Shortlisting Universities

Students are often confounded when they realize the enormous choice they have when choosing an undergraduate degree program in the U.S. It is virtually impossible to thoroughly research all of the 4500+ higher education institutions in the U.S. that offer undergraduate programs.

Some of the factors to consider when choosing a program are listed below. Discuss these with your parents, teacher or other trusted well wishers. To help guide this conversation, download this handout on choosing a university in the USA.

After you set your priorities, use a university search engine (list below) to college guide to narrow your search to 15-20 universities meeting your criteria. The most up-to-date information about a university will be on its website. We suggest you do a thorough review of the universities' websites. Begin with the international admissions page for information on their selection criteria, application process, deadlines and ively. Read the financial aid page for information on costs and funding options. The student services pages will provide you with information about campus life and activities. If you know your intended major, you may also wish to check out the department website as well.

Factors to Consider

Students and parents should discuss their expectations and goals for university study, as well as priorities for selecting a university, before beginning to use university search engines.

After ing the type of university and degree, there are many other factors to consider including majors on offer location and campus setting/size campus life competitiveness of admission cost of attendance and funding and accreditation and reputation. How you prioritize these factors is an important decision. We suggest students and parents carefully consider which factors are their top priorities and then begin their search.

Majors on Offer

Although you do not have to decide your major at the time of application, you will want to make sure the university offers degrees in your areas of interest.  You may wish to consult the advice offered by EducationUSA on their website,

Location and Campus Setting/Size

The U.S. spans over six time zones, offering a wide range of geographic and cultural diversity, climates and ways of life. It is important to take into account the location of a university, since this is where you will be living for the next four years.

Generally speaking, the East and West Coasts of the U.S. may seem the most familiar (socially and culturally). In terms of the weather, expect hot and humid summers with mild winters in the South, but mild summers and cold winters in the Northeast. The South and Midwest are known for their more laidback lifestyle, friendly atmosphere and lower cost of living than the Northeast and West Coast. The West Coast is famous for its carefree and more liberal lifestyle. The region also generally boasts nice weather and beautiful outdoor scenery.

You will also want to consider the campus setting (urban, suburban or rural) and size, some universities are as small as 1,000 students and some are larger than 30,000.

Campus Life

Each university has its own distinct atmosphere. It is important to choose the place that is the best fit for you. You may want to consider what type of experience you are looking for – an academically rigorous experience in which you are constantly challenged and kept on your toes or more of a balance between your academic demands and extracurricular interests. You will also want to make sure the universities you have your desired organizations, clubs, athletics, community service opportunities and facilities.

International students also have the option of attending a specialized institution, such as a women's college, historically black college or university, performing arts college, or technical institution. If you are interested in attending a women's college, download our handout on Women's Colleges in the U.S.

Competitiveness of Admission

Please keep the minimum admissions criteria in mind while shortlisting universities.

Some of the top-tier U.S. universities have an admission rate of less than 10%. To help ensure you receive several admissions offers from which to choose, you should a well-rounded list of universities. We recommend applying to a maximum of 2-3 highly-competitive universities and pairing these selections with 2-3 universities at which you fall on the upper end of the average SAT scores and Grade Point Averages of last year's admitted students. This information is usually published on the university website.

If you require university funding in order to be able to attend university in the U.S., you will want to read the section below. Merit-based funding will be reserved for top applicants and so consider applying to 1-2 highly-competitive universities and pairing these selections with 3-4 universities at which you fall on the upper end of the average SAT scores and GPAs of last year's admitted students.

Costs and Availability of Funding

Tuition and fees rates can vary significantly from university to university. The cost of living can vary drastically as well, by location. For more information on funding options and expenses, please see the Paying for U.S. Education section. If college affordability is a key consideration for your university selections, you may wish to try some of these strategies for choosing universities:

  • Consider public universities to minimize the initial tuition and fees rates charged
  • Choose universities at which there is a lower cost of living, such as universities in suburban or rural areas or in the South and Midwest
  • Choose universities that offer significant need-based financial aid. For information on universities that offer full or partial scholarships to international students, contact the EducationUSA offices at USIEF.
  • Choose universities that offer scholarships for Indian/international students. You can find a list of the universities that offer this type of scholarship in the handout on university funding for undergraduate study Scholarships announcements are also available from the EducationUSA Twitter page.
  • Choose universities at which you will be a top student: If you think you would be eligible for academic merit scholarships, you will want to make sure you apply to universities where you are well above the average SAT and marks of admitted students, since funding is often reserved for top students.
  • Attend a community college. Community colleges prepare students to pursue a Bachelor's degree and community college graduates can easily transfer to a four-year university after completing two years of study in a two-plus-two arrangement. Community colleges are often a low-cost option and have less competitive admission requirements than a four year university.

Accreditation and Reputation

"Keep an open mind about all U.S. schools. While statistics and reputations of different institutions are important, nothing is more valuable than the instinctive feeling about a university." - Colette, University of Virginia

Indian students should make sure that universities that they are shortlisting are accredited by a CHEA-recognized accrediting body and/or are listed in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database and/or the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Programs and Institutions.

As you conduct your search, keep in mind that there is no centralized, authoritative ranking system of U.S. universities. Unofficial rankings, such as U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review's rankings, will give you a general idea of the academic reputation and relative prestige of a university. However, it is important to realize that a top 20, or even top 100, list of universities covers only a small percentage of the universities available. You should read the fine print on how rankings are determined. Rankings are not always based upon factors that could impact you most, such as class size, teaching quality, student advising, faculty access and opportunities for research, internships and campus activities.

Resources to Research and Choose Universities

You may wish to use the university search engines on any of the following websites:

The EducationUSA centers at USIEF maintain libraries with comprehensive references on applying to U.S. colleges and universities, including print university directories. The educational fairs offer an opportunity to meet with U.S. university representatives in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore while you finalize your university selections.

For any query on U.S. higher education, call us on our EdUSA toll-free hotline 1800-103-1231 between 2pm and 5pm (Monday-Friday)