Your guide to successful undergraduate admission in the US

Though each university has its own method for reviewing applications and the application requirements may vary at different institutions, several common factors contribute to a successful undergraduate application to a U.S. university.

Manmohan ThoratUpdated: Saturday, October 15, 2022, 02:33 PM IST
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A key difference between undergraduate programs in the United States and India is that the U.S. institutions consider the academic performance of the applicant from the 9th grade through 12th grade, whereas Indian institutions emphasise performance on 10th and 12th-grade exams. | Pixabay

Indian students appreciate the quality of education available in the United States, and they often wish to pursue their higher studies at one of the many world-class U.S. universities. However, applying to universities in the United States requires ample preparation and thought, and one should ideally begin the application process 12-18 months before the start date of the course. U.S. universities review an application holistically, and a winning application package usually presents a complete picture of the student.  Though each university has its own method for reviewing applications and the application requirements may vary at different institutions, several common factors contribute to a successful application to a U.S. university. This article will explain some components of a successful undergraduate application to improve your chances of being admitted to your dream university.

Academic performances and markers

 To begin, a key difference between undergraduate programs in the United States and India is that the U.S. institutions consider the academic performance of the applicant from the 9th grade through 12th grade, whereas Indian institutions emphasise performance on 10th and 12th-grade exams. While applying to a university in the United States, the applicant is required to submit an academic transcript provided by the school that shows grades for all academic courses taken from 9th-12th grade. By reviewing the academic performance from the 9th-12th grade, universities abroad obtain a better understanding of the academic consistency of the student.

 The second academic marker U.S. universities consider is standardised tests. Students can take either the SAT exam or the ACT exam, though some universities have waived this exam requirement in the last two years and only require English proficiency tests. The SAT exam is conducted by the College Board and has English and maths sections, while the ACT exam has three components: English, maths, and science.  Ideally, students will take a practice exam of both the SAT and ACT exams, determine which style of test is preferable, and then prepare for that test. Resources to prepare for these exams are available on the websites of the College Board and ACT, and these standardised tests can be taken multiple times. An English test is also required for international students. Some well-known options are the TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, and Duolingo.  Remember to check with the universities to which you plan to apply to see which English proficiency test is required as part of the application.

Manmohan Thorat

Importance of essays in cracking the admission

 In addition to academics, essays form a very important part of the application. Most universities require one primary essay, and some may require additional essays. The essay prompts are designed to allow applicants to showcase their personalities. An essay is a great place for the applicant to explain why they want to pursue an undergraduate degree from a particular university and how it will help their future personal and professional goals. Through the essays, the university admissions officials get insight into whether the student will be a good fit for the university and vice versa.

How your LOR should look like

 Letters of recommendation are another key component of the application package. A letter of recommendation is written by a teacher, instructor, or supervisory authority that can vouch for the applicant. At the undergraduate level, letters of recommendation are usually written by teachers and school counsellors. The letter of recommendation is usually a single-page document describing the student’s unique attributes to help the admissions committee have a subjective view of the applicant. Providing specific examples of how a student made a difference in the class or the school strengthens the letter of recommendation. The designation of the person writing the letter of recommendation is usually not as important as the content.

Showcase the ability to be financially sufficient in the US

 Financial documents that demonstrate the ability of the applicant to pay for the education are another part of the application package. Students need to demonstrate their ability to pay the costs of university attendance. The cost of attendance includes both the course fee and the living expenses for the duration of the program. While filling in the application form, most U.S. universities will ask applicants whether they would like to be considered for financial aid. Letting U.S. universities know that you want to be considered for financial aid is usually not problematic, though some universities may consider this as a factor for admissions decisions.

Participating in extracurricular activities, a bonus

 Furthermore, admission officials are interested in learning that you are more than just a good student. Participating in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities while in school is an excellent way to demonstrate that there is more to you than your strong academic performance. Activities like music classes, debate and elocution competitions, community service, and sports are worth including to show what you do outside of the classroom.  Ideally, you should show that you have consistently engaged in the activity for several years.

 As the application process can vary from university to university, some universities may require additional documents. You may be required to meet for an online interview, showcase a portfolio if applying to design schools, or submit a video. It is important that you read the application instructions and requirements carefully on the university website to make sure your application is complete, as this will improve your chances of being admitted to a U.S. university.

 For more information, students can visit the EducationUSA website (https://educationusa.state.gov), and for individual questions about direct counselling with an EducationUSA adviser, they can write to USEducationQueries@state.gov

The author is an EducationUSA Coordinator at USIEF Mumbai. 

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