One thing that has become clear to me in recent days is that prospective students in India don't know as much as perhaps they should about colleges and universities in the U.S. So I thought I'd blog a little about where I went to school and how I decided.
I earned a BA at Kenyon College. Kenyon is a private liberal arts college, and like most liberal arts colleges, it offers a very low student-faculty ratio (10 to 1), awards only bachelor's degrees, and requires that students study a diverse range of courses, rather than specializing narrowly. Kenyon enrolls about 1600 students today-it was a bit smaller in my day-and is located in a town with a population of only about 1200 year-round residents.
Why did I pick Kenyon? I knew I was interested in having direct engagement with faculty, I liked the idea of the nurturing environment at a small school, I wanted a broad education and I wanted to go to a school with a reputation for academic excellence. Given these criteria, I researched schools primarily using college guides. (No internet in my day-I had to do my research in the library!)
That helped me focus in on maybe 100 or so top liberal arts colleges, out of a total of 5000 or so colleges and universities in the U.S. It wasn't important to me to live in a big city or in a warm climate; if it had been, I would have been able to use those factors to narrow the list further. I then talked to family and friends and picked a short list of schools where I applied. (How many depends on how likely your admission is to the schools on your list. I knew I was likely to be admitted to the schools I really wanted, so I only applied to a handful. That's not necessarily the best strategy-but it worked for me.)
When admissions came in, Kenyon offered me a really great financial aid package, and I happily made the decision to enroll. I had a great experience at Kenyon. I'm sure I would have also had a great experience at most of the other 100 on my initial list. But I would not have been as happy at a big university where students live anonymously off campus and graduate students do most of the teaching. Again, those things depend on individual temperament, what suited me best would not suit everyone. What matters is giving serious thought to the question.
I went to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For graduate school, I knew I would be focused in on academics, so that was my over-riding consideration. I checked lists of universities offering top programs in my field of study, and was lucky enough to be admitted to MIT. MIT couldn't be more different than Kenyon-but it was right for me at that stage. I would not have been happy there as an undergraduate.
My advice to any student is to think seriously about what matters to you at a school, and then research alternatives. In addition to size of school, type of instruction, size of city, academic ranking and input from family and friends, I would imagine an Indian student would be interested in knowing how many international students are studying at any school. For some students, having a number of other Indians at the school might be important-but if you are looking to study in the U.S., I think you should look for an institution that also enrolls many Americans.
The U.S. government supports some resources that can help. A great starting point is the Education USA website: http://www.educationusa.state.gov/. The U.S.-India Educational Foundation provides college information and counseling services to students across India. In Hyderabad, USIEF is affiliated with two advising centers.