The US colleges admission process is probably the most difficult and prestigious in the whole world. Every year thousands of students around the globe try to make their way to one of the Ivy League-and not only- colleges in the US. I have experienced this process, unfortunately, twice and I have been thinking for a while now to share my thoughts and advices with other students who want to go to the states for their undergraduate studies. This is not however a guide for international students, I am pretty sure that the same practices stand for US students too.
Before I continue writing the rest of the post I want to make something clear from the very beginning. There is no one and nothing that will guarantee you admission. It’s a complicated process that should not be seen as a “computer system” to hack in.
I will break down this post in 2 parts. The first part is the middle and high school preparation. The second part is the “application process”.
I believe that the middle and early high school years are probably the years that play the most important role in college admission. You might not see it right now but the college that you will get in and your future career depends entirely on those years. Students who have a clear goal in the their lives and know what they want to study when they are High School freshmans are probably those who will have the persistence to follow the most “disciplined” work-study habits, achieve good grades and participate in the “right activities”. I used the phrase right activities, but don’t get me wrong here. There are no, right or wrong activities. There are activities that you do simply because you like them and activities that you do simply because other tells you so. For example, if you think that joining the math club will give you admission to MIT then you are doing it wrong. However, if you join the math club simply because you think that Math rock then you doing it right. Don’t let anyone ever tell you what to do, not even your parents. Do whatever you like without ending up in jail! Get yourself busy, participate in competitions, that you REALLY LIKE, send awkward e-mails to college professors asking for information, have fun. Having fun is probably the most important element. If you are not having fun then you are ruining your life. Chances are that if you do things that you like you will have fun but always keep on your mind a quote that MIT uses: “Work hard, play hard!”. Do you know how awesome it is to work for a whole afternoon on a physics or computer programming assignment and then going to a party with your friends? You will have a feeling of complete satisfaction and this will reflect on your quality of your life. When you wake up you will be happy because you have a full day ahead to have fun, unless you are having a hangover, something that high schoolers should avoid.
The next big issue is the high school marks. Marks play a critical role in the college admission process. The admission officers look at your transcript and try to see if you have been working hard on a daily basis. Colleges want smart students with a steady performance. Getting straight As one year and the other getting a ton of Cs is not going to help. Actually, it could be the difference between admission and rejection. College admission officers say many times that their admission process is holistic. Sometimes this is true but when you are going for a very competitive university it is better to have you Numeric indexes good. You don’t want to make the officers worry if this student is a hard worked or if s/he can attend the curriculum of the university. Getting good grades is something doable for most of the people. During the first week of each school year make a study schedule and stick to it. For example, say that on Monday you will do your usual homework and then study math or history for two more hours. Do it! Stick to the plan. If you do this, if you don’t stay on the school homework then you will see your grades going up.
One last thing that I want to highlight here are the references. Essentially, the teacher references are a way for colleges to understand if what you write in your application is true and if you are a nice person. You might wonder why I mentioning the references here but I will explain to you immediately. Take this as a word of notice or whatever else you want, but you should not be arrogant/impolite with both your teachers and your classmates. If you are good to them, they will be good to you, that’s guaranteed.
If you do all of the above mentioned things then college officers that will read your application will see a dedicated student, ready to take risks and pursue the things that he likes. College is all about broadening your horizons, exploring new possibilities.
This is the end of the first part. In a few days/weeks I will post the second part too. I hoped you like it. Feel free to ask any questions you have!