How to start researching universities for DPY1 students

Written By : Ranjika B.

The dreaded question that plagues the minds of DPY1 students: “Which university do you plan to go to?” If you have absolutely no idea on how to start researching universities, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, I will outline the factors to consider when researching universities and various tools you can use to create a list of universities you wish to apply to. 

Prioritize and make choices: Main factors to consider 

The first step to researching universities is narrowing down on the choice of major. For some, this is a very easy step as they have a clear idea of what they want to study from an early stage. For others, this is extremely perplexing. Remember that you do not need to have a fixed plan for your college major right from the beginning. Try to identify the subjects that interest you and look up possible majors in that field. In the beginning, you may have many options that interest you. Narrow down the choice by considering the following factors → 

  1. Location: Do you wish to study abroad or study close to home? Depending on the location, you can narrow down your search. If you wish to study abroad, identify which countries have universities with good programmes that interest you. 
  2. Public or private university: Depending on your interests and finances, you may choose either a private or public university. Typically, public universities are free for the residents of that country, or have minimal tuition fees.
  3. Financial aid or scholarship: Recognize whether or not you require financial aid and scholarships, and look for the programme that interests you which offers such opportunities. Note that many scholarship opportunities are dependent on your nationality. There are merit-based and need-based scholarship opportunities, some that combine both these aspects. 
  4. Career prospects and network: Find out the placements of graduates from your college major and the career prospects for you after you graduate. It is also important for you to have the opportunity to network with your peers and professors.
  5. Admission requirements: Identify the requirements, for example, your academic grades, extracurriculars and volunteering experiences, that you need to get accepted into the programme and whether you would be able to meet these requirements or not. 

Additional factors to consider 

  1. Housing: Does the location offer student dorms or would you need to rent an apartment? Typically, universities in the US and Canada have student accommodation in the form of dorm rooms, whereas in Europe students live in shared rented apartment. Identify which is a better fit for you. 
  2. Transportation: Does the location have a good public transportation network? Residential university campuses are usually equipped with all sorts of facilities, which makes the transportation costs minimal. However, for other universities, consider how well connected the transportation network is. 
  3. Extracurriculars: Does the university offer the extracurriculars that you’re interested in? Find out if they have a music, sport, dance, film etc. club for your extracurricular interests. 
  4. Safety: Is the location safe and student friendly?

  5. Acceptance rate: Depending on your grades and experiences, would you get accepted into the university based on their acceptance rate? 
  6. Demographics of the student population: Is the university international and inclusive of students from various ethnic or religious backgrounds, or LGBTQIA+ student. 
  7. Social life: Are there activities and opportunities for things you can do when you are not studying? 

Create a list of schools  

Taking into account all these factors, create a list separated into three columns: 

  1. Reach schools: Schools that have a lower acceptance rate and that are harder to get into, with a good programme of interest you. 
  2. Likely schools: Schools that you could get into if you continue working hard in school and consistently score your current/higher grades. 
  3. Safety schools: Schools that you could easily get into based on your capabilities and interests. 

Remember, this list can be long now, but narrow it down by the end of the academic year. It is also important to be realistic in setting your goals. Make sure to apply to at least one safety school so that you have something to fall back on in the event that you do not get into your desired university. It is always important to have a back up option. In order to identify your likely schools, check their admission requirements and see if you already have the required skills or if you can easily achieve them by putting in a little more effort 

Tools to Find Universities 

Now, you might be reading all these factors and worrying about where you can find this information. Luckily, there are many tools you can use to find the universities that you may apply to. 

  1. QS World Rankings: QS rankings is one of best tools for researching universities. It allows you to see where different universities rank globally. You can also see subject specific rankings, which can be very useful for you to identify programmes that are suited for your major. Moreover, it provides detailed information about the university, such as the tuition fees, number of international students and career outputs. It is also extremely global, meaning you can find information about universities in all parts of the world.
  2. Cappex: Cappex is a website that allows you to personalize your university search. It is an extremely useful tool that allows you to compare different universities, and even filter for the different factors. It allows you to fill in your personal profile, find colleges that would fit you and your interests and even find useful scholarships. It has a limited catalogue of universities outside of the United States.
  3. College Navigator: College Navigator is a similar tool to Cappex, but it is specific to the United States, one of the most popular student destinations.
  4. College Fairs: Many of the times your school or government will organize college fairs where you can speak with representatives of various universities and find out the answers to all your questions. It can be useful to research the universities that will be in the college fair before attending the event, so that you can narrow down the representatives you want to speak to and make a list of questions that you have. They are also a good starting point, in case you do not have a clear idea as to where you wish to study, because they can give you some clarity about what you want from university.
  5. Family and friends: Of course, the best people to help you with your search for universities are those closest to you. Ask your friends where they plan to study, or your seniors and older friends why they chose their university. 

Start Gathering Relevant Experience 

Now that you have some idea of which universities you would want to apply to, identify what these universities look for in their students by visiting their websites, speaking to current students and speaking to your school college counsellor. One useful tip for IB students is to use your CAS experiences in meeting those requirements. Some universities have a strong focus on extracurriculars and volunteering, and the CAS reflections you write for similar experiences will be very useful for you to write your application essays in the future. 

Make sure that your IBDP subjects are in line with the admission requirements, for example, some university programmes require Mathematics HL or English HL, and also require a minimum grade in these subjects. If you feel that you require extra help in those subjects, consider getting a tutor to help you meet those admission requirements. 

Finally, make friends with your teachers! It is difficult to understate the weight carried by the letters of recommendation in your university acceptance decision. If you are on your teacher’s good books, you are more likely to receive a positive letter of recommendation that will aid you in your application. 

Good luck on your university search! 


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