Originally Published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement
Previously I wrote about how MBA applicants need to focus on balancing their commitments at the office with the work required for applications. The same is true for undergraduate applicants, but the scheduling process is slightly different.
For 12th grade students who are applying for college in November and December of 2014 for admission in August of 2015, there is a lot to complete between now and then. On top of which there are school exams, extra curricular commitments, holidays and various other random teen-aged priorities (i.e. parties).
If you can knock out the two big items over the summer then your task will be a lot easier once Fall arrives. For US applicants, these are the SAT exam(s) and the Essays. For those applying to competitive programs in the UK, such as Oxbridge, preparation for either the TSA or other course specific exams is important. Some students attempt their first SAT in October/November of 11th grade. This can be a bit early, but May/June of 11th grade is recommended at the latest. If you haven’t completed the SAT by then (with a good score), then you have to spend the summer before application on test prep and sign up for the september test date. If you are not happy with your score, you can retake it in November, but try not to wait until December. If you are applying to colleges that require SAT subject tests (SAT2), then you will need to complete these in either October or November of 12th as well. A solution is to take the ACT with writing, which eliminates the need for SAT2. I recommend this if you haven’t started test prep. The ACT has a science section and Indian students tend to prefer the format and feel of the ACT. And no matter what anyone tells you (e.g. your school counselor) you can take either test – both are accepted and given equal weight.
Essays should also be on the radar at this point. You will have to write a LOT of essays if you are applying to top colleges in the U.S. If you’re looking at the U.K. you will only need to write one personal statement. And for Canada and other countries the essay requirement will vary – fortunately Canada deadlines are later so you can use your US or UK essays for Canadian applications. But in any case, get started now. With some strategy you can re-purpose topics across schools, but this takes planning. And the essays you use must demonstrate deep thought and reflection, which takes time. Also, if you have any hope of applying early decision or early action to any colleges, you will need to have all of your essays, plus all other components of the application completely finished by November first. If you don’t have specific college supplement essays (which are usually released in Aug/Sept) you can still start on the Common App essay or UCAS personal statement, both of which are the same as last year. (Copied below for reference.)
Besides essays and standardized tests, students will need to work on a putting together a list of colleges to which they want to apply. With thousands of colleges to choose from and intense competition at top colleges, considerable thought needs to go into choosing the right college for you, where you have a reasonable chance of being admitted.
It may sound hyper to get so focused on college applications over the summer, but there is nothing like preparation to reduce stress. Competitive students tend to have very heavy course workloads that will crush their free time in the fall. And students with demanding extracurricular competition schedules will have to balance that against other priorities as well. Get started now – it can only help you.
Common Application Essay Prompts (650 word limit):
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act?Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
For the UK’s UCAS personal statement there is no prompt. However they have a very helpful guide for getting started on their website: http://www.ucas.com/how-it-all-works/undergraduate/filling-your-application/your-personal-statement