Important Guidelines to Select Your Ideal College

September 26, 2021

How can you select your ideal college

Methods to put together your very own college list to have the best chance of being accepted

Deciding which college to apply to in the US can be daunting. Where do you begin? With over 5000 educational institutions to choose from, you are most probably at your wit’s end of how to go about selecting a college or university.

Since you are keen on studying in the US you will already be aware of reputed educational institutions like Princeton University, Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, etc.

However, you are most probably clueless about how each of these colleges is unique and how many other alternatives you can choose from.

If you are under-informed about the kind of options you can have access to, you may commit either of the two mistakes while putting together your college list:

Sending applications to numerous colleges

You will know or have heard of students who have sent undergraduate admission applications to 20-30 colleges with the expectation of being accepted in at least one of the reputed colleges. But this grand plan is like shooting in the dark because the student dilutes the application process, as he has to allocate his time and care to so many applications. As a result, his applications will be of a poor standard.

Sending applications to just the reputed colleges

Many students are horse blinkered and send undergraduate admission applications to either the colleges in their neighbourhood or to some of the reputed colleges. They are limited by their poor knowledge of the options available. As a result, they may miss the chance of applying to a reputed college that may match their academic goals and be a good fit for them. So, for instance, many students will apply to Princeton University or Columbia University because they know that these are reputed universities but miss out on applying to Northwestern University or Duke University.

It will be advantageous for you to first explore all the educational institutions and understand which of them offer the program you want to pursue. Thereafter, you should compile a list of colleges that are a good mix of ‘reach’, ‘target’, and ‘safety’ colleges.

While you are compiling this list, include only those colleges that you’d love to study at – why suffer something for four years after all the effort you put in to get there?

For a novice, compiling such a list from the maze of educational institutions in the US can be challenging so we’ve put down features you should examine while attending to this critical task.

Feature #1

Applying to many colleges

Sending out undergraduate admission applications to many colleges enhances your chances of being accepted – by the law of averages.

But when you send undergraduate admission applications, your intention should be to get accepted at a specific college – leaving no room to chance. It is different when you apply for a graduate program since then, you will be aspiring to simply get accepted somewhere.

While putting together your college list, choose 10-12 colleges, and broadly split them into three categories:

  • Safety Colleges – your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores will be beyond the 75th percentile of students who are accepted. So you will have an assurance of being accepted on the basis of your academic profile.

Include 2-3 such colleges on your list.

  • Target Colleges – your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores will be in the region of the 50th and 75th percentile of students who are accepted. So you will have a good chance of being accepted on the basis of your academic profile.

Include 4-6 such colleges on your list.

  • Reach Colleges – your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores will be in the region of the 25th and 50th percentile of students who are accepted. So your chances of being accepted on the basis of your academic profile stand in balance – it can sway either way.

Include 3-4 such colleges on your list.

  • Far Reach Colleges – your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores will be less than that of the 25th percentile of students who are accepted. So your chances of being accepted on the basis of your academic profile will be lean.

Including 1 such college on your list is optional.

An aside:

While compiling your list be aware of your academic profile and thus be realistic of your chances of being accepted at the Ivy League and reputed colleges where the acceptance rate is in single digits.

If your high school GPA and SAT/ACT score aren’t a match for the undergraduate admission requirements at such reputed colleges, it’s better to include such colleges in the ‘reach’ or’ far reach’ category.

Generally, such colleges are very picky and will not necessarily be swayed by an outstanding extracurricular profile, fantastic essays, and personal statement, your choosing to apply early even when your grades are within the acceptable range. So it’s hard to include such colleges in the ‘safety’ or ‘target’ category.

You should send undergraduate admission applications to only those colleges that you would love to study at. Even if your chances are good of being accepted at a college, it should not be the reason you include it in your ‘safety college’ list if you aren’t very excited about studying at that college. When there are so many colleges to choose from why should you spend all that time and effort to apply to the college and settle for something that doesn’t excite you?

An aside:

There are some universities like the University of California that has numerous campuses in the state. So when a student applies to more than one of the numerous colleges of the University of California, it should be counted as just one application as UC needs only one application with the same essays, etc.

If you think to have excellent high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores will open up doors to the best colleges for you, then, you are sadly mistaken. When college admission staff peruses undergraduate admission applications, they may use these scores for segregating students but it won’t influence their selection totally. Before accepting a student, they peruse all aspects of the student applications – the student’s social circumstances, extracurricular profile, and all other factors that have shaped the student. So your GPA and test scores will demonstrate your academic capabilities but you should use the essays to the hilt to showcase yourself.

