A guide to sorting through the best undergraduate colleges
Despite going through session after session of counseling and mountains of information about the numerous avenues, Aakash felt like a ‘lost ball in the high weeds’! Isn’t it normal to be overwhelmed by the excessive options available today? Unless you have a perfect understanding of what you would like to do or the right guidance, things can surely feel confusing. So, as you step out of school, how do you go about picking among the best undergraduate colleges around the world?
There is a long list of universities and colleges that came into existence centuries ago. There are also many other schools that have come up to cater to the needs of changing times. What is bound to make things easier as you navigate through the labyrinth of options is that schools and colleges are ranked based on the specializations or the degrees that they offer (there are other factors as well). Using the rankings to decide is only one of the many ways to pick the best school for your undergraduate course.
The key to making the right decision is to think beyond the immediate four years of college. Counseling sessions, speaking with experienced ex-students and extensive research will be pointless if you are unsure about the right subject of study. A certain amount of contemplation and introspection is required before you begin this process. So, apart from picking the best college or school, you must first consider your career goals and interests.
Is having a career goal essential?
Warren Buffet was buying ‘stocks’ and filing his income taxes when he was barely a teenager. While some are blessed with the kind of clarity that Warren Buffet possessed, others need sometime before they can figure out the right path. So, it is safe to say that while having career goals can speed things up for you, not having one need not halt your efforts in a certain direction.
What are specializations or majors?
With all the lingo that goes with undergraduate and graduate studies, making sense of it all is extremely important. To begin with, ‘majors’ can be called the main field of study during your college years. While ‘majors’ can be loosely classified as ‘concentrations’ or ‘specializations’, majors are typically in addition to the core curriculum. The core curriculum seeks to provide a good basis of knowledge and experience in certain common subjects.
Knowing this, how does picking the right major in college help in your journey towards your goal? The majors in college help you to apply yourself in the right areas while helping you to pick a specific area of study. So, a focus study area should ideally develop your aptitude and the abilities that you naturally excel in. This will enhance your position among numerous candidates vying for a position in an organization. Majoring in a subject will mean that you are able to demonstrate sustained, high-level learning about the subject. It is like training to become a specialist opening batsman while learning the rules for becoming a professional cricketer!
Can you sign up for a bachelor’s without knowing your major?
It is important to understand that most students who start college do so without knowing what they would like to pick as their ‘majors’. Whether you have a goal and are unsure about how to get there or are still exploring the options, it is perfectly normal to switch majors during the course of your study. So, yes, you can sign up for college without knowing what you will major in.
Majors with the best prospects: Often, students feel torn between choosing a major that allows them to follow their passion or one that helps find the perfect job. This does cause quite a bit of stress and as someone rightly said, ‘it is about choosing the bestest (sic) between two bests’. Well, frankly, it really does not have to be so since it is possible to do both.
There are a number of fields, industries, and areas that were not in existence a few years back. This has forced schools and colleges to offer courses that can cater to the demand in such sectors. So, what’s popular these days?
Here’s a list of fields that are quite popular these days:
- Mechatronics: Considering that most technology now relates to Artificial Intelligence, designing and controlling machines, a course that is a combination of mechanics and engineering is bound to be popular. Colleges that are seeing a surge in such interests are Georgia Institute of Technology- Atlanta and Purdue University in Indiana both of which feature a dedicated mechatronics course.
If you are considering robotics-related studies, then head to Australia. Here, you will find the top colleges such as RMIT University, University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland which offer great courses on Robotics and Engineering. These colleges are ranked quite high for the on-hand experience that students are able to enjoy.
- Business: It is hard to discuss popular subjects and not have ‘business’ feature in there somewhere. Business studies have always been popular and will be so in the future too! Unlike popular thinking, business studies are quite popular at the undergraduate level too. You can choose from a number of majors such as accounting, finance, marketing, and even business law. Such programs are typically a combination of team projects, case studies providing extensive opportunities for hands-on experiences in related industries. A graduate from the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) could draw about $ 92,000 as salary making this an attractive option.
