Whaddup, high schoolers in Bangladesh? As per your request, my take on undergrad admissions in the USA is here. Before I start, studying abroad is a HUGE commitment for an undergraduate for many different reasons. Especially if you are attending one of the top-notch schools in the USA, honestly, the process will challenge you as never before. But don’t let that discourage you. As long as you don’t mind some hard work and know when and where to ask for help, you’ll be fine. 🙂
Let’s start with ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS:
GPA: Undergraduate schools usually want to see your SSC-HSC/ O-A Levels transcripts. You, of course, need good grades in these tests to be considered for admission in a good school. I don’t know much about students following the British curriculum. But for Bangla medium students, for example, ‘golden’ gpa 5 is not an absolute necessity as long as you maintain A pluses in the core subjects like mathematics, physics, economics etc.
Another issue that often comes up is that many people apply to colleges before they have their official HSC/ A levels transcripts. In that case, you need to get a ‘grades prediction’ from your guidance counselor (If, at this point, you don’t know who this is, read on :)). Meaning, s/he’ll predict what you may get on all your subjects. Also you need too send in your official transcript as soon as it is available.
Standardized Tests: Different colleges have different requirements for standardized testing. Refer to the specific school’s admissions website for definite information. In general, most colleges require scores for SAT 1 and two SAT 2 subjects. A few like Harvard College want three SAT 2s. Again, a few of them want your TOEFL scores as well. It is safe to get done with these tests by December of your application cycle. Some colleges also accept January scores; again refer to the college website to make sure you are keeping up with deadlines.
As for preparing for these tests, it really really depends on you. Look at a preparatory book and see if you are up-to-date with the topics covered and if you can solve most questions from their practice tests. If you can, you are all good materials-wise but a little practice wouldn’t harm. If you can’t then you need to study- where you study from doesn’t matter; just make sure you know everything that these tests cover.
Very often people ask me what sort of scores are required for schools. Schools don’t really have any minimum score they look for. Undergraduate admission is a holistic process; so scores alone won’t take you anywhere. Just get a decent score as a backup to other strong parts of your profile. I’d say a decent score in SAT 1 (for Bangladeshi students, in specific) is 2000+, SAT 2 is 2200+, and TOEFL is 105+. Don’t take my word for it though. I have seen many 2400s getting rejected and 1900s getting in. I hope this makes you realize that your whole application has to look impressive; these standardized tests are just another formal part.
Haha, whew! SO much to keep in mind. 🙂
Now let’s move on to the important part, EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES (ECAs).
1. DO WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT. Just partaking in random activities for the mere sake of undergraduate admission will not help at all. Remember, most of these schools will take in 2-3 Bangladeshi students and you are competing against a huge pool of passionate people. Passion is a big word in undergraduate admission in good schools. You can be passionate about anything and everything- math, biology, astronomy, arts, music, debate, karate, football, writing and what not. Have interest and pursue it actively. These schools will want to see how far you have gone to establish your cause and how you have utilized resources available to you. Recognition/ award is not an absolute requirement. But recognition on national/ international level can give your application a big boost. 🙂
2. WHAT YOU DO FOR OTHERS IS IMPORTANT. If you can improve other peoples’ lives in any way through your ECAs, do it! This is your absolute duty as a human-being and a valued component of your personality. You do not have to run a big project on your own. The girl who got into MIT this year bought ‘shemai’ and ingredients necessary for making it for 71 poor people on Eid last year. I personally thought it was GREAT and went a long way to show how she would grow as a good person.
3. KNOW THE IMPACT AND HAVE STORIES TO TELL. Well, this is pretty self-explanatory. You yourself have to know how your ECAs have morphed you to a better you. Also have anecdotes to demonstrate your claims. Use those anecdotes freely in your essays and interviews. When I met the admissions officer who admitted me, he said, “We want students to show, not tell.” Show them what you are made of ; mere telling won’t work.For example, don’t just say, “I am a good peer counselor.” Tell them about a life experience, where your counseling helped a peer.
4. DO NOT LIE. Please. Trust me, it clearly shows and reflects badly on you.
So pursue your passion, enrich yourself, help others, and communicate your activities effectively. 🙂
Let’s take a break, guys! I I am taking mine with this:
This website is hilarious- Well most of the time, when I can relate to them. 😛
Now that my brain is well rested, let’s go to the MAIN APPLICATION COMPONENTS
The essay/ question-answers: The only thing that I have to say on this regard is be vocal about life experiences that have made you ‘you’. Don’t be afraid of showing off; don’t boast; don’t just tell them without showing them; don’t use unnecessary complicated words (an after-effect of the SATs); and don’t lie. This I repeat do not lie/fake. Let the admission officers see into your true persona. It’s necessary for your own good. All schools do not have the same environment. It is important that you get into one where you’ll fit. 🙂
For ‘The College Essay: Yogurt Edition’, go here
And here is the part 2
Recommendation Letters:Usually schools require 3 of these: 1 from a science teacher, 1 from a humanities teacher, and 1 from your guidance counselor. Many Bangladeshi schools do not assign their students guidance counselors. If this is your case, just designate a teacher of your choice your guidance counselor. Request teachers you know well to write recommendation letters for you. Meet them a few times before they compose the letters. During these meetings, tell them your stories, what makes you unique. Highlight any point that you’d want them to address on their letters. Keep reminding them of the postmark deadline.
Interviews: Some schools conduct interviews for applicants. Check the college website for this information as well. Some of them like MIT will require YOU to schedule the interview. Others like PrincetonU, Harvard College etc. themselves will get in touch with you on this regard. This reminds me, check you email at least thrice in the January-Febraury timeline. I remember, Stanford set my phone interview schedule some 12 hours before the actual interview took place. Well, continue the ‘showing’ in interviews as well. Though interviews do not decide everything, they can come to good use when the university is down to two choices and you are one of them.
This is a pretty good blog about interviews
[If you haven’t noticed already, I love Chris’s blogs :D]
All of these together will make your application. Try your best to make the application look good as a whole.
As far as I have seen, Bangladeshi applicants are pretty impressive people. Understand that you have to shine among all of them. Also understand that you CAN shine among all of them. Don’t be afraid and keep trying! 🙂
A little more, guys! We are almost there!
FINANCIAL AID: For colleges that offer aid for international students (A lot of them do, don’t worry!), the application is usually separate. For need-blind colleges like MIT, the admission office will never know what aid you asked for and that will, in no way, affect your admission decision. Once you get in, they’ll cover your full need with aid/ scholarships/ loans. Other colleges, where admission is need-based, like Caltech, they’ll consider your admission and financial aid application together. In those colleges, asking for high aid may harm your admission chance a little bit. But if your admission application is strong enough, financial need is usually not a problematic factor. Along with the Collegeboard CSS profile, schools usually ask for parents’ income tax returns and employer’s letters. This is something that is probably better-handled by parents; use their expertise!
Whoa! Finally I feel like I have said everything that I wanted to. Still there is a good chance I missed some important stuff. My friends, who have experience about this, please share your ideas on the comments section. Also the target audience, high schoolers, please ask if you have specific questions on the comments section under this blog. 🙂
I am sorry if I make the undergrad admissions process look like a long strenuous one. It is normal to feel very overwhelmed at the beginning. But you get done at the end, trust me. That being said, good luck! 🙂