It’s that time of the year when scores of students from India and other parts of the world are faced with a (possibly life changing) dilemma - the task of having to pick one university from the two or more offers made to them. I’ve been through the same tough period and I can relate to you all. Here are the rules that I followed, rules that helped me, and will hopefully help you as well. Before we go into the specifics of what I did, I had to pick a university from Rutgers, SUNY-Buffalo, University of Cincinnati, University of Illinois – Chicago, University of California –Riverside for my master’s in Chemical Engineering.
- Do your research: It is very important to know as much as you can about the coursework on offer, the tuition (or as we call it, the fees) that you’re going to shell out, possibilities of getting an assistantship and the current on-campus job scenario at XYZ university and of course, job prospects once you graduate.
- Network: The best way to get all the information you want is to talk students who’re studying there. They may or may not be from the program that you’ve applied for, but make sure you have a point of contact at every university that you hear from. I did. It helped me immensely. I had somebody to talk to from the program I was looking at, at every university I applied to, let alone every university I got an admit letter from. Talk to students, preferably from your own country, so that you can get a student’s perspective. They’ll break it down for you unlike anybody else because they’ve been through the same. And you can relate to this better.
- That said, learn to distinguish between baseless opinion and from reality. Don’t accept generalizations. Once you have the information from these people, apply your knowledge from rule #1 to this.
- Consider what’s important to you and to your family. I know that most of us go study abroad on bank loans and family savings. Be mindful that you’re using their hard-earned money. If you’re having a difficult time choosing between universities ranked #60 and the other one on #90, know that it doesn’t make a huge difference. Evaluate your chances of funding and make a wise decision. I had to give up 4 universities that were ‘better ranked’ for a partial waiver and some possible funding opportunities. Consider financial constraints, if that’s something important to your family. Just saying.
- Tone down the emphasis on job prospects: I know that the ultimate aim is to get a job but hey, don’t stress about it too much even before you leave. All of us eventually end up somewhere. Depending on the job scenario when you graduate, the prospects might change. Also, the amount of networking you do plays a major role no matter what university you go to. So, think about the immediate aspects of your education to make a good decision.
- Familiarity is not equal to great fit. Just because you’ve heard of a university and your friends/cousins went to this place, just because your aunt/uncle live close by doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the best fit for YOU. Make sure you evaluate ALL other pros and cons before you take this into consideration.
- Decision making = Fail? If you’re going to a certain university just because your girlfriend/boyfriend is headed there, chances are, a lot of people are going to go out on a limb and say that this is not the most rational decision that you could have made. But hey, whatever floats your boat.
Once you make a decision, don’t brood over it and worry too much. It’s tough to choose a university after multiple offers have been made to you, especially after you’ve spent a lot of time carefully putting the list together. Have faith in whatever choice you make, everything is going to turn out fine. Whatever happens, happens for a reason. Enjoy the rest of your time with your family and friends and get started with your visa process and packing. Good luck!