How to choose a degree program/university?


9 factors to consider while choosing a degree program/university

1) Ranking:

There are extensive major specific lists available online that rank universities. A good start would be to understand the tiered structure. Typically, rank 1-50 are considered tier 1, 51-100 are tier 2 and 101-150 are tier 3.

2) Degree Programs:

They are so many degrees that are available. The choice of the degree is very important. Differences in names have a great impact. For example, MS in Computer Science, MS in Applied Computer Science, MS in Software Engineering, MS in Information Systems, MS in Information Technology etc. Each of these degrees has a different focus in the course curriculum though all these degrees are typically offered by the Computer Science department. Not just that, each degree has various requirements to fulfill. Some require you complete course work only; others want you to complete course work and a project. Some would require a thesis. It is extremely important to educate yourself about these details before you choose a particular degree program at a particular university.

3) Scores and supporting documents:

Each department will have a specific list of admission requirements that they provide as a guideline for students to use. However, an application evaluation committee does not blindly judge based on scores and gpa. They look at the entire application packet that comprises of resume, statement of purpose, letters of support, awards, certifications, work experience details etc. It is always advisable to apply to 5 or 6 universities.

Apply to 1 university that may have requirements that are a little higher than your credentials and also, apply to 1 university that may have requirements that a below than your credentials.

4) Research Focus:

Whether you are planning to get a BS or a MS or a PhD, you can participate in the research. Typically, faculties within a department have various research areas. So, there are several options available for you to choose. Students need to spend more time to understand a department’s research goals, particularly if the plan is to enroll in the PhD program. It is always a benefit to align yourself with a research group that productive (which will be evident based on the lab/group’s publication/grants record).

5) Financial Support:

Every student aspires to get a free ride. Every university has various forms of funding ranging from scholarships to assistantships. Most universities have a separate deadline to be considered for financial aid. Students need to be aware of that and have to apply early enough. Communicating with students that are currently enrolled in the programs would give you great insights. If you have an interest in research or otherwise, it is good to communicate with faculty and volunteer to work with them. It is important that students do not request funding in their introductory email to faculty. Finding out the international and full time student population within a department and how many of those students are funded might give you a good ratio. I would encourage students to apply to departments that have a lesser number international students. This gives you a great chance to get funded as early as your first semester. Contacting career services and visiting other departments on campus (after arrival) also gives you a great chance to find financial support.

6) Climate:

For international students, it is very important that they understand the climatic conditions. The south is warmer in the US and typically, universities are not as expensive when compared to their northern counterparts. Students need to prepare to face the climatic conditions from a health point of view. They should also prepare to have the proper clothing and have a planned commute (private car, metro, university shuttle etc) during their stay.

7) Urban vs rural setting:

There are some merits to choose a university that is located in/near a big city. It improves chances to find internships, or jobs after graduation as you can build relationships with the industrial community during your stay. Further, larger cities have more to offer: services, entertainment, hospitals, and so on.

8) Safety:

Crime statistics are available online. It goes without saying that crime is prevalent throughout the US, like anywhere else in the world. As a foreign national, you will have to be circumspect in choosing the place where you live.

9) International Community:

Availability of international community around the university of your choice is usually a blessing. It helps students to overcome homesickness during their stay. It helps them continue their regular activities like visiting a temple, eating a favorite food, getting regional groceries etc. However, the downside is there will be a lot of competition for funding and jobs

because of a huge international population.

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