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    First of all, you need to know that admission to colleges in USA is not like how it occurs in our country. There isn’t a single exam which can guarantee admission to a college. You will need to submit an application telling about yourself, your past achievements, your academic record etc. and a person or a committee will read everything about you and if they like it, they will give you admission to their college. It sounds unreasonable to some people at first but this is how it works in USA. American students follow the same procedure. You do have to give some tests like the SAT or ACT but it isn’t that the highest scorer will be selected. Instead they want a satisfactory score and mostly judge you by your abilities and past achievements that you demonstrate in your application.

    This article focuses on guiding you through your process for applying to American universities for the undergraduate courses, that is, the 4 year bachelor courses like Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Engineering (or whatever the college likes to call their degree).

    In brief-
    1. You give the SAT tests and 2 SAT subject tests- should be done latest by December while you are in 12th class. If you are in 11th or earlier, there is no time problem.

    2. You give the TOEFL, which is not mandatory but highly recommended for Indian students. You should do it latest by mid December of your class 12th.

    3. Ask your teachers (one language teacher and one science teacher and your school principal) to write letters of recommendation in which they write about how good a student you are, your major qualities and what the teacher thinks about your academic performance. The teachers also make their own accounts on the Common App website (they make ‘Teacher’ accounts and you make ‘Student’ account). The teachers upload recommendation letters through their respective accounts and the principal uploads your school report cards of classes 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th. Since you will still be in school, the 12th report card must have the mid-semester scores or the half-yearly exam scores.

    4. Make an account on the Common App website and write the essays and answer the questions they ask.

    5. Submit the application and make sure the teachers and principal have sent the required documents. Everything must be submitted latest by 31 December.

    6. Usually each college charges around Rs. 5000 to apply. But you can get it waived if you ask your Principal, they simply have to say that you are unable to spend that amount. They can do that on the Common App website through the Principal account (or the Counselor account).

    1. Important terms

    2. When to start preparing for applying abroad

    3. How the procedure works

    4. What factors affect your chances of getting a good college

    5. How to draft your application

    6. SAT Guide

    7. Essay writing guide

    Important terms-
    SAT or ACT- this is the mandatory exam which you have to give to be considered for admission. In India, mostly students prefer the SAT and this article will focus on SAT. After the exam you are given your scores which you need to send to the colleges electronically, through the website. The exam does not give a merit list, cutoff score or a pass/fail status. It only gives a score out of 1600.
    You can give this exam multiple times if you are not satisfied with your performance in the first attempt, and choose which attempt’s score you want to send to the colleges

    Undergrad- this refers to the person who is studying for the 4 year degree, usually known by the Bachelors degree and courses are called undergraduate courses. In USA, they don’t have the term B.Tech, instead they use B.S. or Bachelor of Science for engineering related degrees.
    High school- Indian students refer to class 10th as high school but in the USA, classes 9th to 12th are known as high school.
    GPA- just like India has percentage, like 93% or 88%, there they give 4.0 GPA scale, similar to the grading system in CBSE class 10th which has a 10 point scale.

    Common App- this is the online application where you have to write essays, add the list of colleges to which you want to send your application to. Except MIT, almost all colleges accept this.

    TOEFL- Test of English as a Foreign Language. This exam is only to check your proficiency in English. There are 2 types- the paper based test ,PBT or the internet based test called iBT. It is not usually necessary in most universities if you study in an English medium school but it is highly recommended as it checks you speaking, listening and writing abilities. You should preferably give the iBT. Just like the SAT, you can give this exam also multiple times.
    International Applicant- anyone who is not a citizen of the USA or a permanent resident is an international applicant. All Indian students will be treated as international.

    Early action and regular action- students can apply early to a college than the normal application. Doing so shows the admissions staff that you are highly interested in that specific college and can increase your chances of acceptance. For example, I have decided to apply to MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Yale. I am more interested in MIT than the other colleges so I apply to them early. The advantage is that by December you will get your result whether you are accepted or not. In regular action you send your application by the end of December and get the results in March or April or around this time. Binding early action means that if you are selected, you are bound to attend that university and will not accept admission at any other one. Restrictive early action means that you can not apply to another university under their early action program. Every university has a different policy for early action applicants. See each university’s website for the rules.

