Satisficer, Simon, and Selecting Universities

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Updated June 8, 2022

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The term satisfice, a linguistic blend of “satisfy” and “suffice,” was coined by Herbert Simon** in 1956. Simon coined the term to strike a distinction between classical and behavioral economics.

Classical economics posits that we are all maximizers who strive to get the very best out of every decision we make. However, this assumes that we are rational and armed with the information needed to make that optimal choice. Simon proposed that this is rarely, if ever, the case, due to the limits of human cognition.*

Rather, he suggests an alternative route wherein the “decision makers can satisfice either by finding optimum solutions for a simplified world, or by finding satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world.” In both cases, the satisficer is happy to walk away with a good enough solution that meets a certain threshold set by them, as opposed to the best possible one. And research* has shown that the satisficer is also happier on average than the maximizer, especially in situations where the available options are abundant and personal freedom is championed.

Why is this important?

Once you begin entering the rabbit hole of comparing universities, you will soon find the need to draw a boundary between being a satisficer and a maximizer. You will also tend to associate great importance to this decision and increase your stress levels by going over too many factors, always fearing that you haven’t done a thorough enough job. Using the time and energy in your hand as a constraint, we will help you pick the factors that we believe are important to consider while choosing your top universities, but ultimately, the decision is in your hands.

So at this stage when you’re beginning to narrow down universities to apply to, be a satisficer, not a maximizer.

However, once you begin receiving admits from the places you apply to, you can turn to be a maximizer. But more on that in the chapter on picking your dream university. For now, keep telling yourself to be a satisficer.

Well, the first thing to keep in mind about first instincts is that they are almost always wrong.

dangerYour first instinct in choosing universities might be to skim through a ranking website, note down the universities listed at the top, and begin applying. But before you fall into that trap, let’s take a step back to understand the mechanism behind these ranking sites.

Based on a preliminary Google search, you will notice that there are three ranking sites that grab the top spots: QS World University Rankings,* Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings,* and Academic Rankings of World Universities (ARWU).* Taking National University of Singapore as an example, based on the most recent data, it ranks 11th according to QS, 23rd according to THE, and 85th according to ARWU. Why? Because the methodology used and data input for the ranking sites are significantly different. There is a weighted bias towards specific factors when the overall scores are measured.

Method to the Madness

Let’s peek behind the curtains of each rankings site.

Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings

This is an annual publication by Quacquarelli Symonds, a British publication. According to Alexa Internet, an American web traffic tracking company, it is the most widely viewed university ranking worldwide.* QS partners with Elsevier to provide the rankings across 48 subjects and also across regional areas such as Asia, Latin America, Europe, and more.

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