The United States has the distinction of having the maximum number of ranked colleges in its academic ecosystem; it is also a preferred destination for Indian students. What comes as a surprise to many potential applicants is that the unlike most admission systems the path to a US college is complex multi-layered and starts as early as class 9.
‘The Updated Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to US Undergraduate Admissions’ is a reference book that should be picked up at the earliest stage by anyone who is thinking of studying at the undergraduate level in the USA.
Applying to US colleges may seem daunting at first; it might be hard to know where to start. But the trick is to start early and break the application process into simple pieces.
The US applications form takes into account records of all school exams, extra curricula’s, and representations in debates, sports, music, and school clubs from grade 9 onwards. The aspiring student must have a clear road map of his interests and skills and demonstrate concerted steps towards excellence. An example to illustrate this would be if the student is interested in the ‘environment’- participation, taking initiative, demonstration of responsibility so that by the time the student reaches grade 12 the applicant is an office holder in the club.
Grade 10 is the time to explore not only future academic interest in grade 11 but also to jump ahead and explore college and academic options in the US. This will give the student a perspective on the journey ahead as well as help to plot milestones with reference to achievements, additional exams and internships. Grade 11 is when the action really begins along with the Standardized tests the applicant should be able to create a broad shortlist of prospective universities. This will help in filling in the missing link if any towards admission.
Grade 12 is the full throttle zone—the applicant will be required to concentrate on school academics while negotiating the US application journey which is time consuming and has large writing components in form essays and individual statements. Judicious planning will definitely ease the pressure on the child who will be walking the tight rope between Indian school requirements and the application process simultaneously. Needless to say any stage academics cannot be compromised.
Tip: The application form only records all activities till the middle of grade 12-after that the student is free to concentrate just on academics and prepare for the grade 12 board exams.
All about exams
Majority US universities require one or more Standardized Tests. The SAT 1/ACT are mandatory reasoning and aptitude test for undergraduate studies in the USA. SAT subject tests are required by a few universities. English proficiency exams are also mandatory for an International student
Taking the AP’s or Advanced Placement Exams is a sure shot way of impressing College admission counsellors as it indicates the child’s preparedness to take on challenges as well his ability to handle college-level course work and may also help to earn college credits.
Tip: Download an app to build vocabulary in grade 9 or 10. The student can learn 5 new words a day –which will help the child be proficient by the time he/she is ready to take the SAT1/ACT examination. Choosing a College –The Right Fit
There are over 4000 colleges to choose from. The Internet is a good starting point to begin one’s exploration. There are plenty of credible sites which update information not just on rankings and subject specialities but also on the prevailing culture of the universities. Subsequently, travelling college fairs become the perfect space for interaction and to get your questions answered.
Factors to be kept in mind while shortlisting are majors offered, flexibility, accreditation, location, size of the school and the fee structure.
Tip: Big Future is an extremely comprehensive college planning site maintained by the college board. It allows one to filter the colleges based on SAT scores, GPA, location, and school size among many other choices.
Colleges and Universities may have their individual application form or subscribe to the Common Application used by upto 700 colleges. The other two common applications are the University of California application and the University of Texas application used for admission to their various campuses.
All colleges offer a variety of decision plans with specific deadlines. Fortunately, most applications follow a similar format and will request the following information: Personal Profile—Includes the name, age, address, family background, citizenship, and high school information
Activities— This is the section to showcase the student’s special interests i.e. Hobbies, Sports, Community service, Leadership skills, Inter School participation and representations Essays— The writing component or ‘essays’ forms an integral part of the US Application process. Most universities require 2-3 essays as part of their application.
Letters of recommendation—American colleges rely on the school’s perception of the child-academics, strengths, weaknesses, achievements all have to be recorded and presented by school officials.
Interviews – Different colleges have varied views on the importance of interviews. For some, it is not essential, while for others it may be ‘compulsory’ or ‘optional’. Even if a college indicates’ optional’, it is an excellent idea to request for one.
Tip: The essay topics are fairly similar year after year-it would be a good idea to start working in advance in the summer and then tweaking it to the specific topic once the actual forms are released.
The good news is that the admission decisions come in before the end of board exam- with a couple of admits in ones pocket one can look forward to a relaxing summer ahead.
-The authors are Harvard University and College Board Certified Admission Consultants