By Niki Bridges
Many times, future university students focus exclusively on top-ranked schools when compiling a list of potential institutions. Without knowing it, they’ve dismissed a number of fine institutions to consider. Rankings do not provide thorough overview of a school, and not every student will attend a top-ranked school, whether by choice or circumstance. Admission to many of these universities is extremely competitive and limited.
If this describes you, you may find that less information is available on these institutions. So how can you decide if a university not listed in the top rankings will be right for you both academically and personally? To start, keep these five questions in mind:
1. Is this school accredited?
Accreditation is like a measure of quality assurance—accredited universities and colleges have proven to an independent agency that they offer and maintain academic programs of a certain quality, and that these programs prepare you for graduate school or the workforce. If they are not accredited, schools may not able to offer federal financial aid to their students. In addition, many employers and graduate schools may look askance at a degree from an unaccredited institution.
2. What credentials do the professors hold?
Highly-ranked universities are able to attract professors who are leaders in their field. These renowned professors and researchers provide elite schools with an air of prestige that then attracts potential students. Although universities that are not top-ranked are not necessarily as prestigious, this does not mean that your quality of education will be lackluster. In fact, you may find very good professors at a school that is not highly ranked. The key is to do your homework. Have the professors published in their fields? Have they attended conferences, or won any awards? What is their teaching philosophy? This information can typically be found on a university’s website.
3. Will credits from this school transfer to other universities?
If you decide to transfer to another institution, or to later attend graduate school, will your classes be recognized? Or will you have to retake courses to fulfill degree requirements (in the case of a transfer) or entry requirements (in the case of graduate school)?
4. Will you be overlooked by employers because of your school choice?
Unfortunately, this can be a real problem in certain fields of study. For instance, top companies may only visit or recruit students from high-ranking universities. To avoid this issue, ask the school which businesses attend campus career fairs, as well as how many students secure employment in their fields.
5. Does this school meet your needs?
Many universities are strong in certain majors, and weaker in others. If, for example, you are interested in pursuing a biology degree, does this school provide the resources that you will need? Speak with an academic advisor from the university to determine which classes are offered. It is also important to know what student support services are available on campus.
Ultimately, what is most important is that the school fosters an environment where you will feel comfortable and engaged in the campus community. Just because a university or college isn’t top ranked does not necessarily mean that it offers a sub-par education. It can be quite the opposite. Remember that rankings may not tell the whole story. Ask questions of school staff, conduct your own research, and remain open to discovering a new world of academic possibility.