Study Abroad

How to Choose the Right College for Higher Education Abroad?

10 April, 2023
parthiva mewawala

Every year, over 750,000 Indian students choose to pursue higher education abroad at some of the most prestigious global universities. While better career opportunities and international exposure are the primary reasons motivating them to emigrate, many also go down this path to experience new cultures, travel, build a solid network, or even challenge themselves. Whatever the reason, the success of their study abroad journey depends extensively on the college they pick for themselves. With thousands of great colleges in beautiful countries offering courses across a plethora of subjects, selecting the correct study abroad program can be confusing for many. Many factors come into play while zeroing in on the program best suited for your dreams. University rankings and prestige are just two factors out of six that our higher education consultants feel are critical to this decision-making process.


If you’re confused and want to create the perfect shortlist of colleges that don’t just offer academic programs of great rigour but also environments that are inclusive of your needs and talents, then this blog is a good starting point. We’ve listed out 6 of the most pressing questions you need to answer to select the college for higher education abroad. For more help, you can always contact our experts by filling out this form here.


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What are the 6 critical factors you should consider when choosing the perfect college for higher education abroad?


Each student has different needs, expectations, and preferences for their dream college. At IMS International, we recognise and factor all those points into the university shortlist. You can read more about how IMS International helps you choose the right colleges, craft the perfect applications, and get admission to your preferred colleges here


  1. Choose the program you want to pursue

This is a great place to start your research. What subject or combination of subjects do you wish to pursue abroad? What field do you want to build a career in? Clarity about your goals and ambitions will make this step much more straightforward. But choosing a bunch of subjects shouldn’t be seen as a limiting exercise. Most colleges in the US and Canada allow you to switch majors, combine unrelated subjects, and drop subjects you don’t want to continue. Picking a field of study right now will act as a guiding pathway for you to get into the right college.


But if your confusion persists, consider picking a double major or a major and multiple minors. Combining different subjects doesn’t just allow you to study all that you want, but also gives you the opportunity to gain a more rounded education.


2. List out your non-negotiables

We all have particular preferences and expectations from our college lives. For some, college should be synonymous with a cultural soiree, a melting pot of diverse experiences, while others look for academically oriented, smaller campuses with a greater focus on research. Some students prefer more prominent public universities situated near cities, while others look for secluded, rural, private colleges with small student populations. 


In this step, the goal is to delve deeper into what you want your college life to look like. Summarise the experience into a few bulleted points, and you’ll have a list of non-negotiables ready. And don’t worry. With the multitude of captions available globally, you will find a college that matches your expectations perfectly.


For reference, here are some pointers you could consider while listing your non-negotiables:


  • Do you want to study in a large city with a primarily developed urban life or a rustic rural setting with all the necessary amenities nearby?
  • Do you want a large campus with tens of thousands of students from different walks of life or a small campus with fewer students and tighter bonds?
  • Do you wish to have the opportunity to participate in research or conduct some on your own and thus require state-of-the-art research facilities, or do you prefer a college with an NCAA D1 sports program?
  • What sort of housing options are you looking for? Most students prefer renting near the campus to save money. But many others also like staying in dormitories to help build their social circles.
  • What is your ideal class size? Most public universities will have over a hundred students for the most popular subjects per class. In contrast, smaller liberal arts colleges have batch sizes as small as 10 to give more personalised attention to each student.
  • Are you looking for need-based financial aid? Or grants? Scholarships? You’ll have to choose colleges that offer alternative financing options.

Read More – The most liveable cities in the world and their top universities

3. Create a longlist of matching colleges

Once you have your list of non-negotiables down, your higher education abroad dream will become that much more tangible. You’ll have a picture in your head. The goal is to create a list of 15-20 universities that match your preferences and offer your desired subjects. You can use any of the many free university finder tools to guide you, like the course matcher offered by QS. All you need to do is fill in your preferences, and you’ll be sent a personalised of universities that fit your bracket perfectly. You can also look up sites like to discover new programs and compare colleges based on a wide range of variables.


We’ll whittle this longlist down to the top 6 by the end of this blog.


