Joanna has just finished her junior year in high school and is preparing for the college application process during her upcoming senior year. She has a 4.1 weighted GPA and a 1470 SAT. She is planning on majoring in Biochemistry, as she wants to become a doctor one day. She has strong extracurricular involvement related to her major, and has taken many of the Honors and AP courses her school offers. Joanna wants a relatively close-knit college environment with plenty of opportunities to get to know her classmates and to become involved on and off campus. What colleges should she apply to? Stay tuned — we’ll be giving her some recommendations at the end!
One of the most exciting times in a student’s life is the college selection process, but it can also be one of the most overwhelming due to the sheer number of options. Today, we take a deep dive into the world of universities and colleges (they’re not the same thing!), and walk you through our top tips to help you identify the schools that fit your unique personality and goals.
First, let’s break down the different types of higher education institutions out there. Some institutions fall into multiple categories on this list, e.g. a public school can also be a research university, etc.
1. Research Universities (the first “main” category)
These institutions encompass many public and private schools, including the Ivy Leagues. The curriculum at research universities is often more restrictive than at Liberal Arts colleges. Professors are hired to do research, so their courses tend to be organized around each instructor’s research focus. Class sizes and overall campus size are usually larger, which means that students can receive less individualized attention. Research universities offer degrees up to the Doctorate level, and provide a wealth of opportunities for students to get involved with research.
2. Liberal Arts Colleges (the second “main” category)
All Liberal Arts colleges are private schools, but NOT all private schools are Liberal Arts colleges. Students at these colleges generally have greater freedom to take a wide variety of courses, and courses are not structured around professors’ research interests. Notable examples in California are Occidental College, Pomona College, and Harvey Mudd College. Liberal Arts colleges tend to be smaller than other types of schools on this list, so they may be a good choice for students who prefer smaller class sizes, more individualized attention, and a more intimate campus environment.
3. Public (state) schools
Most public schools are research universities, and are often on the larger end of the spectrum. Perhaps the most well-known public university system in the United States is the University of California (UC) system, composed of nine universities, many of which rank very high in comparison to universities nationwide. California is also home to the California State University (Cal State) system, which includes 23 universities. Because public schools are funded by in-state tax dollars, they offer preferential tuition to residents of that state. While the in-state vs. out-of-state tuition varies, it is often significant. For the 2017-2018 academic year, out-of-state students attending a UC school paid an average of $15,000 more than their in-state counterparts. In general, the higher the school is ranked, the greater the tuition gap since the admissions process is more competitive.
4. Private schools
As mentioned above, private schools can be Liberal Arts Colleges or Research Universities. Because they are funded largely through private donations and student tuition, they’re typically more expensive than public schools.
5. Regional schools
Regional schools are categorized according to their geographic location in the United States: North, South, West, and East. Examples include Gonzaga University, Xavier University, Elon University and Providence College. Regional schools provide Bachelors and Masters degrees, but do not offer Doctoral degrees (if they do, such degrees are highly limited). A major benefit of regional schools is that they are more affordable than many research universities, which we’ll get into later. They are also smaller than many public schools.
6. International institutions
Some students choose to study outside the United States for all or part of their higher education. Students considering international schools should research the guidelines for international applicants so that they begin gathering the necessary materials. The SAT and ACT are somewhat universal when it comes to the use of standardized tests as an admissions metric, but some international schools require other tests such as the A-levels for schools in the U.K. Because these metrics are on different scales, students will need to ensure that they are using the correct conversions when interpreting their scores. Finally, international schools often have different deadlines than schools in the U.S., so students should be aware of these.
- In general, most students come to the U.S. to study, because the U.S. education system is ranked among the best. For this reason, we recommend that students consider enrolling in a U.S. institution, incorporating a study abroad program for a semester or a year. In addition, some schools, such as Yale and NYU, offer programs in which students can choose to study at affiliated campuses in other countries.