famous Dean’s Fellowship along with an Assistantship for Graduates.

Sagnik Dakshit was pursuing his BTech degree at the Calcutta Institute of Engineering & Management (a private engineering college), Kolkata, an affiliated college of WBUT. He was accepted into an integrated MS/Ph.D. program with complete financial assistance from The University of Texas, Dallas.

Sohini Mukherjee a student at the Modern English Academy, Barrackpore, West Bengal, was admitted to Lycoming College, a small liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania just 4 years ago. Sohini received a nearly full tuition-free scholarship and was also awarded the Presidential Award. Sohini was able to complete her bachelor’s degree in the summer and is already awaiting acceptance offers of full-time aid from a variety of universities to pursue a Ph.D. degree.

Sohini Mukherjee was a student at Lycoming College

When choosing the right college or university, the name and ranking should not be the primary criteria to consider. It is essential to make an informed choice by focusing on the factors that meet your needs in terms of academics and professionals. You can also speak to senior students, and advisers about your education and academics, but be sure you are in the middle of the decision-making process. You will ultimately be in charge of the direction of your plane and also your navigator!

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