Should you send supplementary materials like additional recommendation letters, portfolios, etc., to US colleges?

As the application process gathers steam, there are daily questions from students as to what they could add to make their application stand out. Please note that most Admissions Committee give greatest weight to the required documents. Hence, we recommend that you focus your energy primarily on those elements of the application that are so important. Most of you are taking your half-yearly or mid-term examinations in India. It is critical to do well in these exams as most schools use the results to indicate predicted grades as they send your reports and recommendations to colleges. US colleges would have made their final decisions on your application (except for waitlist cases) before the results of your school leaving examination are declared next summer. Hence, the predicted grades play a critical role. And for those in grades 9, 10 & 11, please focus on doing well in the final examinations. Please think very carefully before starting work on that additional recommendation or the portfolio. Will it matter?Complete the necessary parts of the application – focus your energy on ensuring that your essays help you stand out and your application is carefully crafted. And, while Stanford would that additional recommendation, getting one from your father’s best friend’s wife’s brother’s company’s CEO is NOT useful! Send additional information which is pertinent to what you wish to study, presents new and important facts, about your application and, is credible. Most importantly, work on it only after you are convinced that you have put in your best effort in the entire application and required materials to create the best application you can!   Author: Mrinalini...

What supplementary materials can undergraduate students send in with their applications?

  Apart from the application, scores from standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and required documents, many colleges often allow students to send materials which they believe will better reflect their potential for success in college. Apart from the often allowed visual arts and performing arts supplement, it is possible to submit alternative materials which demonstrate a high level of motivation, problem-solving ability or achievement. These could include research papers written independently or for a school project, description of science projects, the extended essay for IB students, summary of inventions, patents, designs and computer/ robotics programs, essays written for competitions, projects which indicate entrepreneurship, social commitment and leadership skills, etc. Please keep in mind that submissions must be of exceptional quality; average does not qualify! This is not a place to just add more information about you. It is an opportunity to tell the admissions committee about something which is outstanding and has not found a place in your application. Before sending your materials, do check to see if the school is open to receiving additional materials!   Author: Mrinalini Batra. Mrinalini is the Founder and CEO of International Educational Exchange (IEE). For over 22 years now, IEE has been helping Indian students find and pursue great overseas educational opportunities....

Can international students apply to US colleges without taking the SAT or the ACT?

Yes. There are colleges and universities in the US which are test-optional or test-flexible. This should not be taken to mean that these colleges have lower admission standards. All it means is that these colleges realize the limitations of standardized exams in evaluating the potential of applicants and prefer to focus on other determinants of success such as GPA, excellence in extra-curricular activities, etc. Test-optional means that some students will have the flexibility to decide whether they want to submit ACT or SAT scores to the college along with their application. Test-flexible means that these colleges would allow the students to submit scores from SAT Subject tests, AP tests or the International Baccalaureate program, instead of SAT or ACT scores. A growing number of colleges and universities recognize that not all students excel on standardized tests. Some do not have the aptitude for the tests while others have test anxiety. Test optional colleges focus on other factors such as GPA, standing in class, exceptional talent in an area, etc., to make an informed decision. Art colleges have generally not required the applicants to take standardized exams – they focus instead on the applicant’s portfolio showcasing their talent in the discipline they wish to major in. So, if you have a good GPA and are, either terrified of taking the standardized tests or have done poorly in them, you could choose to look at test-optional schools. Some examples of test-optional colleges are American University, Wake Forest University, Bates College, Sarah Lawrence College and Bowdoin. New York University, Middlebury College and University of Rochester are test-flexible. Author: Mrinalini Batra. Mrinalini is...

Should you retake the SAT or the ACT test?

Is it worth investing the time, effort and money to do so? The question you must ask yourself is, “Would I be able to better my score?” But obvious, right? However, optimism often leads students to take the test multiple times without stopping to consider ‘why’ they would do better in the next test. If you had put in your 100% in the last test, then it is time to move on. There is no reason to believe that the next test would be easier than the one you took. If you were not serious the last time and would like to better your score, take the test only if you are convinced that you will work harder and in a more focused manner this time. Practicing for the tests is a time consuming process. And if you are just mindlessly taking tests to be able to say that you practiced so hard, stop! Use that time to do better in the school exams (the results matter in the admissions process) and in making your application the best it can be. And if you believe that the new SAT is easier to score, SAT, please go to the CollegeBoard site and use their score convertor – (https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/understanding-scores/sat-score-converter) A score of 2030 from the old SAT score converts to 1430 in the new format; 2150 -> 1490! So, a jump of 120 points in the old SAT is equivalent to 60 points on the New SAT. Take the new Sat for improvement only if you are convinced that you can increase your score by 50 points or more! Else, use...

SAT or the ACT – which is the easier test?

Since the CollegeBoard declared that the SAT test would have a new avatar in 2016, the ACT has had a surge in its popularity in India. Students, uncertain over how they would fare in the new format, are seriously looking at the ACT as a viable alternative. While I understand that there would be a certain amount of speculation vis-à-vis how one must prepare for the new exam, I am at a loss when asked which is the easier test – the SAT or the ACT. The SAT and ACT tests are used almost interchangeably in the US admissions process. However, the tests are structured differently and play to different strengths of the students. Just because one does not do well on the SAT is not reason enough to assume that you would do exceptionally well on the ACT and vice-versa. Aptitude does have an important role to play; however, it is not the sole criterion for an excellent performance. What matters more is your understanding of the test, you hard work, your preparation and practice. If these components are missing, it does not matter which test you take, you will not do well. The English section in the new SAT is much easier than its previous avatar while the Math Section has become considerably more difficult. The ACT has a Science section in addition to the English and Math and, the penalty for a wrong answer goes up in a non-linear fashion. Our advice is to take the diagnostic tests for both the exams and see which one you are more comfortable with. After that, focus on your...

Why an undergraduate degree in the US makes sense?

This is a question I am asked often. While the reasons for doing so are very specific to the student (or the family’s) aspirations, there are a few common ones: the flexibility in choosing a major and, the ability to make a change until the end of the second year of college the opportunity to take a balanced course load – essentially the liberal arts foundation which is central to the US educational system generally robust infrastructure and access to cutting-edge labs (so critical for the STEM majors) Comprehension-based learning Experiential learning opportunities And many more reasons… Of late, however, one other factor has become important – the certainty in gaining admission to a good program of one’s choice. With admission criteria and tests required for admission to a number of Indian colleges and Universities changing from year to year, it has become extremely difficult to be sure of what the next year would bring. The changes to the NEET are just another example of the same. Hence, the US is also emerging as a ‘certain’ backup option for a number of Indian students. — Author: Mrinalini Batra. Mrinalini is the Founder and CEO of International Educational Exchange (IEE). For over 22 years now, IEE has been helping Indian students find and pursue great overseas educational...