Europe is also a great option for those who are looking to explore colleges in places other than the USA. Germany has quite a few reputed and ranked universities. The University of Mannheim-Germany, LMU in Munich and University of Bonn, Bonn Germany offer business studies at the undergraduate level.
Similarly, the University of British Columbia with campuses in Vancouver and Kelowna is ranked 19 in the Times Higher Education rankings for the best undergraduate courses in business studies in Canada.
Ranked number 13 in the world by Times Higher Education, the National University of Singapore is quite popular for a bachelor’s in Business Studies in the Asian region.
- Data and Cognitive Science: Name any of the top companies in the world and you will find that they are doing everything they can to improve customer experience. This is where the field of big data comes in. Data, statistics, and analysis of collected information have become relevant not only for big fortune 500 companies but small start-ups as well. So, if you invest your time learning to manipulate information to benefit businesses, then your services will definitely be in demand.
Schools and colleges are now offering many courses in Data Analytics at the undergraduate level and the University of California- Irvine is just one of them. The Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah offers a bachelor of Science- Statistics (Data Science). The program is well-rounded offering certifications in numerous courses and opportunities for internships with government agencies.
Cognitive sciences, on the other hand, relates to problem-solving. This is a relatively new field that combines the study of the mind and the nature of intelligence. Considering that such studies are interdisciplinary in nature, students will study subjects such as psychology, computer science, philosophy, neurosciences and so on. The University of Edinburgh in Scotland offers a 4-year comprehensive Bachelor’s course on Cognitive Science. The course provides you with a deeper understanding of computation, the human mind and the link between artificial and natural intelligence. The graduates can build a career in industries and professions that rely on computing systems such as media, communications, medicine, and so many others.
Macquarie University in Australia also offers a unique Bachelor of Human Sciences with a major in Cognitive and Brain Sciences. With courses that touch upon cutting-edge research in the field, taught by renowned experts in the field, this is bound to be the best place to explore your interests in this field.
The role of advisors and counselors
Let’s face it! Students just out of school are not equipped to handle the stress that comes with applying to numerous colleges while trying to pick the right course. Further, it is bound to be hard for parents to keep abreast with the latest in the field of education. Student counselors and consultants play a huge role in giving you the right perspective. Experienced college consultants can guide students effectively (through a process of self-discovery) while reassuring anxious parents. The biggest relief for most is the administrative help in ensuring that applications are sent in error-free while maximizing the chances of admission (and if possible, with a scholarship!)
The best undergraduate colleges around the world
The US has always managed to attract students like a magnet. Whether it is the promise of a better lifestyle, a smarter education system or rosy career prospects, USA is most certainly a dream destination for students. According to Bloomberg numbers, the percentage of students picking literature and languages has dropped and those favoring STEM courses have almost doubled. Let’s look at the best undergraduate colleges for business courses in the US. (Maybe we can provide a link to STEM programs I have done in a different article here)
The best undergraduate colleges (business programs) in the USA:
There are no prizes for guessing which university stands out at the front runner in this category! Yes, it is the University of Pennsylvania. The undergraduate programs are all ranked number 1 in subjects relating to management and business.
Here’s the list of top-ranked schools if you are looking to pursue business studies at the undergraduate level. For the year 2018, Poets and Quants have ranked business schools based on the alumni experience, the standard of the admission process, career outcomes and so on.