Feature #2

Choosing a Major, a Program or an Opportunity

The majors and programs that are offered by colleges that are in the same grade/level will never be the same. Each university will have something unique to offer so you must peruse the details before putting any college in your list.

Choosing a Major

Before including a college in your list, you will have checked that they offer the major you are interested in. For instance, if you are interested in Agriculture Science or Hotel Management, and cannot decide whether to include Cornell or Dartmouth in your list, you should go for Cornell that offers better programs in both the majors.

You should also consider keeping your options open for a change in your leanings towards a major. So include those colleges that have fascinating options too which you can explore if necessary.

Choosing a Program

Think ahead – chalk out your academic and career goals. By doing this, you will simplify your college selection since you will know exactly what you want to achieve from a program.

For instance, if you want to take up journalism with a special interest in reporting news in the Middle East, you have spelled out your needs to the last detail. Northwestern University will be the best fit for you because it not only has the reputed Medill School of Journalism but also a Middle East study abroad program.

Choosing an Opportunity

While choosing a college you should also consider the various extracurricular activities that it offers, and which may be of interest to you. Such activities may include the athletics program, volunteering, doing community service, participating in socially relevant initiatives, etc.

Feature #3

Program Cost and Financial Assistance

Studying at a college in the US doesn’t come cheap. You are either born with a silver spoon and have no such monetary concerns, or you and your parents will have to look for avenues to pay for your education. This could even lead to taking loans to pursue your dreams.

In 2017-18 the cost of studying at private, non-profit colleges for a four-year program in the US had increased by 26% over a period of ten years. The increase was 37% at public colleges for a four-year program and 32% for a two-year program. The US College Board arrived at these figures after considering inflation.

I have only re-phrased this – please check if you want to update these figures

The current cost of studying at a US college is:

Tuition and Fees, Room and Board, Total

  1. Private, non-profit colleges four-year program:

$35,830 + $12,680 = $48,510*

  1. Public colleges four-year program:

$10,230 + $11,140 = $21,370*

  1. Public two-year program:

$3,600 + $8660 = $12,320*

* These are ballpark figures

FYI, I picked up the above figures from

While the figures mentioned above can make your head spin, it doesn’t give you the whole picture. On the one hand are the public colleges with remarkably lower tuition fees and on the other, the reputed private colleges that charge over three times what a public college charges. But it is the private colleges that receive a lot of donations and funding from alumni and therefore, can offer financial aid to a large percentage of applicants.

In reality, while studying at a private college looks like an expensive affair, most of the students will have to pay very much less than the listed costs since it will be taken care of with merit or need-based financial aid or grants.

Students can meet their other financial needs with loans, on-campus work, and scholarships.

Be aware that your family may not fulfill the pre-requisites for you to be eligible for need-based aid. So you should keep your options open to include colleges that offer merit-based aid. The best colleges – that includes all the Ivy League universities and crème de la crème universities, seldom offer merit-based financial aid since all the students who apply are academically outstanding students.

Feature #4

Where and how big or small is the college?

First and foremost, you should be clear in your mind about where you want to spend your undergraduate years.

Besides considering the academic program that you wish to pursue which is offered by a college, the kind of life you will lead for those four years is also of great consequence. So you should ask yourself the following questions when you are compiling your college list:

  • Will I be happier studying at a college in an urban or rural setting?
  • Will I be able to cope with living in a cold place or will I be more comfortable in a sunnier place?
  • Will I be able to live far from my family?

When it comes to the size of a college, it can range from the student body comprising 8,000+ students or 25,000+ students.

The colleges themselves try to devote time to students by having smaller classes – especially for the higher classes so that the teaching process is more personal.

Students also can get help from teaching assistants so they don’t feel lost.

Besides, there are always numerous community-building pursuits.

So while each college will offer you a different experience, if you are overwhelmed when amidst crowds, then you may feel lost in a large setting.

However, large colleges have their own advantages. If you have an inclination for athletics, it is the larger colleges that have powerful athletic programs that few small colleges can match. Besides, when will you ever get a chance to interact and make friends with students from different parts of the world?

When it comes to size, there can be no correct choice as this is something that has to work for you as an individual. So you should discuss this with your family who knows you well and can help you in making choices that will be best suited for you.

