Looking at US universities: the concept of a ‘hidden gem’

Guides / USA

Behind me as I write in my office, I have a bookshelf with a shelf devoted to US college admissions. On it sits a number of books with snapshots of US universities: ‘The Best 380 Colleges’, ‘The Public Ivies’, ‘Best Colleges for B Students’ and ‘Colleges that Change Lives’. I have other books that cover universities in the UK, Canada and Europe, but nothing compares to the wealth of resources out there to understand the nuance of US college choice, where ‘fit’ is all important.

I’ve written elsewhere on this site about how approaching US admissions from a British or European mindset can be damaging, and nowhere can this be seen more in the concept of the ‘hidden gem’ university. With finances, regional variation and academic specialism meaning that the US has such a vast diversity of educational provision for undergraduate students, there is a vast array of universities which excel in areas that someone approaching this process without insider knowledge might not be aware of. One of my favourite stories is that Millsaps College, based in Jackson, Mississippi is per-capita the top provider of Rhodes Scholars, something that you wouldn’t find happening in an equivalently ranked university here in the UK.

A great example of this phenomenon is in the study of engineering, where a range of different attributes have to be present for a great undergraduate experience to be provided. A university needs to devote considerable resources in order to have a great engineering programme, not just at the undergraduate level but for postgraduate studies and research. This list shows how there are some amazing engineering schools which (forgive the pun) can float below the radar:

So, once again, US admissions is more complex than it might at first seem!