The View From Campus: Understanding the U.S. Application Process

Marie Whalen, Associate Director of International Admissions and Recruitment at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, shares a brief overview of her institution, her views on the value of IELTS in evaluating students’ English readiness for university study, as well as an overview of the U.S. college admissions process.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words or less.

A: Rigorous, inclusive, supportive, faith-filled

Q: For what is your institution known abroad?

A: Whitworth is best known for its academic excellence and a welcoming, supportive environment for international students.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad and grad)?

Health Sciences

Business/Economics

Biology

Psychology

English

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

Nigeria

South Korea

Mongolia

Nepal

Zimbabwe

Q: Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability?

A: IELTS enables us to assess the applicant’s skill overall as well as in the individual areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening. As a well-recognized and reliable assessment tool, our international admissions committee can look at an IELTS band score and know instantly what the English level at which the applicant is able to function.

Additionally, we can see if there is one specific area where the student can be successful but may need some additional support, such as writing, for example. We also appreciate that the verbal section is done with a live interview vs. with a computer.  IELTS is a critical part of determining admissibility in our international admission process.

Q: Can you explain the difference between rolling admissions, early decision, early action, and regular decision at U.S. colleges?

A: Rolling admission is a process that allows students to apply within a wide time range of time rather than submitting to specific tight deadline, like January 1st, for example. However, rolling admission also means that students are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, so places can fill up. Once places for a class are full, applications won’t be accepted. If applying to a school with rolling admission, it can be better to apply earlier than later.

Some U.S. institutions, usually highly selective, offer Early Decision (ED). Students submit their applications early and receive a decision early. If a student applies to a university ED, then they are promising to attend that institution, if admitted. Students should only apply ED if they are certain they want to attend the ED institution and they have assessed both their financial situation and type and level of aid offered by the ED school.

Early Action (EA), like ED, gives students the opportunity to apply early to institutions and receive a decision early. However, unlike ED, Early Action is not a contract, and not binding. Students can apply to multiple institutions that offer EA. If a student is admitted EA to 5 U.S. colleges, for example, they can choose which one to attend.  There are a very limited number of colleges that offer Restrictive or Single Early Action, requiring students to apply EA to only one institution.

Many institutions offer some combination of ED, EA and Regular Decision. Whitworth, for example, offers Early Action I and Early Action II, as well as Regular Decision. A regular decision deadline is the deadline after any ED or EA deadlines and is usually considered the final deadline for applying.

Q: What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose?

A: Institutions look to the essay to gain additional insight into an applicant, beyond their grades, test scores and any extra-curricular activities.  The essay is an excellent opportunity for an applicant to share something about themselves that we otherwise would not know. Some students have compelling life stories, or a hobby or passion, or some unique perspective.

Q: How important are deadlines in the admission process to U.S. institutions?

A: Very important! Many U.S. institutions have strict admission, scholarship and financial aid deadlines. If you miss a deadline, even by an hour, your application may not be considered, or you may not receive any financial aid. I always tell students to begin their applications early because they often take more time than students expect. Don’t miss those deadlines!

Q: What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?

A: Colleges look to teacher/professor letters of recommendation to find out what type of student an applicant is. Of course we know that a student with a 3.74/4.00 GPA is competent academically, but we want to know more: how does the student learn? How does he or she contribute to the classroom and interact with the teacher and classmates?  Does the student do the minimum work required or go beyond that to learn about a topic in-depth? Is a student who struggled academically in year 11 now making good progress?

Q: Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?

A: Some institutions will give admissions decisions within 2-3 weeks; others can take months to respond. Some institutions have pre-set dates for releasing their decisions. Every institution has its own policy and this policy should be written on their website.

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