Shortlisting the right universities for you
In this section you can:
- Learn about the best way to prepare a university shortlist from the experts.
- Think about the critical questions that need answers.
- Find out the right number of universities for your shortlist.
- Get answers to your frequently asked questions.
- Get our insider tips and tricks.
The Expert View
Find the right place for you..
Read this to get the complete picture…
There are just so many universities to choose from, thousands in fact. How are you going to make your shortlist? And how many universities are you going to have on your shortlist? How many will you end up applying to?
Over the summer between grade 11 in grade 12 you will have to make the shortlist of universities you are actually going to apply to, because when you get back to school in grade 12 that is when the application season begins. So let’s take a look and see how Wigsbury can help you make that crucial shortlist.
Tips & Tricks
Start shortlisting and preparing your application paperwork early – many grade 12 students have remarked that applying to university is like doing an extra IB subject.
It’s like a pair of shoes..
Don’t look for the perfect university, it doesn’t exist. Look for the right fit for you.
Don’t unless you want to
Never apply to university unless you are serious about going there, you may have to!
Start now… right now!
This takes a long time, so get started now!
Grade 11 students in particular are prone to underestimate the amount of time it takes to make a shortlist, and then actually make the applications. Grade 12 students who have finished their applications have a much more realistic view about how much time it all takes. Go and talk to a grade 12 student as he or she can give you some good advice on creating a shortlist as well the whole time management aspect of applying.
Remember you’re going to have to write essays, motivation letters, a personal statement etc. These all take time, which is why preparing a shortlist is so important as it will help focus you on what you are really looking for from a university, as well as helping you to manage your time during the application process in grade 12.
Lots to consider!
Reducing a very large number of universities down to very small number requires setting priorities, making compromises but above all it requires self-reflection.
What is important to you?
The answer to this question is the key to successfully accomplishing this task.
Good offering of academic majors, minors and electives.
How good is the teaching quality? How is it ranked?
Is there an active alumni network? This will be important to you in the years to come as you seek to develop your career. Check out their website.
Look at the cost of tuition fees and housing. Is there a meal plan included?
Big city, small city, campus. What suits you best? This will impact on your whole student experience. Being in the middle of a big city like New York is very different from being on a campus university like Warwick (UK). It’s a personal preference.
And then there is the country… where do you want to go and live for 3 or 4 years?
Size is important
50,000 or 500? Big difference in the range of academic offerings and extra-curricular.
Huge choice of everything or small and personal where you keep bumping into people that you know.
Proximity to family
Do you want to stay close to family or break out to make your own life?
Social emotional counseling support
Some students struggle with leaving home, is there a counseling service to help you? Is there a 24/7 helpline?
Facilities on campus
Library, shops, bank, medical center, cafeteria, theatre, club, sports facilities, Job Centre etc.
Are there bars, social events areas on campus?
If you’re going to study in a country where you don’t speak the local language, even though the university teaches in English, do you want to learn that language? Would you feel isolated if you couldn’t understand the people in the local shop?
Does the country you’re proposing to study in allow you to stay and work after graduation? Are you planning on staying in the country long-term? Maybe eventually becoming a citizen?
Small class size means more individual attention.
Internships/placement/ sandwich courses/ co-op programs, exchange programs with foreign universities.
Dual degrees at two universities
Can you divide your time between two universities and graduate with two degrees?
Have a look at where the graduates end up working. How much help and guidance did they receive from the university careers office?
University housing – single room, shared room, catered, en suite, other facilities. Rent an apartment/house with other students etc.
Easy to get to. Near the airport.
Student satisfaction rating
Check out the ratings online.
Concerts, theatre, quiz nights etc. on campus
Public transport links
How well is the city served with public transportation? Is there a shuttle bus service from the campus to the city center? If I rent an apartment in town, how easy is it to get to the university for my lectures?
At most universities you can play competitive sports, usually against other universities or local teams. Can you play intramurals, these are less competitive/ just for fun? Look and see what sports are on offer.
If you’ve never lived in a really hot climate, or a really cold climate, how do you feel about experiencing temperature extremes?
Are you adventurous and would like to live in a country with a radically different culture to your own? Or would you rather stay with something more familiar?
Work opportunities during the course
How important is it for you to work? Do you need to part finance your course? Are you allowed to work in that country? Are you allowed to work on the campus only? Are you allowed to work a restricted number of hours? Remember you will be there on a student visa, if you plan to work, you need to check this out.
