There is often a disappointing answer to the general question: “what does it take to be admitted to a U.S school?” That is: “It depends.” So for students coming from overseas, the process of applying to a U.S college can seem a tough nut to crack. But it doesn’t have to be. Here, we give you a check-list to help navigate the process and reach your goals.
Thomas Abbs (CC Flickr)
- One size does not fit all
‘What it takes’ depends on the institution, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into finding the best course to match your goals. Like many countries, the U.S has a Common Application which allows students to apply online to up to 20 of over 500 mostly private colleges and universities. However, many excellent colleges are not part of this service, so it is up to you to cast your net wider to find those colleges that would suit you.
- Research, research, research
Be sure you do your research and choose the institutions that match your academic ability and aspirations. There’s no substitute for this work and it will give you a better idea of what’s on offer, what’s required and where you will thrive. It will pay off in the long-run.
- Have you got the grades?
Most colleges have online applications for admissions that students can complete, but each may require a different mix of standardized tests for admissions and English language proficiency. Whether it is the SATs or ACT for measuring academic aptitude, or English proficiency tests like IELTS (accepted by over 3,300 U.S Institutions), each college is free to accept some or none of these tests as part of their application requirements. It’s up to you do find out the specifics (e.g. IELTS band score) in each case.
In short – don’t take anything for granted. You must check, and check again to see that you have all the relevant requirements for the course you’re applying to.
- It just got personal
Another oddity of U.S. college admissions is that personal statement essays may be required at non-selective institutions too. These essays ask sometimes very basic or direct questions, like:
“Why have you chosen _______ University?” or…
“What impact do you feel you can have on our college community?”
Other questions tend to be much deeper and harder to discern, like:
“Describe a traumatic time in your life and how that experience has helped define who you are as a person.” Some universities now accept videos answers to essay questions to allow students the opportunity to express their creativity.
In each case, this is your chance to make yourself memorable. It’s a good rule of thumb to put yourself in the reader’s position; if you were reading 1000s of applications, wouldn’t you remember the ones that tell a story?
- Recommendation letter
Perhaps the most difficult requirement for overseas students applying to U.S. colleges is the dreaded recommendation letter.
In some cultures, to ask a professor or teacher to write a letter of support for application to university could be met with a raised eyebrow or even laughter, but in the U.S. at many selective colleges, these letters are required.
Some universities may even request up to three recommendation letters before your application will be considered!
Beyond tests, essays and recommendation letters, each institution sets their own deadlines for receiving applications and other required materials. There are even very different types of deadlines, among them rolling admissions, early decision, early action, regular admissions and others.
Our best advice to those considering undergraduate admission in the United States is to narrow your choices of institutions first to a reasonable number that you might apply to (perhaps 6-10), and then be certain to contact each institution’s admissions office and don’t take ‘it depends’ for an answer! It can make all the difference to your future.