Applying to American Universities and Colleges: Your Three Month Plan!

Every year, we spend the month of September transitioning from the summer season to the fall. The days of September quickly disappear, making October, November and December important planning months for your applications.

It is important to plan these three months carefully so that you can make the best use of your preparation time, and ultimately submit the applications to U.S. colleges and universities that represent the best version of yourself. In the three months remaining before regular applications are due in January, you can control and optimize several important components of the application: your unique candidate strategy and personal “narrative,” your testing scores, and your tailored list of schools. All of these factors—if carefully thought through and constructed—can and will have an immensely positive impact on the person evaluating your application. Many of the top tier U.S. universities and colleges could fill their classes multiple times over with applicants who have perfect exam results and standardized testing scores. However, they choose not to because they care about the applicant’s story and character. They want to fill their classes with students who are multicultural and diversely talented. In essence, schools are hoping to foster the global leaders of tomorrow. It’s up to you to show how you fit into the colorful jigsaw puzzle of students the admission committee is trying to assemble!

The United States boasts the most impressive list of universities and colleges in the world, with approximately 4,500 degree-granting institutions. As such, it is particularly important that you first conduct thorough research into the types of programs and schools that exist. But how do you choose?

You must think long and hard about yourself as an individual and as a candidate for admission to U.S. universities. Self-reflection is necessary to discover not only which programs and academic courses might suit you best, but also (and equally as important) which types of social, geographic and cultural environments will be most conducive to your ability to learn and be happy during the four years of undergraduate study.

Personal Narrative

The purpose of a personal narrative essay or story is to give the admissions committee some sense of who you are—outside of your exam results and testing scores. It is your opportunity to tell admissions what motivates you and to explain the life experiences that shaped your personal development, worldview, and ultimately why you’re choosing to apply to the university and program.

Your personal narrative should have a purpose. Your purpose may be to strategically brand yourself as a certain kind of person: A girl with a love for abstract sciences; A film enthusiast who thinks movies are the best way to illustrate philosophy; A student who wants to reform the education system in his or her country.

Write clearly and concisely, always keeping the purpose of your essay in mind.

After carefully assessing the range of higher education options available, you should assemble a list of schools (8-12 is recommended). Make sure to include institutions where you have a greater than 50 percent chance of admission as well as those more selective, prestigious institutions, where the acceptance rates are lower.

At this point, you will want to create a detailed three-month timeline in which you will lay out the due dates for each application component: teacher recommendations, common application sections, and supplementary school essays. You should also disperse due dates for schools throughout the three month time span, as each school will have its own supplementary requirements. Make sure to give yourself enough time between due dates. This will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. Instead, you will be chipping away at your applications school by school over a prolonged period of time.

Next, develop a plan of action for completing the required standardized tests. Be sure to register well in advance for any standardized tests (ACT, SAT, SAT II, TOEFL and IELTS) you have yet to take and make sure you have prepared sufficiently. This part of the quantitative evaluation process is very important for U.S. colleges and universities, as it serves as one of the few ways in which admissions officers can academically compare international students to their American counterparts.

Finally, strategize how you’re going to present yourself with your application. Weaving a distinctive strategy throughout your applications will help the admissions officers recognize what is unique and impressive about you and/or your various accomplishments. Think through how you will stand out from your peers. What is unusual about your history, your experiences, or how you have come to understand the world around you? If you are from an underrepresented area of the world (by U.S. admissions standards), or if you are a concert pianist, or the only girl in your advanced physics class, you should integrate these themes into your application strategy.

The opportunities, both professionally and personally, that arise from pursuing undergraduate study in the United States are endless. U.S. universities provide you with the resources to study a range of subjects and pursue degrees that will give you numerous career opportunities. Personally, you will meet incredible people from all over the world and gain an invaluable study abroad experience. The network of alumnae that you build during your time at an American university will benefit you throughout the course of your life and career. Make sure to take the necessary preparatory steps now to create options in your future.

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Lucy Stonehill is the Founder and CEO of Stonehill Educational Consultants, Inc.