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How to Best the Application Process: Advice for International Undergraduates

As an international student, applying to a US university is both exciting and daunting. BrainGain magazine brings you useful pointers given by Admissions Officers from the Universities of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Rice and Vanderbilt, which can help you ace the process. Read more below.
BY Skendha Singh |   30-09-2016

In 2014-15, nearly a million international students were enrolled in US universities. Of these approximately 400,000 were undergraduates. The numbers speak volumes about the attractiveness of the US as a higher education destination. However, the application process still occasions many doubts, as students get ready to realize their ambition of getting an international degree.

There are an infinite number of questions on university, major, financial aid, etc. And before that, on the application. To help students through the process, the US Department of State has established Education USA – a network of more than 400 student counselling centers. These centers provide students authentic and comprehensive information which serve the students’ best interests.

As part of its ‘Conversation Series with Universities’, the Delhi center hosted a session on ‘US Higher Education and Highly Selective Admissions’. Admissions officers from the universities of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Rice and Vanderbilt told students about what they could expect to experience as undergraduates in their respective universities. They also gave valuable tips on the application process. These pointers are especially important given that they come from the same people who screen and approve applications.

So if you are applying right now or will, in the near future, go through this checklist and make your application the best that it can be!

An undergraduate application generally includes the following:

  • Consortium Application
  • Personal Statement
  • Academic Transcript
  • Letter of Recommendation
  • Supplement Essays

Personal Statement
  • The essay must demonstrate your personality or an aspect of it.
  • Universities generally do not have a particular preference for an extracurricular activity. They want to see what you are passionate about.
  • A good rule of thumb for the essay, according to Daniel Urbina-McCarthy, Assistant Director of Admissions at University of Chicago, is this: If you write an essay and forget to sign it – a classmate, teacher, or mentor, would still know who wrote it.

Academic Transcripts & Tests
  • Most universities have a Holistic Review process. “You’re telling us a story,” says Urbina-McCarthy. So it’s not just figures on a sheet that will make or break your application.
  • Taking extra tests does not impress the university.
  • The university wants to see that whichever curriculum you have, you are doing well and challenging yourself in it. So, taking Advanced Placement tests when you do not have an Advanced Placement curriculum is not useful. How you fare in a Maths test of three hours is not as substantial a proof of your capability, as compared to how you performed in an academically rigorous environment over a year or two.
  • As your school if it will super-score your application.
Letters of Recommendation
  • The letters of recommendation must introduce you in the context of your classroom.
  • A good referee has two qualities: A) the person has good things to say about you, and B) knows you well.
  • For undergraduate applications, the referee should preferably be a core subject teacher from a higher grade.
  • Quality is better than quantity when it comes to reference letters. Most schools will ask for 2 at least, but 3 or 4 are also appropriate. “More than that,” says Urbina-McCarthy, “and you’re being mean to us.” This is because an admissions officer diligently reads every element of the application.

Supplement Essays
  • Supplement essays answer the question “What is going to make you have a unique experience at the University?”
  • The supplement essay is often the “lynchpin of the app” according to Ferrell Armstrong of Vanderbilt University.  Do not neglect it or leave it for later.
Application Deadlines
  • November 1
    Early Decision (All four universities)
    Early Application (University of Chicago)

  • January 1
    Early Decision (University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University)
    Regular Decision (All four)
Important Advice
  • Please let the university be your point of contact.
Listen to the university you are applying to when you want to decide what to include in the application. Do not listen to your friends’ parents or any other form of popular opinion. Check university websites for testing requirements and acceptance rates and so on.



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