Some critical questions that need to be asked
Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.
Do I want to go to university straight from school, or take a gap year?
Which country do I want to study in?
How flexible am I if I don’t find the perfect university that meets all my demands?
Do I want to apply for a specific subject, or should I take a broader program?
What is my budget?
Narrowing things down…
The above list of factors to consider is already long, and you want to make a shortlist. Just as with selecting a course, you need to select what is important for a university to provide you with.
One suggestion would be to narrow the above list down to the following key areas:
These three areas impact students on a daily basis, and will preoccupy you throughout most of your time at university.
You are probably already thinking about the cost and whether you have enough IB points to meet the entrance requirements. These are, of course, important considerations, but let’s put them to one side for the moment and focus on finding the university that you would like to go to. We will look later on at whether you are able to afford the tuition fees and whether you have enough IB points. So let’s get searching and draw up a shortlist.
✅ You need to look at the course content, look at the units you’ll study and ask yourself the question, ‘does this course fulfil my requirements?’
✅ And then there’s teaching style, is it problem-based learning or lecture-based learning? Or a mixture?
✅ How is the course assessed? Continuous assessment, or end of course exams, or a mixture?
✅ Are you looking for a mixture of academic and practical work experience/placement/ internship?
✅ Who will be teaching me? Lecturers or post grad students?
✅ Will I have my own academic tutor?
✅ How big are the class sizes?
✅ What are the facilities like? Laboratories etc.
Universities offer a huge variety of clubs, societies, hobbies etc.
Check out the facilities. Check out the list of extra-curricular activities that you could potentially participate in. Maybe do something new like try out learning to fly. Does the university have a flying club?
When you’re not in lectures or doing extra-curricular activities, the chances are you will be in the housing, in your room. This is going to be home from home, but don’t expect it to be as comfortable and spacious as your parents’ home!
✅ Do you want a single room or are you prepared to share?
✅ Do you want en-suite facilities?
✅ Are you going to do your own cooking? If yes, what are the kitchens like and how far do you have to carry the groceries back to where you live? Is the dormitory/hall of residence catered?
✅ Are there plenty of cafeterias on the campus?
✅ Do you want to live in an apartment where you have your own bedroom and share a kitchen and living room?
✅ Do you want to live in university housing or rent an apartment or house in the city? If you rent an apartment in the city, how good is the transport connection to the campus?
✅ Does the dormitory/hall of residence have laundry facilities? Is there a bar? Is there a common room?
It’s very important to check out the facilities, as you will be spending a lot of time in your housing. It’s one of the key determining factors, and yet many students overlook this and only think about housing after they have been offered a place.
Achieving greater focus
So you haven’t quite managed a shortlist yet, but you have at least managed to create a ‘shorter’ list based on your priorities, particularly academics, housing and extra-curricular.
Now might be a good time to offer a reminder of the basics: you can go to university if you have the money, the grades and you make the application deadlines.
Let’s assume you’re going to meet the application deadlines, so now we can go back and focus on:
- The Money.
- The Grades.
Remember that there are two main components to university costs: tuition fees and living expenses – housing, food etc. In order to save yourself a lot of time and disappointment, go and to talk to your parents and find out what the budget is going to be. Having established that, you are now in a position to make your shortlist a little shorter. This is one way to come close to the final list of universities that you’ll apply to. The other way is to look at the entry requirements.
Universities offer a huge number of academic courses. You need to check and see if the course content meets your needs, if you can combine courses, if there is a good selection of minors and electives. And then there are the extras: exchange programs, work opportunities, placements, internships etc,
In simple terms, check to see if your grades match the entry requirements of the university. If they do not but they are close, then you can leave that university on your shortlist. If you dream of going to Harvard and your SAT scores are only 1150, or if you dream of going to Oxford and your IB scores are only 32, then it is best to look somewhere else. This is what shortlisting is all about, making realistic decisions that will help you identify universities that you really want to go to, and have a good chance of being accepted at.
Things you can do that will make a big difference.
Undertake a period of self reflection
Make a list of possible universities
Make a list of priorities
Check you have the money and the grades to get accepted
How many universities should you apply to?
‘Reach, Target and Safety University’
This is not such a simple question as it might appear, there are many factors that come into play here.
Are you applying to only one country or multiple countries?
