The US college applications season can be a very difficult time for most students. As such, it is important to set up a good timeline to carry out relevant tasks so that you can divide and conquer the work. Ideally, you should start a year before your applications. There are two application timelines for US universities each year- the first deadline is usually on November 1st (the early decision timeline) and the second deadline is on January 1st (the regular decision timeline).
Step 1: Research on universities
The goal here is to familiarise yourself with the nature of US universities. Check for their admission requirements and look into their scholarship and financial aid programs for international students. Start with their official site; it is extremely thorough and helpful if you take the time to look. If you find anything that is unclear, feel free to email them directly about specific confusions and questions you may have. Resort to sites like College Confidential, Prep Scholar and Niche for an outside perspective. Resort to Quora sometimes as well. Be careful to not fall for the “rankings trap”. Rankings are not very objective and often disregard universities that don’t have a huge promotional campaign. It is also not a good indicator of which universities are suited specifically for you.
It is crucial to love and feel connected to the university you are going to apply to. Look for precise details (such as details of the departments you want to major in), talk to the professors and find unique facilities and resources that you can utilise. This detail will not only aid your final decision-making process, but also serve as great content for supplementary essays where colleges ask you why you picked them.
Step 2: Prepare for SAT I, II and IELTS
These standardised tests are usually requirements for all US colleges. It is important to remember that these are skill-based exams rather than syllabus-based exams, which means these need more time to get accustomed to. Don’t be intimidated and use Google to find out the nature of these tests.
To prepare for the SATs use resources in Khan Academy and Prep Scholar. You may also buy a physical book called “Cracking the New SAT Premium” by Princeton Review (for SAT I) in the beginning and then use other books you think will help. You can also join Mentors and PIE for SAT preparation coaching or additional mock exams if you think you need it.
To register, you can open an account on Collegeboard.org and pay for the tests via an international credit card (takes about 65 US dollars). In case you do not have an international credit card, you can go to Mentors or PIE to register. Please note that they charge a bit more for this service. Registration usually closes a month before the exam; you can look up the dates for international examinations each year from The College Board as well (just google SAT international registration). It is also important to remember that the dates for examinations aren’t always available so you must check before you make any plans. The seats for good venues are quite limited too.
For IELTS preparation, you can register for crash courses in Mentors and PIE or just prepare online via basic resources including British Council’s sample examples and YouTube (subscribe to IELTS LIZ and 10 Minute School and go through their playlists). There are two types of IELTS exams- general and academic. Students should try to give the academic one.
For IELTS registration, just go to the British Council website and select the IELTS registration option. Once you fill out the online form, they will give you an account number and a transaction number. You will need those to deposit your registration fee in Standard Chartered Bank. Be sure to take a PDF copy of the confirmation email they send with it.
Given these are skill-based exams, don’t start your preparation one or two months before your exam; start with a minimum of six months in hand and make slow but solid progress daily. The study schedule should be allocating a good one-hour for preparation every day. Last-minute crunches may sometimes work for syllabus-based exams, but here the goal is to grow skill, which only happens over time.
Step 3: Open Common App and write your essays
The common application is what is sent to all the colleges you apply to. The application is a bit long, so spend some time figuring out what information to put in. If you have any confusion regarding this, just ask in the Facebook group called ‘Bangladeshis Beyond Borders’.
The common application also gives out the essay prompts for your personal essay each year. The essay is regarded as the most important part of your application. People with brilliant scores often get rejected from colleges because of a poor essay and vice versa. Take as much time as you can when writing your essay and get it checked by people who you trust to provide good feedback.
There are also supplementary essays that need to be submitted. Each college has its own supplementary essay prompts, so be sure to go through them and start writing them as soon as you can. Poor supplementary essays often show general disregard from the student’s end, resulting in heavy penalty.
Step 4: collect the necessary documents
One of the most important documents that need to be sent to colleges apart from your transcripts is recommendation letters by your guidance counselor and teachers. Those give the admissions committee a third party insight into who you really are. An uninformative and vague recommendation may cost you your admission.
It is also important to collect financial documents of those who will be sponsoring your education. The financial documents usually needed are the tax return papers of the previous year and a 6-month bank statement.
Step 5: Fill up the CSS profile and COF
These two documents are what you provide to the college so that they can give you financial aid. These seem more daunting than they are; just be sure to take your time and ask around as you fill up these forms. The deadlines for these are usually on the same day as the application deadline. You also need to scan and upload tax return papers on the IDOC site as proof of the financial information you presented in the CSS profile and Certificate of Finances (COF).
Sreyan Kanungo is a certified Fatman who loves the business world. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.