Looking Beyond the Brand Names: Choosing the US University that’s Right for You

By Ed Smallwood, A-List Education UK

In the 1990s, as a student at a British secondary school, I made a decision that has had a profoundly positive impact on the rest of my life: I decided to apply to universities in the United States. While I was not the only pupil at my school to do so, we were certainly a very small group. During four fantastic years at Harvard I was able to study a broad range of subjects from astronomy to opera to South American literature, to become a more confident person and to build lasting friendships with remarkable individuals from all over the world.

These days more than 9,000 UK students a year are opting to attend a US university. While it’s not for everyone, it is a move I highly recommend for motivated students keen to expand their horizons.

There are over 4,000 US universities and selecting the right one for you can be a daunting task. The most frequent mistake we encounter in the entire application process is targeting only the “brand name” universities—focusing on perceived reputation rather than looking for the “best-fit” institution for a specific student.

Here are five critical points to consider when building your university list:

1. Competitiveness: the most competitive US universities accept under 10% of applicants, so even if you have stellar exam results there is no guarantee that you will be accepted. Your list must consist of a range from these highly competitive “reach” universities to “safety” options where your grades and SAT/ACT scores are significantly better than last year’s admitted students.

2. Funding: a US university education is a major investment for a family so make sure you have researched funding options while you are drawing up your list. Financial aid is available in several formats for international students from some but by no means all US universities.

3. Geography and Size: there are a wonderful assortment of universities located all over the US so you should consider: location (East Coast vs. West Coast etc.), rural vs. urban campus and size (do you want to be in a university of 2,000 or 50,000 students).

4. Academic Focus: the broad array of possible majors and a Liberal Arts curriculum are big attractions for many international students. However, some institutions are particularly strong in certain areas.

5. Social Life: adjusting to life in the US can be a big challenge so look at how many international students attend an institution and if the clubs and activities offered match your interests.

The summer is a perfect time to get started on your university list: research on the Internet, speak to local alumni, call admissions departments and even visit a campus or two if you can!

Ed Smallwood is the President of A-List Education UK, a leading educational consultancy that guides international students through the US university application process. Ed attended Harvard for his undergraduate degree, New York University for his Master’s and Columbia for his MBA. Go towww.alisteducation.co.uk for more information.

Huffington Post on Changes to the SAT

“One notable difference between the new SAT and the ACT is the SAT’s inclusion on each test of one passage drawn from a U.S. founding document or from the “Great Global Conversation.” The sample essay provided in last week’s preview-a speech given on the floor of the House during the Nixon impeachments-seemed to place non-American students at a significant disadvantage, contrary to Coleman’s stated goals of “expanding access” to more and more students. Students who did not grow up exposed to the subtleties of Congressional hearings, public debate, and the Constitutional balance of powers would lack key context and be at a significant disadvantage on this passage. If this reflects the forthcoming content on the revised SAT, many international students will swiftly migrate to the ACT.”

Read full article.


Thinking Extracurricular

by Lucy Williams

A recent article in the New York Times on the rise of women’s soccer and those talented students securing scholarships to the US colleges of their choice, often at an eye wateringly young age, started me thinking about how what we do outside of our academic studies can so often have a significant impact on the way our lives pan out. While there is no denying that to follow our US college dreams a good grade history, as strong a SAT or ACT score as possible, and identifying the right fit, is imperative, it is the extra-curricular activities that can so sometimes tip the balance in our favour and empower us to make the right decision.  This article quotes two Ivy League coaches saying that their recruits often get first dibs at the applications and at A-List we can help potential student athletes identify when they should start this process.

We are also encouraging our Year 11 and 12 students to start thinking about what they do for enjoyment; where their passions lie and where they have, if at all yet, demonstrated any leadership.  Reading through the bios of the 33 successful Sutton Trust Programme applicants that were accepted Early Decision was an inspiring reminder of so much that can be done. The fact that candidates have to fill in 10 spaces on their Common Application means that we must think outside the obvious, and what we strive for our clients is to help them with that process and identify any gaps. The personal maturity and self knowledge that comes through that process will hopefully shine through in the essays, because unlike in the UK admissions procedure, this is the chance you have to tell the college why they should choose you.  So this Spring, identify your interests and pursue them with a passion; let A-List help you to choose a summer programme, and get ahead of the crowd for the 2015 entry;  international applications are up 5% this year.