There are several important factors that must be taken into account throughout the process of researching and choosing a college, university or course. In this section, students will be able to learn more about these factors and begin to develop their own research towards higher education.
When thinking about what to study and where to go to college/university students should ask themselves these questions. Please note: there is no right or wrong answer. This is a process about self-discovery.
- What courses in high school have you enjoyed most?
- Which values are most important to you?
- How have these values developed and evolved?
- What unique gifts and strengths do you possess?
- What event or experience in your life has been the most important so far? (This is the core question of many university application essays.)
- Which do you value more, people or things, action or reflection?
- What emphasis do you place on education?
- What are your academic interests?
- How do you learn best?
- Are there particular teaching methods you find more effective?
- What is your attitude towards studying?
- Is your academic record an accurate representation of your academic ability?
- Have you taken the most challenging courses available?
- What are your grades?
- Have there been circumstances that affected your academic performance?
- What type of extra-curricular activities have you spent most of your time on? Why? Which did you find to be the most fulfilling? Why?
- What is your role in your school and community? What would others recognize as your contributions to the school or community?
- Has the school environment encouraged your skills, interests, and talents?
- How has your family influenced your outlook on life?
- How do you react when faced with people who think or behave differently than you?
- What issues do you feel strongly about?
- What is your social style? Do you prefer to be alone or are you comfortable in large groups?
- How do you make difficult decisions?
Remember, as the student, you are the one driving this process to take the time you need to identify your own style and desires. Once you have learned more about yourself, your likes and dislikes, your interests and the ways in which you learn, it becomes easier to find schools that are a match for you, or - more often - those that are not a match!
Get to Know the College/University
The following list is meant to be a starting off point of what students should consider when evaluating a college/university, it is not exhaustive. Students must determine the order of importance or weight that each factor carries to them and their future goals. They will need to review catalogs, handbooks, brochures, and online listings, and should speak to alumni, college reps, their deans, and others about specific programs, schools, majors or countries they are interested in.
Type of School
- public or private
- religious or secular
- co-ed or single sex
- liberal arts or pre-professional (engineering, business, nursing, etc.)
- conservative or liberal student body
- traditional or progressive
- number of undergraduates
- male/female ratio
- percentage of international students
- residential or commuting
- retention rate after one year
- graduation rate after 4 years (after 6 years)
Location and Surroundings
- geographic location
- urban, suburban, or rural
- proximity to family and friends
- size of town/city
Curriculum and Academic Environment
- degree of competitiveness (what percent of students are admitted?)
- availability of professors for student conferences
- quality of faculty; teaching versus research
- does the school have a core curriculum, if so what does it look like?
- majors offered, can you study more than one thing at the same time, can you create your own major?
- academic pressure and workload
- cost of tuition, room/board, books and supplies
- travel expenses
- financial aid available, percent of students receiving aid (do they depend on loans or grants? do they have scholarships for international students?)
- is the school need blind or need aware?
- will the school commit to meeting 100% of demonstrated need?
- work study programs
- application process
- SAT, ACT, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.
- deadlines (do they have early/priority application dates and deadlines?)
- selectivity, percentage of applicants admitted
- average scores of students admitted (found on the new or incoming student profile on each college website)
- specific course requirements for applicants
- Vestibular or ENEM requirements
- clubs, fraternities, sororities
- weekend events/activities
- religious organizations
- housing: co-ed/single-sex, required for first year/off campus housing possible
- meal plans
- honor system
- class attendance required
- recreational facilities/extra-curricular activities
- international community
Balancing your needs with your choices
Some considerations may conflict with others so it is important for students and families to prioritize and weigh the importance of these and other considerations that are unique to their needs, circumstances, or future goals.
Start developing a long/prospective list by:
- Gathering your grades, scores, awards, activities, interests -- whatever might be of significance to an admissions committee and adding them to MaiaLearning.
- Understanding the difference between Reach, Possible, and Likely schools.
- Preparing a list of colleges with your dean and categorizing the schools by Reach, Possible, Likely.
- Learning to gauge the selectivity of colleges and becoming familiar with colleges that would welcome your application.