|Rank||Name of the college||Average SAT Score||Average total compensation||Rank|
|1||University of Pennsylvania- Wharton||1486||$92,056.88||1|
|2||University of Virginia (McIntire)||1510||$84,763.58||2|
|3||Washington University- St. Louis (Olin)||1490||$80,842.06||3|
|4||University of Michigan (Ross)||1453||$75,986.00||4|
|5||University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)||1470||$78,165.15||5|
|6||New York University (Stern)||1468||$72,052.35||6|
|7||Cornell University (Dyson)||1473||$79,849.57||7|
|9||Boston College (Carroll)||1407||$67,228.78||9|
|10||University of California (Berkeley Haas)||1429||$71,457.50||10|
The best undergraduate colleges / universities in Germany:
If you are looking forward to enjoying an ‘Oktoberfest’ in the true sense, you may want to pay attention to this bit! Germany may not be considered popular for undergraduate courses but you may be surprised by the number of options available for those willing to look beyond the US. There are quite a few old and prestigious universities combined with many new-age universities. Germany is quite large and the best undergraduate colleges are spread all across this great country. Here’s a look at the top five universities (According to Times Higher Education world university ranking for 2019) and the subjects they are most popular for:
- LMU Munich: With a strong focus on research, LMU Munich offers numerous study programs. According to Times Higher Education rankings, The Arts and Humanities program here is ranked #16. They are also known for their excellence in the subject of Natural Sciences.
- Technical University of Munich: This is a college that is dedicated to science and technology. TUM university has over the years (since 1927) seen their academicians receive 13 Nobel prizes for their work in Physics, Chemistry, and medicine. In the year 2001, they started a subsidiary university in Singapore called TUM Asia.
- Heidelberg University: It is well-known as one of the oldest universities in Germany (1386). If you are keen on pursuing subjects that are lesser known then this may just be the place. They offer numerous sub-disciplines such as Environmental Physics, Modern Sociology, and Psychiatric Genetics. About 20% of the student body is international.
- Humboldt University of Berlin: This university is well-known for its focus on arts and humanities. With over 30,000 students, 16% of them come from different parts of the world. Albert Einstein is known to have spent time teaching here and it has the reputation of educating 29 Nobel Laureates in numerous fields.
- University of Freiburg: Natural Sciences and Humanities has always been prominent in this university and is well-known for the research and publications they have to their credit in this field. The research-oriented study and unique teaching methodologies in the faculties of Law, English Studies, German Studies, History, and Pharmacology make it popular among students.
The best undergraduate colleges and study options in Canada:
If you thought that Canada was all about Ice Hockey and of course Punjabis! Think again! Canada welcomes immigrants with open arms and their schools and colleges are doing the same. Canada has always been attractive for its easier immigration process compared to any other country in the world. Apart from this, simple application processes and cheaper study options make it a great destination for bachelor studies. The top two universities or colleges for such graduate studies are
University of Toronto: Toronto is the capital of Ontario and plays host to over 1,40,000 students annually. Of this number, 20,000 belong to the international community. The undergraduate degree takes three to four years to complete. With an abundance of banks and brokerage firms in this city, the opportunities are endless for those looking for internships or placements. It is ranked number one in Canada and is well-known for its courses in the field of medicine. Apart from this, the university is ranked number 18 for its undergraduate courses in Arts and Humanities (World University Rankings as per Times Higher Education for 2019).
University of British Columbia: This university is considered one of the most competitive universities with campuses in Vancouver and Kelowna. With over 700 undergraduate courses on offer, you can pick the course that suits your interests quite easily. It is the birthplace of groundbreaking discoveries such as Insulin and the electron microscope. It has a strong reputation for producing leaders and encouraging research in numerous fields. If you are looking to sign up for an undergraduate course in STEM, then this is one of the best undergraduate colleges to do the same in Canada. The faculty of science is well-known for its innovative educational initiatives and dedication to improving the classroom atmosphere. It is consistently ranked number one in Canada and number 20 among the top twenty public universities in the world. It is also consistently recognized as North America’s most international university.
The best undergraduate colleges Australia:
Australia is a popular destination for most students from the Indian subcontinent and it is not because of the large Indian community alone. There are many universities and colleges that have made a mark for themselves in various fields of study. Australia has the third highest number of international students just after the UK and the USA. So, which universities should you be checking out?
- University of Melbourne: Currently ranked number one in Australia and 32 in the world, this university is situated in the heart of one of the most livable cities of the world. About 40% of the entire student community is international. It is ranked number 9 in the world in the field of medicine- clinical, pre-clinical and health.