If you are applying to the UK, then the UCAS application software restricts you to applying to 5 courses – usually 5 universities (only 4 if you are applying to medicine/dentistry/ VetMed).
If you are applying to the Netherlands, then you can only apply to 4 universities.
If you are applying to the United States, then there is no limit other than factors such as the time needed for the applications and the application fees.
Many students who apply to universities in more than one country soon find themselves applying to a relatively large number of universities. All of this is interesting, but what really concerns you is how many universities you need to apply to in order to get accepted.
Many students adopt the ‘Reach, Target and Safety University’ method. This has several advantages:
It allows you to apply to universities where the admissions requirements in terms of academic grades may be a little higher than you are currently achieving (Reach Universities).
It ensures that you apply to universities where you exceed the admissions requirements in terms of the academic grades and are therefore almost guaranteed to be made an offer of a place. (Safety Universities).
If you decide to pursue the ‘Reach, Target and Safety University’ method, you will probably not need to apply to more than 2 reach, 3 or 4 target and 3 or 4 safety. These numbers are of course flexible both up and down. The Reach, Target and Safety University’ method is easy to manage when you are comparing universities and applying to universities within one country. E.g. USA. But what happens when you are applying to multiple countries? It is much more complicated to make these comparisons. The advice Wigsbury can offer you is to treat each national system as a stand-alone unit, and to make sure that you have reach, target and safety universities in each country. This way you will achieve the necessary spread.
Well, we have just discussed the strategy of ‘Reach, Target and Safety University’ which will hopefully ensure your success in obtaining a place to study based on your academic grades. But what about the other factors that play a role in university selection and application?
These vary considerably from country to country.
E.g. The UK operates a centralized system limiting you to applying to 5 courses (universities) and the cost is GBP 25 for all five. In the United States you have to pay an application fee to each university you apply to – typically in the range of $50-$100, although some may be higher.
There are private universities in Europe that are charging €200 for each application.
Now you understand the importance of the shortlist.
Short list versus long list
Despite the issues of time and money, many students are convinced that if they apply to a lot of universities, they have a better chance of getting in.
Now consider this scenario: imagine that you are an admissions tutor at a university and your university is looking for students who have achieved, or are predicted to achieve, 35 IB points. The application in front of you is from a student with 36 IB points. Easy, you offer him or her a place and as an admissions tutor you neither know nor care how many other universities that student has applied to. They have met your requirements and you have offered them a place.
From your perspective as a student, you have met the admissions requirements and you have been offered a place. Did you apply to 5 other universities, or 55 other universities? The question is irrelevant, the admissions tutor is giving you a place because you met the admissions requirements.
What all this means is that providing you tick the boxes when making your shortlist –and the admissions requirements is a very important box – you will receive an offer of a place irrespective of how many other universities you’ve simultaneously applied to.
All of this brings us back to the beginning: set priorities and make a shortlist, and by that we mean a shortlist that will ensure that you do not have too much application work to do in grade 12, and will ensure your successful entry into a university that you are excited about studying at.
Be flexible, be positive and have then fun at university!
Wigsbury Frequently asked questions
Quick answers to the important questions
How many universities should I have on my shortlist?
Not too many, set some priorities. Applying to university is a lot of work and it will take up far more time that you can imagine. Also if you apply to universities where you meet their admissions requirements, they will make you an offer of a place, so you really don’t need to apply to a vast number of universities. But at the end of the day, never apply to a university unless you’re seriously prepared to go there. You may have to!
How many countries should I apply to?
There is no upper or lower limit, but remember only apply to universities that you want to go to. And also consider whether you can imagine yourself living in a particular country.
Is there a limit on the number of applications I can make?
Theoretically, the sky is the limit, however remember it is going to be a lot of work and a lot of time needs to be invested in this. Set yourself priorities, follow the ‘Reach, Target and Safety University’ method. Some schools set limits on the number of applications a student is allowed to submit. Ask your college counselor.
What happens if I can’t find the perfect university?
Don’t worry, you won’t! The perfect university doesn’t exist, but you can look for a good fit, somewhere where you will be happy and successful. This is what you must strive to do.
I have found my dream university, but I don’t have enough IB points to get in. What do I do?
If your grades are close enough, then you can try. But make sure you have a backup plan just in case.
I found two universitas I like; however one is significantly more expensive than the other one. What should I do?
First of all figure out whether it is worth the extra money, and think about whether the cheaper one would also meet your needs; and finally, talk to your parents about what they can afford.