- Talking to people – your dean, teachers, administrators, parents, advisors, relatives, other grade 12 students, friends, and recent graduates. Ask for their assessments of you and for their college suggestions.
- Re-checking your list and looking for recurring patterns in your choices. Keep an open mind as you make your initial selections. Do not limit your choices with preconceived ideas. Are important criteria emerging? What are they and are they consistent? What assumptions or rumours need to be investigated and verified? Remember that not all countries and systems measure college success and/or ranking in the same way.
- Listing the academic areas you are interested in pursuing.
- Researching and reading about the colleges on your list. Look at the way they present themselves on their websites, brochures, view-books, pamphlets, catalogs, and letters they send you.
- Talking to any college representatives that come to our school. This will help you learn more about universities and get a sense of the types of colleges and their differences.
- By the end of grade 11, try to cut your college list to 10-15 colleges, arranging them as advised by your dean into the three categories of selectivity (Reach, Possible and Likely schools). By the start of 12th grade, you should have no more than 10 colleges on your list.
If possible, we advise students and families to visit the campuses of the universities they are interested in applying to. If you have time, the ability to do so and it doesn’t conflict with your school responsibilities, it can be a good idea to visit again in the spring (April - May) before accepting offers. This allows you to verify that the program you were offered really has what you want. So if you do have the opportunity to take a university tour, it can be powerful to do so. The real thing makes the statistics come alive.
Each school has its own ambiance so the more you can get a feel for a school, the better. You are not just selecting an educational institution; you are selecting your 'home' for three or four years, and the 'feeling' you get from a place can make a difference. Remember that any visit involving a tour and interview/group information session will require a minimum of two hours. It is virtually impossible to visit more than two schools per day, and even two is difficult if you add in any of the useful activities listed below. We do not recommend that you take time off from school to visit universities. All schools offer visits and information sessions during school breaks.
If you are going to try to visit a school please consider the following:
Before the Visit
- Plan your university tour in advance. If possible, you should try to visit campuses when school is in session – you get a better idea of what a university is really like if you visit when students and faculty are there.
- Contact the school at least three weeks in advance and register for the information and tour (most of this can be done online at the admissions website of the university you are interested in). When available, the university’s admissions office will help to arrange interviews, sessions with professors, stay-overs, etc.
- Do your homework! Research the university’s major options, student body, and activities.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask. Most interviews and group information sessions are an exchange of information. The school wants to promote itself while finding out as much as possible about you. You want to know whether or not the school offers what you need – the only way to find out is to ask.
- Take a copy of your current transcript, including standardized test scores, the School Profile, and art portfolios if appropriate. These will be useful if you are able to secure an interview.
- Bring your parents! They have concerns and questions of their own and are probably as interested in this whole process as you are.
During the Visit
- Spend time in the Student Center (where students hang out).
- Stay overnight on campus where possible.
- Talk to an admissions officer.
- Take a tour of the campus.
- Attend a class in a subject you are interested in.
- Meet with a professor in an academic area of interest.
- Eat a meal in a dining hall.
- Talk to a coach or club advisor.
- Be on time.
- Relax and be yourself. You are looking for a place to live, learn, and grow. The university is looking for someone who will be a happy and successful member of their community.
- Talk with as many people as you can. Meeting a variety of people will give you a more complete picture of what a university is really like.
- Ask questions! If you are being interviewed do not try to dominate the interview, but do ask the things that are important to you.
- If you meet with an individual, be sure to ask for their business card so you can follow-up with a thank you email and contact them should you have follow-up questions.
- If there are important things about you or your background, or achievements you are particularly proud of please be sure to mention those to the Admissions Officer.
After the Visit
- Jot down your impressions of the university while your thoughts are still fresh. Save those notes for future reference. Upload these notes as a journal entry in MaiaLearning. Without these notes, it is very easy to confuse university visits.
- If questions arise after the visit, contact the people you met.
- Send thank-you notes to your interviews or anyone you had an appointment with. Brazil is an interesting place, so consider sending them a thank you postcard!
