There are two main ways to begin your U.S. university list. The first is purely based on numbers (grades, admission competitiveness, etc.) and the second is personal (location, atmosphere, overall “fit”). Let’s look at both.
First, the numbers. Many resources list schools’ average GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and TOEFL scores for international students. Start by finding a range of the schools where your scores fit comfortably, including “reach” and “safety” schools. Find where your scores fit within that range. This is a good starting point, and you should try to narrow your list to approximately 30 universities.
Second, fit. Next, begin to consider additional “fit-based” (as we call them) factors. Do you want to be in a warm climate? Do you want to be near any family you might have in the United States? What about going to a huge school with resources for graduate students, versus a smaller school, focused entirely on undergraduates? Think about what’s really important to you in your university search, as well as all the things you’d like to have (for example, a rugby team on campus or the ability to write for a school literary journal). It’s all fair game. Then compare these factors to your initial numbers-based list in an effort to bring your list to approximately 15–20 schools.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, the real fun begins. That is, reaching out to current students, to alums, doing college visits, and the list (it’s fun, really!) goes on . . . (You’ll find more admission help and advice for international students here.)