When talking through which school a child should go to based on their acceptance levels, I recently asked a parent, "What kind of environment does your son want to be in?"
Her response? "He wants to study biology."
"Okay, sure, but what kind of environment is he looking for?"
The parent was confused. "I told you," she said, speaking more slowly, "he wants to study biology."
The concept of fit in a college or graduate program is very confusing to many Indian students, probably because it isn't a factor in choosing a college within India, and so it isn't a consideration when picking a program abroad. Instead, people look at rankings lists or try to find information about "placement" post college.
When considering college as a kind of machine, a factory, which takes in raw material, or students, and produces, finished products, or jobholders, American colleges and Universities will not be very clear or comprehensible to the average Indian applicant. It is only by thinking beyond this concept that a student finds a school that is best for them.
But that very idea means letting go of a generalized objective concept of "best", as in, I want to go to the BEST school, and accepting a concept of "best for me". The first thing to keep in mind when looking at colleges and graduate programs for fit is that American universities are not technical in the way their Indian counterparts are.
The philosophy behind them is not to educate students in technical skills, but in transferable ones, so you can't look at an American school the way you would an Indian one. You can learn about gender studies, environmental sciences and robotics, all without giving up that practical major you want so badly. But you might not find options like PR, marketing, civil engineering, or you might find that your economics course is far more theoretical than you would have expected.
The rigidity of the University of Chicago is painful to a student who wants their education to take on a looser and more self-dictated slant, while the openness of Brown is confusing and unproductive to a student who wants the external structure of another kind of university, despite being able to study the exact same things at both.
Students transfer out of these "top ranked" schools yearly because despite them being "the best", they aren't the best for THEM.
So if I were an Indian student struggling would start by eliminating the big general factors. Do I want a big school, with primarily lecture classes, or a small school with a ton of seminar options? Do you want to be in an urban space where the city can be a supplemental classroom, or a campus oriented space where you will have a lot of monitoring, guidance, and support? Do you want to be in a more international school, or a more homogenous place? All these questions knock out the big general stuff, and then you might have a smaller, but still overwhelming list.
Then, you start looking at the guiding principles of the program. How strong is the core program? What are the requirements, how much does the school require and encourage interdisciplinary learning? Look through the course catalogue, not just at the majors, but the classes themselves, do they excite you? How much freedom exists within picking your own major, or shaping your own curriculum? How much do you want there to be?
Important read: Campus Safety in the USA For International Students
If at all possible, it's a great idea to talk to an alumni of a school, and get a sense from them about the feeling of the college from someone who has recently experienced it. Many schools will put you in touch with alumni, and there are also tons of online forums for people to talk candidly and frankly about their experience with a school, which are magnificent resources for any applicant. Working with a company that can advise you and connect you with alumni can also be really helpful, if you are struggling to navigate this process on your own.
Chances are, if you are applying to a program in the United States, you are already looking for something different than what you can find around you. The beauty of the American system is it's focus on the individual's experience in an educational intuition, and it's time for you to use that, right from the beginning. The right school is that school that is right for you.
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