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Find Silvano D'Agostino's online prose.

The Study of What to Study

Silvano D'Agostino

I recently tweeted about the irony of having to study what to study before you can actually study it. I’ve quite literally been spending most of my time since the beginning of my vacation on making the most impacting life-decision I have yet had to make: What to study and most of all: Where?

TL;DR: Here’s a great list of US-colleges that award financial aid and here’s one of US-colleges that award financial aid to international students. Furthermore, here are the college rankings of business universities and colleges – use them wisely! I have chosen universities in the Netherlands, Scotland, England and the US to apply to, (though, to be fair, not all of them work for everyone [Ivy League…]), as they offer the most interesting English and internationally oriented economics programs. Lastly, I recognize I am very early – I couldn’t even begin filling out application forms at the time I started writing this article; however, be aware of deadlines and testing issues (SATs, I’m preparing for you!).

I go a little nuts when it comes to making decisions like what piece of clothing/new gadget/insert cool stuff to buy, which poster to put on my wall or what movie to see… I spend hours, even days on deciding because it is my goal to always have the thing that suits me best, so you can imagine how I feel about deciding where my life will take me.

When you want to buy a pair of shoes, for example, you usually have an idea of what kind of shoe you want. You know what it should feel like, look like, how it should “work” – you’ve had lots of shoes after all. You know where to look for shoes, too: You go to the store, you look at shoes, you try them on, you pick a pair. Heck, you even have an idea of what size you need! I once spent three precious days in New York City searching for a shoe that might make me happy for the next two years or so (I did, eventually, but yeah, it took a while). This gets a little harder yet with, say, a T-Shirt with some imagery, or a poster or painting – I need to know the background of it, I need to know what it means because if I don’t agree with what it says, I will not wear it or put in on my wall. Now imagine what it’s like for me to choose my future. Yes, it’s been a rough couple of weeks of vacation and first days of school.

When you look for a college and a degree and therefore a career to pursue, you not only miss the comfort of knowing what size you need, what it should feel like or look like, no, you don’t even get the chance to try it on[1]. Nor do you really know where to start because, let’s face it, you have literally an entire globalized world of colleges and universities to choose from.

So, where do you start?

If you’re like me and all the connections you have to colleges are these couple of friends who already graduated from High School and the informations you received from teachers, it will be really tough to just get your search going. Do you simply google “colleges?”

Well, no… probably. I believe my educational background allows me to confidently apply to any college I want. That’s not to say I will definitely be admitted wherever I want to go, but I feel like I have a shot – maybe one that is not very likely to hit its target, but one that certainly could. So I started off with the big names: Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Pennsylvania U.

Here’s something else you need to know about my college search: Money don’t matter. Oh, I’m no rich kid getting money shoved up his ass by his parents – very much to the contrary, for academic circles, my family is dirt poor. A lot of the – amazing – things I do, I pay for myself through all the work I do. However, my education is amongst the three most important things in my life, and I am absolutely willing to take on a loan, if it will pay off in the long run. What I soon discovered was this: If it will pay off, I probably won’t have to take on a loan anyway – the college will do it for me. In other words: The best colleges on this planet turned out to admit need-blind and aid financially need-based. If you’re really good, you will be able to reach your full potential, no matter what your financial background may be.

Unfortunately, as an international student I am not eligible for (too[2]) many financial aid programs, but I found this list of colleges that also award financial aid to all or at least some international students, which was tremendously helpful.

What do you even want to do?

OK, so I had looked at some colleges at that point, mostly liberal arts, which is fine because you can really go in any direction, but especially in Europe you need to apply for specific Bachelor degrees, which means you need to decide what you want to study, what you want to do in life. I can’t tell you what to do here because everybody needs to find out for themselves. The process for me wasn’t overly hard and I didn’t do any online-tests nor did I go to any counselor or information event or center. I already knew two very specific things: I want to study in English. I am interested most in economics. These two facts alone don’t make for a specific Bachelor program, but they ruled out almost every German university – so I was pretty certain pretty quickly I would not stay in my home country. We’ll come back to specific programs in a second because I went somewhere else first, after I had spent some thought on what I wanted to do (something along the lines of international economics and/or business[3], basically).