What Universities and Colleges Consider when Making Admissions Decisions
Academic achievement is still the most important part of any application you will put together. Your academic record is presented via the transcript, which is a list of the courses you have taken throughout high school and the grades you received. Most colleges believe that your performance in high school is the best predictor of future academic success. Admission officers also note the reputation of the school attended. Colleges are aware of the reputation of international schools which have a strong academic emphasis built into their curriculum. This is why they come to visit Avenues, to get to know how and what we teach. This is also why the dean is often asked to comment on whether you took the most challenging courses appropriate for you at our school.
Standardized Tests: SAT/ACT/DUOLINGO/TOEFL
Standardized tests are often an important part of the process and are evaluated in the context of a student’s overall performance. SAT, ACT, IELTS, Duolingo and TOEFL are commonly requested by colleges/universities in North America. If you are applying to universities in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Canada, schools may also want to see AP test scores.
Universities in the United Kingdom also have certain standardized tests that some students must take for specific courses. For example, the Bio-Medical Admissions test or the National Law Aptitude test may be needed. You need to carefully research if you are required to take one of these tests as part of your admissions process.
Letters of Recommendation
References are one of the most influential pieces of the application process. Letters written by the dean, teachers, and other recommenders give the university a snapshot of the applicant as both a student and a person. This allows the admissions officer to see the student in a different light.
To request a letter of recommendation:
- Complete the Student Profile (Part 1 & 2). This document will help your dean understand you and your background better, which will help them write a stronger letter on your behalf.
- Complete the résumé section of Maia. This will highlight all aspects of your high school career for your dean and teachers.
- Request one to two academic references from teachers (this will depend on university requirements, in very few cases you may have to submit three teacher letters).
- Request references from teachers who know you well, taught you in 11th or 12th grade, taught you in an academic core subject, and who can speak to your strengths.
- Formally fill out the form required, ask your recommenders to fill in their name, and share it with your dean. You should also fill in the box with a thank you note to the teacher. Thank them, and tell them which countries you are applying to and which courses you are applying for.
- Make sure your dean and teachers know by when they need to complete your letters of recommendation (this will depend on the school, country, and/or course you are applying to).
Extra- and Co-Curricular Activities / Interests
Many universities want to know the areas in which you have special aptitude, strong involvement, and a high level of commitment. This is particularly important for the United States. Most universities or colleges would rather see a student who can demonstrate a well-developed interest and commitment to a few areas instead of being involved in so many things that their time and commitment are limited.
Work, Internships, & Community Service
Work, internships, and service are often highly valued by admissions officers. Universities are often looking for evidence that a student will positively contribute to their campus and the community at large. They particularly look for leadership experience in these activities. These activities are also considered Extra-Curricular and do not have any added extra weight to them.
Essays/Personal Statement/Motivation Letters
After your academics, this is probably the most important part of the application. You can capture an admissions officer with an essay in a way that standardized tests and transcripts rarely do! The essay is your chance to prove that you will be successful in your chosen course and an asset to the university of your choice. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to complete multiple drafts, and re-drafts of your essays/statements/motivation letters. Also, make sure you share those drafts with your dean.
The Application Itself
Universities will evaluate the way the application is completed. Do not wait until the last minute to do it. Proofread it over and over. Have someone else read it, especially the written piece ---ask a teacher, a friend, another adult. Use a computer for essays unless otherwise noted on the application.
Universities in the United States highly prize individuality, self-reliance, responsibility, and a sense of commitment. It is up to you to make sure those values come through in your application. Admissions officers seek students who are true to themselves and will add something different or unique to their campus.
Children of alumni may receive extra careful review at some universities in the United States. This is particularly true if the student applies Early Decision or Early Action.
Correspondence and contact with the university
Students, not parents, should contact the university. This reflects your commitment and a level of responsibility.
Each college/university has its own admissions criteria, the pieces of which are listed above. Universities want good students with their own unique qualities. Diversity is a priority for many admissions committees. Remember, selective universities are not only deciding if a student has met the requirements for admission but more importantly, which of the highly qualified students merit a place in their student body and will most likely make a difference while there. It is up to you to convince them that you are one of these students.