Feature #5

Choosing a reputed college?

Your teacher or counsellor will most probably try hard to din it into your head that being accepted by a college that is a ‘good and apt fit’ is much more significant than studying at ‘one of the best colleges’. Perhaps this is a sweet pill rationale made in anticipation to cushion the possibility of your being unable to get accepted at one of the best colleges.

But how can anybody slot colleges separately in such categories?

You should aspire to find your way into one of the top colleges that is a good and apt fit for you.

By aiming for, and studying at a reputed college in the US, you will reap many benefits. You will:

  • Pursue the best programs offered
  • Have the best facilities to pursue your studies
  • Learn from the best faculty
  • Connect with the sharpest minds and build an awesome alumni network
  • Get picked to work at prestigious companies
  • Earn well
  • Build an excellent portfolio

Not studying at a reputable college will not be the end of the road for you. However, it’s not because of people’s fanciful ideas and beliefs that some colleges are flooded with applications than many others.

There’s a lot more to it.

Besides studying at a reputed college, you will feel on top of the world when you graduate from there and your family, friends, and any acquaintance will see you in a different light thereafter.

And Lastly

All undergraduate admission applications come with one of the two responses:

  • ‘Congratulations!’
  • ‘We are sorry to inform you…’

The response you receive will largely depend on your selection of the right colleges that you send out applications to.

The choice of college you make will influence your academic, financial, and personal life over the four years that you study and thereafter.

So rather than living in a fool’s paradise and having an unachievable college wish list, it makes more sense to compile your college list based on facts and reality so that you will be accepted at a college that you have chosen with your eyes wide open.

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Some Strong acids to handle with care

