For many international students there is nothing more satisfying than when your family back home actually recognizes the name of the school that you fought so hard to get into. Big name colleges, such as those in the Ivy League, typically fit the bill.
Harvard, Yale and Princeton are almost always given the stamp of approval and are typically seen as the pinnacle of U.S. universities. But an Ivy League degree does not guarantee a comfortable post-undergraduate life in a towering New York office complete with a magnificent skyline view of Manhattan. No, it takes more than just an Ivy League degree to land your future dream job.
So, what can you do early on to gain an edge and set yourself apart in your future career? Here are four factors that you might want to consider:
1. Your potential field of work: Do you see yourself in Wall Street or starting a business? Maybe you are a real tech genius or dream to one day be an astronaut.
If so, you might want to look into specialized or technical schools that might get your foot in the door. For example, you might want to apply to New York University‘s Stern Business School than study general economics in an Ivy League institution. Similarly, studying aerospace engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University might get you closer to that NASA gig than studying general engineering in the Ivy League. Employers want to hire you because you can do the job, not merely because you hold an Ivy League degree.
Sometimes, the question of rural versus urban is not just about the social aspect that each neighborhood type might represent. Sometimes, it matters because of who is operating businesses there.
When deciding your college, research what companies are headquartered where. If you see a future in manufacturing, you might want to consider schools in Texas or Michigan. If you plan to get involved in politics, Washington D.C. might be an obvious choice.
3. Think about the alumni network: It’s true that Ivy League schools have substantial alumni networks, but big schools like Penn State have very well connected alumni networks as well. You might think that this is not a factor for consideration, but if you plan to get a job, alumni connections might be your best bet.
Up to 80 percent of jobs are reportedly not advertised, so networking is key. School pride and spirit goes a long way, and you never know how much a strong alumni network can do for you.
4. Know differences between research universities and liberal arts colleges: Schools might boast about their breakthroughs in scientific research. But will you actually benefit from being part of a school that works to improve the development of carbon nanotubes? Maybe and maybe not.
If you managed to get yourself on the research team at college, then congratulations. But this often doesn’t happen to the typical undergraduate. The furthest students might come to assisting our professors might just be doing brief literature reviews for them to skim.
On the flip side, if you enjoy and learn a lot from small group discussions, you might want to consider liberal arts colleges. If not, stick to other types of universities.
You will find this advice most useful if you have strong idea of what you do want after college. There are consequences for taking on a niche path of study. However, there are equally high rewards for those who start early and know what they want out of their college education.
At the moment, you might be tempted by the ability to proudly declare you’re a student at Brown, Columbia or Dartmouth. But, as a senior at one of the institutions mentioned, I can tell you that in four years, the name of your school is one of the few things that you care about.