How to pick the right university for you - GulfToday

How to pick the right university for you


Picture used for illustrative purpose.

Manjula Ramakrishnan

Peter Davos, Founder and Managing Director, Hale Education Group explains the conundrum that families face when it is decision time to choose the right university for higher education of their children.

“Choosing a university is an incredibly important decision, as you will become a permanent member of a global community that will have a tremendous impact on your personal, professional and academic life. You may be a student for only four years, but you will be an alumnus forever.”

“Unfortunately, most families place excessive emphasis on supposedly “subjective” university rankings that attempt to quantify the unquantifiable, at the expense of qualitative research and understanding of the concept of “fit” that are critical not only to a student’s academic enrichment, but quality of life and well-being.”

Peter separates the chaff from the wheat and emphasises on what is truly important in this life-altering decision.


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What goes into the first baby step of making a list of potential universities?

Creating a balanced and bespoke college list requires time and research, factoring in the academic and personal interests of each student, as well as one based on realistic expectations. Each student is unique, as is each university. The multiple personal factors that make you unique as an individual — not just your academic goals — should be taken into consideration when making what is probably the most important decision of a young student’s adult life. Strategies such as applying to every school in the Ivy League are not only time consuming, but counter-productive.

Relevant questions would be: is access to internships important? Starting salaries, proximity to the epicentre of a particular industry, such as Silicon Valley in California, availability of merit scholarships, weather, proximity to an international airport, school spirit, quality of the athletic facilities, access to research opportunities? With the impact of COVID-19 it is now easier for students to find out the answers to these questions and many more, as US universities have invested heavily in digitising everything from their campus tours, information sessions, student panel discussions, and virtual classroom experiences.

 Peter d 1 Peter Davos, Founder and Managing Director, Hale Education Group.

Where should one start?

I typically advise students to apply to 12 colleges — unless they are applying to the most competitive universities, in which case they should apply to 15. Students must keep in mind that their college lists must be realistic. While they may aspire to graduate from Harvard or MIT, they have to honestly assess their chances of admission with an objective view of their academic record — primarily their grades and standardised test scores — and see how it compares to those of admitted students. If you are financially sensitive, then your college list should be populated by universities that can meet your full demonstrated financial need or significant merit scholarships.

How does one ultimately select the right school?

There are numerous factors to be considered and here are some of the top ones:

Size of Class: American universities can range from a few hundred students per class to tens of thousands of students per class. The larger the university, the larger the average class size will be. Imagine being enrolled in a basic Microeconomics course with 800 other students. The professor will give the lectures, but will not likely know your name. Most of your tuition will actually be done by teaching assistants, who are graduate students, pursuing advanced degrees at the university, through weekly sections of approximately 25 students.

Geography: You should ask yourself if you want to study in a city or near a city or in a suburban campus. How close is the campus to an international airport? What is the area like around the campus? What type of neighbourhood is the college located in? If you are a city person, you may not be happy being geographically isolated in a rural campus.

Weather: This is equally important. A student raised in Dubai may not want to spend six months of the year in a New England winter. A student intent on studying marine biology may want to enrol in a university located on the water, in a coastal city, in order to carry out field research.

Academics: Universities with national reputations may not have particularly strong departments in the field of study you want to pursue. As a college student, you will be spending four years of your life and possibly over one million AED on your education, so you should be fully informed of the academic strengths of the university beforehand.  

In a nutshell: When you step foot on campus, you should feel like you belong as it will be your home for four years. What are the dormitories like? Where is the social life centred on? Is the surrounding area full of cool cafes and restaurants? What is the value system of the university? These are all important things to consider when applying to college.

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