    When to start preparing for applying abroad

    The best time to start preparing for it is as soon as you reach class 11th, however, you can also do all the necessary things if you are already in class 12th. There are 4 important things to do-

    1. Give the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests

    2. Write the essays

    3. Get the recommendation letters from your teachers

    4. Compile all the essays into the application, send your scores to the colleges you are applying to and ask your teachers to send the recommendation letters.

    Many students are disappointed by their scores in the first attempt, so you should make sure that you have enough time to give the test again. The SAT is held 7 times a year in January, May, June, August, October, November and December for international students. These dates may change and you should refer to the College Board (organizer of the SAT) website for test dates and deadlines for registration.
    For most courses, it is advisable to give the SAT Subjects tests too which are held on the same dates as the SAT.

    How the procedure works-
    This is the most crucial thing to understand.
    First you give the SAT test and the SAT subject tests. If you are in 11th class or earlier, choose your test dates as comfortable. If you are already in 12th, there is not much time left for all the preparations. Choose the earliest available test date and give the exam, because you might want to give the exam again and/or give the subject tests too. Go to the website and make an account with your email address. Register for the exam. For preparing for it, refer the SAT guide section of this article.

    Most colleges accept the December test date as the last date but some may accept the January test too.
    Register for TOEFL and give the exam. This exam is organized many times in a year, which is different for each city in India. Go to the official TOEFL website to see the available dates and registration.
    In November or December of your final school year you should ask your teachers to make their accounts on the Common App website and write letters of recommendation. Many teachers don’t know about how all this works and how to write the recommendation so you might have to explain the process to them and this may take a lot of time. So it is advisable to ask your teachers by November. Search the web for example recommendation letters to see how to write them. You should show some samples to your teachers if they aren’t experienced with this.

    It is very important that you have good scores in your school exams if you want to get into a prestigious university.
    The colleges ask for essays through which they want to know more about your personality. There is one main essay for the Common App and some other small essays asking things like important events in your life, your hobbies, things that matter most to you. All colleges ask some of their own questions. They actually want to know more about your personality through these and you should give serious attention and time and write them very well. And you should also spend some time proof reading them. Students even spend several months to write and edit their essays as they are the most important part of the application after your test scores and school exam marks.

    Factors affecting your chances of getting a good college.
    Your SAT Scores: Scores of 1500 and above are considered good scores Many students even have perfect (full) score.
    Your SAT Subject Scores: The SAT Subject test are very simple for Indian students and it is very easy for an average student to get full 800 on each subject.
    Your school rank and marks: The good colleges want really exceptional students who are excellent at academics. Your marks must be really good if you want a top university like Harvard.
    Your previous achievements: Many students who get selected to the best universities like Stanford, MIT, Princeton etc. have won or been a finalist in national and international competitions like Intel ISEF, International Olympiads or even sports competitions.
    Your other works: Some students have done great community service

    How to draft your application
    Each application consists of a main essay which has few given topics out of which you have to choose one and write about it and some other short essays which usually ask about your hobbies, past experiences, what you want to do in future etc. You should make sure that in each question, you show them a different aspect of your personality so that they understand more about you. The admission officers see thousands of applicants and easily come to know what kind of a person is the applicant by the essays he writes. Also, you shouldn’t ‘try too hard’. This means that you are over praising yourself and your abilities. For example, I want to study Computer Science in Stanford and in each of my essays , I keep mentioning how much I love computers and programming, the readers will easily come to know that I am exaggerating and it will have a very negative impact on my chances.
    Instead, you should be honest with your answers and convey more about yourself. The readers know that there is much more to know about a person than his test scores and they want to know about the person more. So try to show them the real you. If they ask what I like to do when I am free, I wouldn’t say that I read computer books all the time and remain surrounded by them. Everyone knows that real people aren’t that devoted and its nearly impossible that anyone would spend so much time on a single thing. The essay readers will be much more interested to know another of my hobbies and how I pursue them. Remember that extra curricular activities are really important when it comes to admission in US colleges. Unlike Indian schools, which only put emphasis on good grades, American institutions expect a person to be skilled in several activities and have a great personality while being devoted to academics.

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