Monday, July 3, 2017

How to prepare for your college application in 6 steps + Important things you must know! - The Ultimate Guide

This is post is for those who don't have a clear idea of how to prepare for applying to USA Universities. It could be because your school isn't very supportive in this matter/you don't have a good academic counselor/you are an international student and haven't found a counselor yet.

For international students who are clueless: You should hire an academic counselor around one year before your anticipated intake year. For example, if you want to begin University/College in Fall 2018, you should start looking for counselors now and start your process by July/August/Early September 2017. August is the best time to start.

This article will not get into the very details of what documents you need and their formats the documents should have in order to be considered as official by the college(s) you are applying to, but it will touch that topic. Mainly, however, this article is about what you should do in your high school years (because of a surprising number of people, especially international students, are unaware of everything they should do that'll increase their chances of being accepted because no one tells them).

I was also confused at one point so I hope to clarify everything and feel free to comment below any more questions you have and I will answer them to the best of my ability.

A little about me for some context: I have finished my entire college application process so I know what needs to be done and what I should've done that I didn't. I got accepted in all Universities I applied to, some being Universities from the SUNY system, University of Wisconsin, University of Cincinnati, etc. Even if you are applying to universities that are better than the ones I applied to, this guide will still help you if you don't have a clear idea of what to do before applying.

1 | Extracurricular Activities

You should do whatever extracurriculars you can while in high school. If you're on the team of any sport since grade 9, that's the best case. However, it is not too late to begin while you're in 10th grade. Doing very last minute extracurriculars (e.g. just a month or two before applying) can look bad. The people reviewing your application will know you did the activities just for the application. So start early. Click here to see a list of extracurricular activities you can do in high school (it's just an overview of the things you can do, if you want a way more detailed list, I suggest you just Google it.

Quantify your work! If you have done volunteering, then you should be able to state how many hours. If you have a hobby, try entering competitions related to that hobby and earning some sort of prize/certificate to give that hobby value. Colleges are looking for students who can provide something to the college while enrolled, so stating certificates, extracurriculars, numbers, etc. can help a lot.

Extracurricular activities also help your application by showing that you have leadership capabilities and passion. Firstly, extracurriculars (apart from sports) should be relevant and should have an impact on others. It should create a difference. Secondly, you should learn something from it (and you can say what you have learned from it in your essay which will be discussed below).

You can still do extracurriculars in 11th or 12th grade, it will definitely not affect your application negatively (they may just ignore it but they won't reject you because you did an extracurricular few months before applying!).  Considering that you apply before you are done with your 12th grade, the extracurriculars you do in your last year can be more freely chosen (because you don't necessarily have to focus on looking "passionate", "responsible", "mature", etc).

2 | Your actual ticket

I'm talking about the SAT/ACT. Most people give either one of these tests in 11th grade (junior year of high school). If you read this while you are in 10th grade, you can start now and have a lot of time to study if you aren't great at English and Math and know that you won't be able to give your level best with just a few months of preparation. If you are in 11th or 12th grade, START NOW! If you are applying for Fall 2018 and you haven't given your SAT/ACT test yet, you should give it soon. It depends on when your university deadline is, but if you think you are ready then the earlier the better. You don't want a test score report to be the reason for a delay in your admission decision.

You can register for the tests online (you only have to give one) and once score reports are available online, you will see an option to electronically send them to the college(s) you select.

3 | Academic scores

Academics. It is very important just like the other 2 factors I have mentioned. The admission team will look at your entire graph - what your scores have been like in 9th grade, 10th, and 11th (and 12th midterms if you provide that too). You should try to keep your scores as high as you can. The American system is pretty flexible, however, and you can still get in with bad scores (not at Harvard, but there are a lot of colleges) if the rest of your application blows their mind. So you have two options: Either try to blow their mind with 1 or 2 out of these (so far) 3 pointers or balance these three factors and do them all at least decently well. There's no way anyone can definitely tell you if you will get accepted or not (unless maybe if you literally have 95%+ academic grades, have a lot of 1st place prizes, a lot of community service hours, etc - you get the point). So the best option is to up your game for everything as much as you can.

4 | Resume

This is just a one-paged document you need to prepare with your personal details (name, contact number, email ID, address, DOB, and languages you know), your academic objective/goals in about 2-5 lines approximately, your academic scores, academic achievements, high school activities, and extracurricular activities. You can also add your hobbies and skills. You can search online for the format of the resume.

You can definitely make your resume stand out by mentioning the difference-making activities you have done (and by your academic scores, of course). So making your resume stand out all depends on all the efforts you have put in.

5 | Essay

The essay, commonly called "The Statement of Purpose" or "Personal Statement", is also necessary for your application. The word limit will vary from college to college. I suggest typing around 1000 words so that you can easily condense it (for e.g. if your college requires only a 650-word essay) and add a few more words/a paragraph if you need 1200 or more words in your essay.
For the most part, your counselor will help you with this but I will give you an overview of what I included in my essay.
  • Introduction of yourself
  • Short term goals (this could include what major you want to pursue and a short reason why)
  • Your personal background (relevant to your choice of degree and/or major or relevant to your academic interests)
  • How personal events have shaped your decision or what event in your life made you decide to go on the path you want to (in terms of academics)
  • Explaining in a detailed manner extracurriculars/community service you have mentioned in your resume and how that has made a difference and what you have learned/gained from it
  • Academic activities (again taken from the resume) and how they have helped you develop skills (name the skills)
  • Long term goals (what's next after you earn the degree you want to pursue right now)
  • Why you have chosen that particular University
For international students: You may also want to add a paragraph before the last point above stating why you have chosen to study in the USA

If you are applying to a lot of colleges/universities it is sensible to have a basic framework for all the essays and just to change the paragraph that is University-specific. 

6 | Other documents you need

You will need some more documents like sealed transcripts, recommendation letters from 3 teachers (sealed), and maybe even a scan of your passport. 

International students: Along with the above you will have to provide an official affidavit that says your parent (this is assuming you are applying for a bachelor degree and are a dependent child) gives consent for you to study in the USA. You will also need a bank statement that shows you have enough funds (the University will tell you, either on their website or if you contact them, how much funds you need to show. Your counselor may also know). 

The formats of all the above documents are supposed to be very strict, so I strongly recommend hiring a counselor if you don't have for not only the above application process mentioned but also the documents part of it. You don't want to lose a chance because the format wasn't considered official by the University/college.

Though your counselor will make everything clear to you if you want any more clarification on a specific topic comment below and I will be sure to help you if I have the answer! 

Good luck with your application process!

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