Everyone aspires to study in a good university in the USA or Canada, but very few actually know how to create a university list. What is good for you, may not be for a hundred others, and vice versa.
My process for creating a university list
The best way to create a list is by doing your own research. Thorough research. My way of shortlisting programs for clients takes deeper view of the longer term, rather than just receiving admission. My process usually includes the following steps:
1. The best way to begin creating a broad list is through rankings. If you have gone through my post or attended the GPA 101 workshop (which will be offered again from June 2022), you will know that university rankings can help you judge whether your scores are good enough or not. Do not rely too much on rankings, as they can be deceptive at times. Use it only to begin your broader search.
2. Judge universities based on the minimum and recommended/average undergraduate marks/GPA they mention, GRE/GMAT requirements (or average GRE score if mentioned), and acceptance rate. Avoid selecting a university if you do not meet their minimum requirements.
3. Your expectations must match what the program offers. For instance, if you are interested in a research-oriented career and want to build your research abilities, select a program accordingly. However, if you are interested in only upskilling yourself and transitioning to a better job, you would be more likely to receive admission to a professional program/degree.
4. Check the curriculum and courses offered, the flexibility to choose electives, dual degrees, etc.
5. For those interested in working in a corporate job after their masters, look for industry associations between the department companies. Go through services offered by the department’s or university’s career centre (or equivalent). Look for networking opportunities, events within and outside the campus that could get you closer to discovering and building associations with companies.
6. Attend an information session! A lot of programs have information sessions for prospective applicants, which are free. Some may even offer application fee waivers. This is your opportunity to understand how the program fits your objectives and much more.
7. Think about your experience during the masters. What kind of projects do you want to get involved with? Who do you want to work with? Go through research/work-while-study opportunities and make a list of groups and faculty that you like.
8. Consider tuition and living expenses. Every university provides an estimate of costs (without any financial aid), and these may vary considerably depending on the type of university, program, and location.
9. Consider financial aid opportunities such as assistantships. These are not offered by all programs and universities.
10. Get in touch with alumni and current students. You will be surprised at the insights you can gain by just chatting with a few other people. LinkedIn is a great way to reach out to others.
11. Consider the location in terms of your future career goals. Look for universities with easy access to cities and other hubs. And be smart about this. For example, read this post about emerging cities in the US for tech-related opportunities.
If you are looking for an actual university list, make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I will be posting a lot of university lists such as Top 50 Computer Science Master’s Programs in North America (under development) and resources over the next few weeks!
If you find this post useful, please do leave a like and share it! For any comments or clarifications, you can reach my WhatsApp at the end of this post.
The most important step in nailing your university list, that MOST applicants miss
Once you like a program, make sure to check faculty profiles. Do not shy away from writing to professors, alumni, and the admissions committee! Bear in mind though, that this approach is not for all fields of study, and the requirements/expectations from applicants vary by professor, degree (MS, Professional Degrees, MBA, PhD, etc.) and programme requirements. Carefully go through faculties’ websites and understand what is expected from applicants. Do not bombard a dozen professors with the same email asking for funding or an RA/TA position. If I have to explain why that is terrible, you really need to work on your soft skills. Having that said, even if you do not contact faculty before or during applications, you may be more likely to get a response after you have received an offer of admission. They are often sources of key information not mentioned anywhere else.
To help you learn about how to contact professors, I will draft an entire email FOR FREE, and provide several tips on writing emails to faculty.
Several of my clients have been able to secure a non-mandatory teaching assistantship or research assistantship, which not only covers their tuition but also pays a decent stipend!
What else to look for
Again, look for the courses that are offered, explore the program website, familiarise yourself with the curriculum, and degree requirements. Ask yourself if those excite you. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good match between your goals and what the program offers. Don’t simply choose a university or program because it is something that is “trending” or you think it might lead to a good job. Follow your taste and passion.
Keep in mind a few don’ts
DO NOT choose certain universities that give i20s easily, have very low admission requirements, do not need an English Proficiency Test, etc. Avoid it even if there is a single red flag. If you are unsure about a university, look it up here.
Avoid the “ambitious, moderate, safe” method. That method is inferior, in my opinion, and largely relies on the universities’ ranks. Using the ranks should just be your starting point and not the sole criteria. And even if followed, it should be the absolute last step, just to avoid under or overachieving.
Avoid choosing a professional program, just because it will work out to be cheaper. Many universities offer 1-year programs (mostly professional/executive programs, such as this at the University of Washington). Although they are cheaper overall, generally, their value is not as much as a 2-year program, especially if you have less or no prior work experience.
There is no website or “AI-based search engine” (yet, that I know of) that can match a few days of thorough research (as discussed above) to create a university shortlist. Avoid asking on Facebook or paying for any such tools.
The final selection
Make a list of 5-6 universities that you think are a good fit for you, after collating all the above information. By all means, apply to a couple of programs if you love them, but maybe a little out of your reach, but don’t be overambitious, or play it too safe!
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The following are certain products/services that students will definitely need for getting through graduate school!