I hate to admit it, but yes, ratings were the research method I went to next. I assume I used them a little differently than most other people do, though. There are several different lists I used, coming from publications like Business Week, Reuters or global organizations specializing in ratings, mostly focused on business or economics higher education. Rather than sorting them by rating, however, I sorted by name or country and looked at the colleges individually – yes, it’s a ton of work, but I feel like it’s worth it! Rather than trusting some rating, rate on your own. I made a list of colleges and their programs and degrees I considered, I compared curricula, threw colleges out, found a new list, put a new college in and “narrowed it down” to what eventually became a list of around 20 colleges/programs I may have wanted to apply for.

A Side Note on Degrees

After the Bologna reforms Bachelor and Master programs that are supposed to follow the same guidelines were established all across Europe. The entire system is worth a study by itself and not even I wanted to dig that deep, but what was most interesting to me in my search was the difference between degrees of art versus degrees of science – there is no ultimate ruling what kinds of subjects are placed in which of the two categories, and economics is a particular edge-case. I have found degree programs with the exact same name be a BA at some, but a BSc at other universities.

International Economics and/or Business in Europe and the United States

In my specific field of interest, the Netherlands, Scotland and England as well as Scandinavia[4] and the United States have turned out to be the countries of choice. England seems an obvious choice, but has the disadvantage of very high tuition fees – same thing in the US. Both, however, are home to the top universities I have applied to and would therefore either be worth a loan or actually grant financial aid to all students who need it. The Scottish state pays the tuition fees for all Scottish and non-UK EU students, which I found to be a hilarious FU to the rest of the UK. The Netherlands have tuition fees of €1,835/year for EU students, which makes it affordable with a very small or possibly no loan even for me.

The hardest conflict I face relating to the specific degree program I am about to choose is business versus diplomacy. There is, of course, the ethical part to it, there’s the money side and the likelihood of success – both business and diplomacy interest me equally, however, so I tried to leave both options open with my Bachelor choices. The more I (re)searched, the more I sided with business simply because it’s what I feel like I really want to do every day of my life. Most of these Bachelor degree programs offer specializations in Marketing, Management and/or Entrepreneurship, which I feel like are the fields I can make the greatest impact in – because that’s part of my decision as well: Where do I feel like I can excel the most, really push forward, “make my dent in the universe,” if you will.

The Application

Most applications will be submitted through some sort of third-party-online-program, such as the Common Application in the United States or Studielink in the Netherlands, which include things like short essays, teacher references and, obviously, grade reports. There are supplements to the application for most universities I am applying to and for the US-colleges I’m going to have to take the SAT Reasoning as well as SAT Subject Tests. Deadlines reach from January 1st 2014 to May 15th 2014 for the 2014 fall semester – so yes, I am very early in my decision making, but especially concerning the SAT testing I am rightfully so.

Narrowing It Down

Once I had created my list of 20 degrees/colleges I began sorting them in different ways: By name, by price, by country, by my personal rating – eventually I started looking at the different colleges in the different countries and narrowed my list down even further. I re-examined every program of the universities in question, watched videos about the institutions and their academic and extra-curricular activities and chose my personal top ten, five of which are American, three Scottish, one British and one Dutch[5].

Now What?

Now, you wait.
It will be a while before I can present a final decision – mine and the colleges’ – but I am thoroughly looking forward to everything that’s to come on this big journey into the world of academics.


  1. Granted, many people do and switch degrees, but that’s not what I’m talking about or intend to do – actually it’s the exact reason I’m considering and examining all options so carefully.  ↩

  2. World, globalize!  ↩

  3. Ironically, a Bachelor in International Economics and Business is an option I am seriously considering.  ↩

  4. It was rather difficult finding Bachelor programs in Scandinavia, which were taught entirely in English – as much as I love a challenge, I doubt it would pay off learning a Scandinavian language at this particular point in my life. So it’s really down to the Netherlands, the UK and the US.  ↩

  5. The actual list is quite private; my girlfriend, the teachers who write my recommendations and I know which colleges are on it. I just really want my future to be between me and myself for now.  ↩