4. Pick the country/region/city you want to study in

This is another crucial aspect of studying abroad. Apart from the college’s offerings, the college’s location will also dictate your education outcomes. Different regions have different experiences to offer – the cultural immersion of Madrid, Spain or the fast-paced Wall Street life of New York City – the Greco-Roman historical experience of Rome, Italy or the career opportunities of Berlin, Germany – the laidback luxury of Sydney, Australia, or the adventure of Auckland, New Zealand. According to IMS mentors, the five factors that should define your choices in this matter are:

Read More – MBA in Europe – A guide to the top MBA colleges in Europe

    • Culture – While each country will have its own cultural milieu, you’ll have to see which is more suitable for your tastes and upbringing. States such as Louisiana and Arkansas are more conservative as compared to California or Illinois. The brazen loudness of Italian culture might turn some people off, but on the other hand, the friendly faces of Australia might be seen as a plus.
  • Climate – The winters abroad are typically much harsher than the ones we experience in India. Temperatures dipping below -20 degrees Celsius are typical during the winters in many parts of northern Europe, Canada, and the US. The incessant rains of London or the browbeating heat of Nevada can also alter otherwise unique college experiences. Keep in mind the local climate of the region or city you wish to go to to avoid any nasty surprises.
  • Language – Even though English is largely spoken everywhere, many countries, especially in Europe, only offer courses in the local languages. Moreover, not speaking the local tongue can also be seen as an unsurpassable barrier by many, keeping you from truly immersing yourself.
  • Career opportunities –  Different countries offer different sorts of career opportunities for you to capitalise on. While studying in London will expose you to the bustling financial markets, California will bring you closer to entrepreneurship options. Similarly, other regions have local industries that can help you further your career in a specific direction. Make sure the destination you choose has ample opportunities present in your field.

Read More – Top 10 MBA schools based on career outcomes

  • Costs –  Apart from your academic fees, living costs are the other significant expense you must account for. These, too, differ wildly from place to place. Make sure your budget allows you to lead a secure, decent life in the city you choose to study in.


5. Check out the curriculum

Now that you’ve shortened your longlist of colleges by eliminating the ones that don’t fall in your preferred locations, it’s time to skim your list further – this time based on the curriculum. While higher education abroad gives you more flexibility, the choice of subjects can vary from region to region. Apart from choosing your favourite subjects, most colleges in North America also allow you to pick up specific modules for you to study. These modules can stem from unrelated subjects, giving you more freedom to explore a coalition of topics.


But that’s not all.


The delivery of these modules – how the content is being taught to you – also matters a lot. Is the course primarily dependent on professor-delivered lectures followed by practice lessons conducted by postgrads (as is the case in Oxford and Cambridge), or is it focused entirely on case studies and the rich discussions that ensue (as is the case with Harvard Business School) or is it delivered by masterclasses, workshops, and, seminars?


Then comes the question of assessment. Some colleges have exams and tests, while others have a final-year thesis that carries most of the grade.


Talk to alumni and current students on forums such as Quora to understand the pedagogy of colleges. 


Remove the colleges with a teaching style, curriculum, or assessment pattern that doesn’t suit your strengths.

6. Corroborate the list of colleges with the latest rankings

Now that you have a final list of colleges, arrange them according to their global rankings. The goal isn’t to go for the highest-ranked colleges but to analyse the relative strength of your chosen programs on a common standard. International university rankings sites such as QS or Times Higher Education have a rigorous, peer-reviewed ranking methodology to account for a bouquet of factors. You can also filter universities based on certain criteria such as employer reputation, research output, or diversity.


Arrange your list of universities in ascending order based on the rankings.


The final step to choosing the right colleges to pursue higher education abroad


Now, all you need to do is divide the list into safe colleges, i.e., you have a very high chance of getting in, level, i.e., you have an average chance of securing a seat, and reach, where your chances of gaining admission are low. You can do this by looking at the student bodies of the previous few years to get a better idea of the credentials and profile that usually gets admitted. Factors such as high school GPA, standardised test scores, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and essays can significantly impact admission decisions.

Ideally, you should have at least two safety, two level, and two reach schools. And that’s all. In just six simple steps, you’ve got yourself a list of the schools that match your requirements perfectly. While we encourage students to research colleges, you can always talk to our higher education abroad experts, who will guide you in the right direction. Set up a free consultation call by filling out the form here.