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Danielle Mikaelian's STUDENT ADVICE CORNER: Advice on Selecting an Undergraduate Institution

Updated: Apr 18

Armenian Student Association

Opinion Piece by Danielle Mikaelian

Hi everyone! My name is Danielle Mikaelian and I’m an American-Armenian student currently studying at Harvard Law School. I graduated from Columbia University in 2021 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature. As the descendant of orphaned Armenian Genocide survivors, I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend these institutions and am here today to help support Armenian students in identifying the best school choice for them. Many high school students will receive acceptances in the coming months, and choosing a school is an extremely important decision in one’s life trajectory. It defines some of the most pivotal years of your adult life, determining your network and helping you secure your first postgraduate job. 

I’ve been working in college admissions consulting for seven years for a variety of companies. As part of this, I help students determine where to apply, edit application materials, and advise them on extracurricular activities and internships. Now that application season is over, I want to ensure that all Armenian students choose the school that’s the right fit for them. There’s a variety of factors to consider in picking a school, and I will highlight them below while touching upon my personal experiences! 

1. Geography (Urban or Rural)

Despite growing up in a suburb, I chose to attend Columbia University — a school in one of the most urban locations in the country. Attending college out of state was transformative for me and helped me grow personally and professionally.  Being in an urban location had many benefits. As a college student studying English Literature, I was immersed in a cultural hub within the United States. As a student in a large city, I had the opportunity to attend Broadway shows and events throughout the city alongside my coursework. I also had the opportunity to attend numerous Armenian events such as performances and academic lectures. However, a big city environment can be overwhelming for some students. Comparatively, a more rural environment can be more tranquil and picturesque. Beyond this, rural schools often have a greater emphasis on student life because there is less to do off campus. They also typically have a lower cost of living. Where will you thrive, and what environment will help you take the next steps in your educational journey?  

2. Armenian Community

Some schools, like UCLA and Berkeley, have extremely large Armenian Societies. This is in addition to having Armenian fraternities and sororities. For instance, UCLA and UC Berkeley have chapters of an Armenian fraternity called Alpha Epsilon Omega. I personally went to a school with an extremely small Armenian community in its undergraduate population. There were only around five or six Armenian students in Columbia’s undergraduate program. Despite this, I was able to actively immerse myself in the Armenian community there. We combined our graduate and undergraduate school Armenian populations, and I served as Columbia’s Armenian Society President. Being in a large city with an Armenian population ensures that one has opportunities to attend Armenian events outside of school as well. For instance, the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the U.N is in New York and Fordham has an annual Armenian mentorship program. I was also a founding member of ASAUnited, an organization helping Armenian Societies across the country connect and plan joint programming. If you are wondering whether a college has an active Armenian Society, a somewhat comprehensive (albeit not exhaustive) list can be found on their website

3. Majors Available 

Most schools do not make you choose a major until you are almost done with your sophomore year! However, it’s important to choose a school that has majors supporting your interest areas. For example, Columbia does not offer a Communications major or a Business major. Beyond looking at a school’s overall ranking in the U.S. News and World Report, it’s important to look at the strength of your intended program. For instance, Babson has been named the best college for entrepreneurship for years and produces the highest proportion of business leaders of any university. Students and families should look at how strong different majors are across all programs in the United States, using sites such as

4. Armenian Programs 

A limited number of schools across the United States have centers or programs specifically dedicated to Armenian Studies. For instance, Columbia has an Armenian Center that hosts scholars, conferences, and book talks. The Promise Institute is at UCLA and the, and USC has an Institute for Armenian Studies at USC offer similar programming. One notable school is Claremont McKenna, which has The Mgrublian Center for Human Rights that allows students to study features a sequence with a focus on genocide. CSUN and Fresno State, meanwhile, have  an an Armenian Studies Program that offers courses like Arts of Armenia, and Introduction to Armenian Studies. CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program allows students to minor in Armenian.  This past year, the University of Pennsylvania launched its first Armenian language studies course. The University of Michigan has an Armenian Research Center as well. 

5. Postgraduate Opportunities 

Some schools will place much better in certain industries than others. It is important to keep this in mind if you want to break into a very selective job market immediately after graduating from college. For instance, it is important to attend a highly ranked university with a strong finance program if one wants to break into a field like investment banking. This applies to industries like consulting as well. Meanwhile, law schools do not overly care what school you attend for your undergraduate studies and care more about your GPA. As a result, it is less important to choose the “right” school for job placement opportunities if one is looking into applying to graduate school down the line. However, it is important to keep in mind that your interests can change — you want to be happy wherever you end up! 

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Anna Hakobyan with Columbia University students, 2019
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Anna Hakobyan with Columbia University students, 2019

6. Dorm Options

Some schools have students live on campus for all four years. As a Columbia student, I was privileged in this regard and had the opportunity to live in a single dorm for all four years. At UC schools, meanwhile, many students will have to live in triples and eventually move off campus into apartments. Other schools like Yale University and Rice University have residential halls that you are sorted into as a freshman. Like in Harry Potter, you spend the next few years living alongside students in these residential halls. This can help build a sense of camaraderie. What environment will you personally thrive in as a student? Do you prefer roommates or living alone? Answering these questions can help you determine what school to attend. 

7. School Size

Will you succeed better in a smaller or larger environment? Liberal arts colleges, as well as private schools, typically have smaller student bodies and class sizes. Smaller class sizes lead to more individualized attention from professors and more opportunities to pursue research. For students coming from small Armenian schools, a more intimate environment may be more reflective of what they are accustomed to. However, a larger college will likely have more clubs to join, as well as more classes to choose from. Larger schools are also likely to have more of an emphasis on school spirit and stronger sports teams. 

8. Cost

If one wants to eventually attend a prestigious graduate program, it can be more practical for families to send a student to a more affordable undergraduate program. As mentioned above, law schools and medical schools take students from a variety of schools. My Harvard Law School class features students from 147 different undergraduate institutions. If a student is not interested in graduate school, it may make more sense to attend the college with a stronger program for their major and better job placement opportunities. If finances are a burden, there are also a variety of scholarships that can help make college more affordable. Various Armenian organizations have scholarship programs and websites like help students locate and apply for scholarships as well.  

As one more note, I would highly recommend attending admitted student days for the schools if you have the time. Nothing compares to being able to physically walk around a campus! If you are unable to, I recommend either pulling up a YouTube video or finding a virtual tour of campus. Many schools have started to include such offerings online. 

I hope this was helpful! Through these ‘STUDENT ADVICE CORNER’ series, I hope to empower the next generation of Armenians through education. 

Danielle Mikaelian Biography: 

Danielle Mikaelian headshot

Danielle Mikaelian is originally from Southern California. She attended Columbia University, majoring in English Literature. At Columbia, Danielle Mikaelian served as President of the Columbia Armenian Society and was named 2021 Student of the Year in recognition of her impact on campus. Mikaelian launched Columbia’s Women in Law and Politics Journal, serving as its Editor-in-Chief. Danielle Mikaelian is currently a second year student at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, she serves as Executive Vice President of Operations for the Harvard Association of Law and Business and the Co-Managing Print Editor for the Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law. She is an Armenian Professional Society Scholar, Armenian Bar Association Scholar, Armenians For Success Scholar, WhoWeAre Scholar, Arisdine Krikorian Scholar, and two-time Huys Foundation Scholar. Danielle Mikaelian remains dedicated to promoting the success of the next generation of Armenians. 


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