US Universities talk an awful lot about the concept of ‘fit’, meaning that the student must fit well with the ethos of the university and the university must fit well with the student personality. This can sound like a hall of mirrors to a UK applicant who is accustomed to the UK system where universities don’t really have a personality in the same way but in the US it is genuinely important. Columbia is a very different university experience to Brown, Cornell is very different to NYU and Harvard and Berkeley are poles apart.
Fortunately there are excellent online resources that help you establish whether you will be a good fit for a US school. Principle among them is the College Board’s ‘Big Future’ website, an online search engine that allows you to select a huge range of your interests and abilities and then prioritise them before getting suggestions for places that fit. You can begin searching ‘Big Future’ here.
While Big Future is great for understanding what the colleges have to offer you for many international students, and their parents, the key question will be, how good is the university. Again here the answer could easily be considered holistically, Malcolm Gladwell makes a convincing argument in his book ‘David & Goliath’ about the merits of attending a university where you are in the upper half of your class, but the most common guides to the best universities are the following.
In the US itself however these ranking systems are subsidiary to the all conquering US News & World Report rankings which don’t bother to consider universities outside the US.
All of these ranking systems should be used as a guide only, reports abound of universities gaming the US News & World report system and the systems themselves can be looked at using the wikipedia page as a starting point but all of this merely highlights how important it is to do your research properly.
The first consideration is where you are willing to go, the US is a huge country with considerable diversity of climate, living costs, population, food and even language. The map below gives the location of the major universities that are most often of interest to overseas applicants and using the links above you can find out where you’ll be warmest, least lonely, richest and most well fed.
But it’s all very well deciding that your personality fits perfectly with Princeton or Stanford, what are your chances of getting in? Ivy League admission statistics for 2014 can be found here. The lowest admissions rates are here, and the highest here (although its unlikely many people reading this will have much interest in a university that admits 93%+ of its applicants)