Saturday, 22 December 2012

Getting Your Act Together By November

Originally published in Hindustan Times, Education Supplement

You’ve been thinking about getting your college applications together for a while now. But between class work, homework, tuitions and life, you haven’t made much headway yet.  Don’t despair - if you want to apply to colleges in the US or UK, there is still time to meet the January deadlines.

If you are applying to the US, you have a lot of work and little time. First, if you haven’t taken the SAT yet, make sure you schedule yourself for the last test date of the year – December 1.  That is the latest date you can take the SAT and be assured that your scores will reach your universities on time.  If you still need to take the SAT subject tests, many are offered on the same day. Make sure to check what is offered at your preferred testing centre. 

Second, identify and approach your recommenders immediately.  Your teachers, counselors, coaches and other recommenders need time to draft their letters and form inputs.  

Third, ask your school(s) to prepare and send your transcript.  Schools are often inundated this time of year for such requests. And it’s the students who ask the earliest and who are organized that rise to the top of the priority list.

Fourth, start writing your Common Application long and short essays for US colleges.  Even if some of the colleges on your final list don’t use the Common App, chances are their essay prompts will allow you to re-purpose material. And it’s more likely that most of the colleges you are considering use the Common App. So start brainstorming and writing as quickly as you can. 

Finally, carefully shortlist colleges, keeping in mind that your SAT scores will only be available around December 20, a mere 11 days before the application deadline at most universities.  Estimate your scores based on your practice tests and any other SAT results you may have had.  Then, based on those scores and the rest of your profile, identify 2 to 3 dream schools, 4 to 5 reach schools and 1 to 2 safety schools.  

If you are planning to apply in the UK, you have a few additional weeks after the US deadlines.  The UCAS application (except Oxford and Cambridge and some medical programs) is due on Jan 15th. The UCAS application requires only one personal statement, two teacher recommendations and does not require standardized tests. So you have more time, and there is less work involved in the application process. (check to find out the specific deadlines and requirements for your course).

If you still cannot get your application organized by the January deadlines, you could consider applying to the few US colleges with later application dates, but usually these are less competitive. And UCAS will accept applications until June, but cannot guarantee admission if all spots are available, so your chances reduce dramatically. Also you can consider Canadian Universities which have deadlines as late as April for the September intake (

If the idea of applying now is still too overwhelming, consider taking a gap year after high school. That will give you some breathing room to think about your options and complete your applications. Come back next week to find out about gap year planning.


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