- Australian National University: ANU offers a range of options for those seeking to pursue an undergraduate degree here. Apart from signing up for one of the multiple disciplines that are available, you can also customize a degree to suit your passion. As part of the learning process, you can indulge in global exchange programs and take advantage of the scholarships that are available here. This university is ranked 27 in the Social Sciences department and fares quite well in the Arts and Humanities too.
- University of Sydney: Popularly called the “Sandstone University, it is known for its architectural beauty. Recognizing the teaching and research excellence, Times has ranked this university globally at number 59. If you look at the subject-wise ranking, you will find that it is ranked the highest (24) in Education. Their Arts and Humanities programs are ranked high making it one of the more popular choices for those signing up for undergraduate programs. Overall, out of the 43,000 students, 15,000 of these are international.
Top Asia options for undergraduate studies
Apart from the fact that Asia is the largest of the seven continents, schools and colleges in this region are truly turning up their game. An increasing number of international students are consciously choosing to study in one of the many reputed universities here. The economic boom in this region has contributed to the growth in the education sector. Let’s take a look at the best undergraduate colleges in this region
Tsinghua University- The Times Higher Education (THE) ranking for the year 2019 ranks this university number 1 in all of Asia. In an endeavor to provide the perfect international experience, this university bridges the gap between the Asian countries and the rest of the world. It is truly one of the most prestigious and influential universities in this region. It, of course, helps that it is situated on a site that was previously the imperial gardens of the Qing Dynasty! It is an experience you will not forget in a hurry!
Ranked # 10 by Times Higher Education in the subject of Life Sciences, it shows that this university excels in the number of publications and the superior research conducted in areas such as biological sciences, agriculture, forestry, veterinary sciences, and sports sciences.
NUS- Singapore- This university is ranked number 2 and it has about 17 schools all around Singapore. They provide a broad-based curriculum covering numerous disciplines. They are well-known for their transformative style of education with an emphasis on student exchange programs, internships in their numerous overseas branches along with challenges and opportunities to realize the student’s true potential. The college is ranked number 8 in Engineering and technology. Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative has upped the importance of subjects such as Data Science, Operations Research and Cybersecurity opening new avenues for students.
HKUST- Hong Kong: This university ranks number 3 in the world university rankings. Hong Kong is known as the pearl of the orient and it is not without reason. It has something to offer no matter what your age is. As far as students are concerned, pursuing an undergraduate degree here at the HKUST just got even more attractive. It has been ranked number 1 in the list of the world’s youngest universities by THE. The subjects of business and economics have been ranked number 22. 31% of the students belong to the international community.
IIS- Indian Institute of Sciences Bangalore -Times Higher Education ranks this institute at number 29 in the list of best undergraduate colleges in Asia. Set among 26 acres of land, this institute offers a comprehensive undergraduate program in science. It lasts 4 years and students can specialize in Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Humanities or Biology. The final year of the course allows the student to undertake a research-oriented project overseen by one of the many reputed academicians. Some of the more recent additions to the subjects of research are nano-science, mathematics, and genomics.
IIT Indore– IIT Indore makes an entry into the top 50 by grabbing the number 50 spot in the list of best undergraduate colleges in Asia. This institute is fairly new (began in 2009) compared to the other institutes (IITs) in India. However, in this short time, it has gained in reputation and stature making it a popular choice when it comes to bachelor’s courses. It is one of those few programs that lays the emphasis on research even at the undergraduate level. PRIUS (Promotion of Research and Innovation for Undergraduate Studies) is a fine example of such an effort. The research facilities in this institute cater to the student community and industries from the country and abroad. The citation impact of its research is the reason why IIT Indore was able to score higher than its older peers such as IIT Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur, Kanpur, and Madras. Research matters!
To conclude, finding the right program is hard work but when done meticulously, you are bound to appreciate and enjoy the years in college, while also building a solid career.
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