Students should attempt to strengthen their profile with the goal of making themselves more attractive to admissions committees. Beginning a social service/academic project outside of curricular work will help in this regard. It is best to design such projects keeping in mind the following: colleges are looking for initiative, leadership, social consciousness, temperament, local and global engagement, and perseverance. As such these projects should aim to merge the student's personal interests with issues of local importance that can be tied into global concerns. These projects should be developed over a multi-month timeline that demonstrates the student's ability to plan, execute, and carry out a complicated project. If required, they can work with others and demonstrate managerial ability. It is advantageous to ally student projects with student academic interests as this will show commitment and perseverance. Students should not undertake 'walks', 'fact-finding', or any social service project that is short-term (less than three months) as these appear to be obvious CV-stuffers to admissions deans.
Academic projects should remember that student work will be judged by worldwide standards. That is to say, work must create new knowledge and require research and expertise of an advanced nature. It is best utilised to showcase the ability to undertake advanced undergraduate work. However, when applying to more selective colleges it is important to remember the huge advantage in resources available to American students throughout this process—for example, many of the students applying to colleges such as MIT and CalTech have won global programming competitions and undertaken very high-level research internships with NASA, CERN and so on. As with the social service project, it is best to conceive this academic project keeping in mind the goals of demonstrating initiative, social consciousness, local and global engagement, and perseverance.
“Short listing universities are a complicated and research-intensive process that, if done right, can maximise student chances of finding their perfect fit”
For Indian students, it would be preferable to use this opportunity to reflect on issues central to the Indian experience. One of the essential facts to remember when applying to US colleges is that our student is offering their student body a fresh perspective. Keeping this in mind will help us overcome the American student's advantages in available resources. By focusing on the uniqueness offered to our student by living here, we will be able to best situate their project for positive feedback from US universities.
It is essential that we convey the vast difference in admission rates for international students requiring and not requiring financial aid. International students not requiring aid are admitted at roughly the same rate as domestic students. However, international students requiring aid are admitted at a maximum of 2-3 percent and that too in the few colleges which offer financial aid. The admission rate decreases with each dollar in funding required. Thus, it is important that the student and their parents sit down for an honest conversation about the aid required/ not required. Parents should be advised of this discrepancy as early in the process as possible. Once this information is understood, we may begin short listing universities.
Short listing universities are a complicated and research-intensive process that, if done right, can maximise student chances of finding their perfect fit. Short listing of universities should be conducted keeping the following in mind— student academic interests, student personal interests, student temperament, family finances, and student professional interests. Balancing these five variables requires a significant amount of expertise, expertise unavailable to the student or their parents, and may be used as a selling point for our product. A few things to keep in mind during this process:
• Public universities do not offer financial aid.
• Small liberal arts colleges offer more financial aid on an individual basis.
• The bigger the university the more emphasis on the numbers (SAT scores, GPA); the smaller the university the more emphasis on the personality.
• For more selective colleges meeting outlined standards is often not enough as they are concerned with creating a “well-rounded student body” rather than simply taking the “best” academically qualified students. This is especially true at Top 15 colleges.
• Students should investigate college websites to learn more about colleges-several colleges have specific qualities they search for that become apparent upon searching their website.
• If a university is known for a specific program that is at odds with their overall ranking speak to the student about their commitment to that major/ program-if they don't seem completely committed to the program, other schools may be looked at.
• Advice students on comparable majors while creating shortlists as majors are more fluid in the US, especially concerning jobs. It might be more helpful to look at career goals rather than major while helping students with this aspect.
• Students requiring financial aid should apply to a majority of schools that fall at or below their admission profile. In other words, a student requiring financial aid would apply to colleges one or two rungs below their compatriot who requires no aid, all other things being equal.
• The higher ranked the university the more extracurricular work matters in the admission decisions; schools like Harvard and Yale see enough 2400 kids a year to feel comfortable about rejecting hundreds of them.
Adarsh Khandelwal is a Co-founder of Collegify. They help students to study in abroad by helping them in funding and scholarship opportunities. Collegify provides quality personalized services that make a student college ready.