This post deals with the requirements of a successful undergraduate application and what colleges expect while evaluating prospective applications.
Firstly, colleges look at your scores on standardized tests such as the SAT, IELTS and TOEFL. This helps them find common ground for the students’ basic skillset in quant and verbal because different schools around the world have different standards for awarding board marks and percentages. Do ensure that you have a high score in whichever standardized test(s) you’re appearing for, and do remember that they are necessary criteria (though by no means sufficient) for admission. For SAT preparation you can get in touch us for a free Counselling Session to answer all your queries on the SAT exam.
Secondly, the candidate’s academic record from 9th to 12th standard is considered. Usually students have good scores in 9th and 10th, but the scores drop in 11th and 12th. Work to ensure that it doesn’t happen. Now, by a good academic record we don’t mean that you should’ve been a class topper (though that definitely helps), but we do mean that if you’ve been scoring low, you’d need to compensate via academic add-ons such as SAT subject tests and Advanced Placement credits. For detailed information on AP courses and exams, take a look at collegeboard.org. They are essentially higher level courses for school students who wish to explore their area of interest further and prove to admission committees that they have always been committed to academia. Further, AP credits count towards your undergraduate degree, so they’re a great way to get a head start. At the school level, you can participate in Olympiads and get certificates from courses on edX and coursera.org to showcase your areas of interest.
Letters of Recommendation
Thirdly, you need to secure Letters of Recommendation from the right people, and ensure that they highlight the skills and achievements that go with the profile you’re attempting to create. These can be from teachers, principals of your school, employers you have interned or worked part-time with, and anyone else who can vouch for the skills or community service you’re claiming to have done.
Fourthly, the college essay. This is supposed to highlight how the activities and academics you have pursued so far tie in with your life goals, and how the course or university you are applying to would be the best fit for you. Not all colleges take interviews, so think of the essay as an interview. It’s your chance to show the admissions committee who you are and what motivates you.
So what kind of activities can you mention to set your application apart from academics?
Not many school students get the time or opportunity to take up part time jobs or internships, particularly from the Indian applicant pool. So if you’ve worked anywhere, do mention it as evidence of your initiative or leadership skills. Under extra-curricular activities, you can mention sports, performing arts, photography, visual art, hiking, trekking and community service. If your hobby is reading, then just mentioning that you read wouldn’t look good, but you can certainly showcase it by maintaining a blog of book reviews, for example.
While mentioning co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, it is important to choose quality over quantity, and to mention only the most relevant activities. It won’t do to mention a three legged race you won in class 4, but a debate you won in class 12 makes sense. Whichever activity you mention, ensure it is not just talk and that you can provide concrete material to back it up.
A combination of these is what makes for a successful application. You might also want to get in touch with students who have got in and see what they wrote in their application. It is usually a well-considered mix of the above.
All the very best!