Apart from their obvious use in laboratories, we use acids for household cleaning too. Here are some strong acids that you should be extra careful of while handling them.How strong are strong acids? Brush up a little on your chemistry while we explain (Once you get to know the chemistry of acids, you will understand why strong acids are different from so-called weak acids) What is one of the prerequisites for working in a chemistry lab? Laboratory coats, notebook and yes, a minimum knowledge in chemistry! Well, we are not talking about chemical biologists here! We are talking to you all would be lab technicians and chemists. One of the first things you need to learn before working safely in a chemistry lab is knowing your acids. This knowledge is essential to avoid accidents. Today, let's take a look at strong acids and their chemical constitution. What are strong acids? Strong acids are acids that ionize entirely or nearly 100% in aqueous solutions. In other words, they completely dissociate into their ions when added to water as their molecules break up completely, releasing at least one hydrogen ion (H+) per molecule. Strong acids, therefore, are suitable proton donors. A strong acid loses a proton in aqueous solutions and transfers it to H2O molecules, thereby forming a hydronium ion. (H3O+). How strong acids react: HA + H2O → H3O+(aq) + A–(aq) where, A represents the anion of an acid, like a nitrate or chloride ion. Note, the reaction only proceeds in one direction. Once a strong acid completely ionizes, the change becomes irreversible. Example: HCl + H2O → H3O+(aq) + Cl–(aq) Weak acids dissociate partially into their ions when added to an aqueous solution. Now here is how weak acids dissociate in the presence of water: HA + H2O ⇆ H3O+(aq) + A–(aq) where, A represents the anion of an acid, like an acetate or phosphate ion. Note, the reaction proceeds in both directions. As the dissociation is only partial in the case of weak acids, the hydrogen ions continue to move between being part of the weak acid and part of the water. Therefore, these reactions are reversible. Example: CH3COOH + H2O ⇆ H3O+ + CH3COO– (Always add acid to water drop by drop while continuously stirring the solution. Doing the other way round may lead to disastrous blasts.) How is the strength of a strong acid determined? The 'strength' of an acid refers to its ability to release hydrogen ions into a solution and not on how corrosive it is. The standard measure of the strength of an acid is its Ka or acid dissociation constant. It is determined experimentally through titration methods. Strong acids have a more considerable Ka value and a smaller pKa value (logarithmic constant) than weak acids. In simple words, the pKa value measures the tendency of an acidic solute to transfer protons to a standard solvent. Therefore, any acid with a pKa value less than -2 is a strong acid. Note, there are only seven acids with a pKa value less than -2. (Titration that helps determine the Ka values of acids is a term derived from the French word 'tiltre', which means a measure of the purity of gold and silver coins.) Seven strong acids and their pKa value: Strong Acids Formula pKa value (in water) Hydrochloric acid HCl -5.9 ± 0.4 Hydrobromic acid HBr -8.8 ± 0.8 Hydroiodic acid HI -9.5 ± 1 Nitric acid HNO3 -1.6 Sulphuric acid H2SO4 -3 Triflic acid H[CF3SO3] -14 ± 2 Perchloric acid H[ClO4] -15 ± 2 (Muriatic acid, an aqueous solution of hydrochloric acid, is used to clean bathroom tiles.) Strong Acids Vs weak acids: Difference There's a chart on the main differences between strong and weak acids. Strong Acids Weak Acids Strong acids ionize almost completely in aqueous solutions Weak acids dissociate partially into their ions when added to an aqueous solution. Once a strong acid completely ionizes, the change becomes irreversible. Weak acids ionize partially when added to an aqueous solution and hence, the reaction is reversible. pKa value generally less than -2 pKa value always greater than -2 There are only 7 strong acids. All other acids are weak acids. (Strong acids like hydrochloric acid helps in digestion by breaking down food and eliminating the harmful bacteria and viruses in the stomach.) How is the pKa value different from the pH value? pKa value measures the tendency of an acidic solute to transfer a proton to a standard solvent. Strong acids have a pKa value less than -2. pH value measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. It is defined as the negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration in a solution. In simple words, the greater the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution, the lesser is the pH value. Concentrated strong acids, therefore, have a meagre pH value. To learn more on pKa and pH value, click here (pH scale has values ranging from 0 to 14, with 0 to 5 representing the acidic nature of a solution, whereas values between 9 to 14 stand for the alkaline (basic) nature.) pH and pKa of Strong Acids Strong acids have a higher concentration of hydrogen ions in the solution. They, therefore, have a low pH value. pH = -log [H+] Ka is the measure of how completely an acid dissociates in an aqueous solution. Strong acids, therefore, have an enormous Ka value. pKa is the logarithmic acid dissociation constant (Ka) and has a direct relationship to Ka. Thus, the lower the pKa value, the stronger the acid. pKa = -log [Ka] Strong acids Vs Concentrated acids: Difference Strong acids are not the same as concentrated acids. There exists a misconception that strong acids are the same as focused acids, whereas weak acids are the same as diluted acids. This is because both concentrated acids and strong acids have a low pH value generally. Let us see why this happens. Ø The 'strength' of an acid refers to its ability to release hydrogen ions into a solution. In simple words, it is the measure of the degree of ionization that occurs when an acidic solute is added to an aqueous solution. Therefore, the greater the number of cations and anions released in a solution, the stronger the acid. Ø The concentration of an acid is the measure of the number of available acid ions dissolved in a solvent. In simple words, it refers to how much water or solvent is there in an acid. It is measured in moles, parts per million, or percentage. A concentrated acid has a small amount of solvent in it. This increases the concentration of acid ions in the solvent. Therefore, concentrated acids have a low pH value (generally around 3). On the other hand, diluted acids have a lesser amount of acid ions dissolved in them, and hence, they have a lower concentration of acid ions in the solvent. Their pH value, therefore, is higher than concentrated acids (around 7). To learn more on this, click here. It is essential to note that we can have a strong acid that is diluted and a weak acid that is concentrated, and in such cases, their pH value varies accordingly. (A blood pH value below 7.35 is called acidosis, which means an increased concentration of acid in the bloodstream that may eventually lead to death.) Difference between strong acids and corrosive acids It is essential to note that strong acids are not synonymous with corrosive acids. Corrosiveness refers to the potential of a substance to damage the surface that it touches. The substance can be acidic, basic, or even oxidizers. Just like strong acids that are non-corrosive, weak acids like hydrofluoric acid can be highly corrosive as they can damage our bones. On the contrary, the superacids (carboranes) can be safely held in hands. The strength of an acid, therefore, doesn't determine its corrosiveness. Hence, even certain weak acids should be handled with care. (Caption: Sulphuric acid, a highly corrosive acid, is known to cause acid rains.) Strong Acids: Final words There are only seven strong acids known presently. However, just because acid is strong doesn't mean it is damaging. Similarly, even weak acids like hydrofluoric acid can prove disastrous if not handled with care. It is, therefore, essential that we take proper precautions while dealing with acids, irrespective of whether they are weak or strong.


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