One to two years before the planned start of their study program, prospective students should shortlist 5-10 universities to which they will apply.
Students should consider the overall “fit” of each university. For example, a particular university might be a great location for some students, but not others, due to the level of academic rigor and ranking, financial concerns, geographic location, and others, as discussed in this short Mosaiec video. Useful tools to compare universities are the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, the American Association of Community Colleges’ Community College Finder, and the U.S. News & World Report reviews and comparisons and College Board’s Big Future resources.
Although university ranking can be misleading based on how it is calculated by different organizations, prospective students might find it helpful to consider, especially if they are planning to apply for funding from public or private funders that use university ranking as part of their scholarship recipient selection process. Commonly used ranking systems include the QS Rankings, THE Rankings, and Shanghai Ranking.
The system of higher education in the United States is decentralized and each university has its own governance structure and policies. However, many universities have regional and national accreditation. Prospective students should check whether an institution is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education and whether it is certified to issue U.S. student visas through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) by the Department of Homeland Security.
Visiting a university in-person or virtually is a great way to get a sense of whether a university is a good fit. There are virtual tours produced by universities themselves and others that students have produced on their own. Students can also find contact information on individual university websites and reach out directly to a particular school of interest.
Once a shortlist has been created, with consideration to safety, match, and reach schools, as described by Get Schooled, students can draft a calendar or application timeline with deadlines and important activities, such as entrance examination dates.
As prospective students are comparing universities and creating timelines, they can also be laying the groundwork for the next stage—completing applications—by maintaining a list of extracurricular activities they are involved in and awards they receive. They can also begin to study for entrance exams, such as TOEFL, SAT, and GRE.