Is it to early to start worrying about your applications? Or are you already too late?
As a counselor, I meet students at all points along the spectrum. Some who are coolly wondering whether they want to apply to the US and others who are despairing that they are already running behind time.
I present here a timeline that assumes that you are starting out. So those wondering, now is the time to get cracking. And those panicking, take it easy.
February and March FOCUS Grades
- Grade 11 exams must take centre stage here since these will most strongly represent your academic profile to colleges
- Register for SAT / ACT / SAT Subject test to be held in May or June
- Start preparing for the main SAT test now, even if it is merely 2 hours twice a week. Online courses with a simple timeline may help start you off.
- If you want to take a summer course, shortlist summer courses in India and abroad and start applying since many deadlines are between February and April.
- Build a schedule that provides almost equal study time and fun time everyday. This will allow you to maximize concentration levels during study hours and not feel exhausted either. There is a long ahead so it is best not to peak too early.
April and May – FOCUS Build a Summer Plan
Several college applications will ask you what you did in the summer of Grades 11 and 12. It is a good idea to use the summer to add value to yourself – do an internship, take a course, do a project, set up a website, write some blogs, do a performance – anything that demonstrates productive use of leisure time. And yes, do watch TV, chill and have fun!
Now that will only be possible if you plan stuff before hand so that you can only do in the summer, not also stress about planning! Here are a few things you can explore:
Summer courses :
Several Indian schools and colleges run programs in May and June. Some great international programs are offered in the UK and US in June and July – for those whose break timings work well
- This is a good time to take an online course in an area of interest – try digital marketing courses Social Media Marketing by Boston University, basic coding courses Programming for Everyone: Introduction to Programming from Arizona State University or simply a course in basic psychology Introduction to Psychology from Tsinghua University
- A Writing course How to Write an Essay from the University of California at Berkeley is an excellent investment of time as this will help you in your college essays as well as your undergraduate course
Find a 2 to 4 week experience in May to June in an area of interest where you can have a clear outcome in the end – products sold, research report prepared, presentation made, surveys conducted etc
This could be a self-led project like a website you set up, an app you develop, a few blogs you write, a photo feature you make, a few videos you put up or a theatre performance you prepare for with friends or cousins! It doesn’t have to be a work of genius but it should demonstrate your setting yourself a challenging goal and struggling through obstacles to make it happen to your best ability.
Go on a tough trek, take a basic SCUBA diving course, join a cycling expedition, go rafting – get out there and challenge yourself to a mindblowing experience that you will remember for life.
- This is not an essential tick box item and what admissions officers really want is to see how a student relates to his or her community – working with friends on a project as mentioned above is great too.
- If you do engage with an NGO, opt for hands-on work or field work to create a more concrete experience with a real sense of accomplishment.
Before you collapse…. I am NOT suggesting that you do all of these. Any two is great. One is essential. Three is wonderful!
On the study side, the pressure will probably be a little less. The Grade 11 final exams are probably over and your whole study focus can shift to your preparation for SAT / ACT and Subject Tests.
June and July FOCUS College List
A college list is a sometimes-dreamy, sometimes-unnerving process. With over 500 “good” colleges and universities in the US, it takes times to research colleges and make a list that suits your criteria in terms of courses, job prospects, location and financial aid.
Its good to start early so there is enough time to research and even reach out to professors, admission officers etc to clarify your doubts.
College Visits – real or virtual – are also great ways to get to know a college as well as to register your interest on an admission officer’s radar. If you plan a summer course, holiday or expedition in the US anyway, you can combine this with a few college visits.
Else, do take the virtual tour of the colleges your are keen on.
Take the time to write to college admissions committees to understand their programs, offerings, financial aid programs etc better
Connect with current students from India / your school in that college or city to understand whats great, what to watch out for and “what kind of student are they looking for”
August and September Focus Half yearly exams
Predicted scores are often based on half yearly exams which make these exams more important the boards in the larger scheme of things. Put your everything in them!
Freeze your application timeline. Work with your counselor to build your application strategy between Early Action, Early Decision or Regular Decision. Set yourself internal deadlines at least one week before the actual deadline, if not earlier. Online application systems can malfunction in the large few days if too many students apply. Anyway, applications are processed as admissions officers receive them and applying earlier than the actual deadline also communicates keenness and your ability to organize your time.
You can also start work on your College Essay. Spend some time brainstorming on ideas with someone skilled and write rough drafts for up for 2 to 3 Common App Essay prompts before zeroing in on any one.
Download supplemental Essay prompts and work with someone to find fist cut answers to these. Remember each essay takes 3-4 iterations so better to start fast.
You may also want to take a 2nd SAT or ACT attempt in September / October, if you are not satisfied with the first.
October and November FOCUS Applications
This should ideally be the time to complete all applications starting with any early decision applications. December is often a hectic month with school exams and the upcoming pre-boards and may not be a great time to agonise over multiple college essays.
The College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile form for Financial Aid usually opens in early October and applications start getting processed as they come. If you want to be considered for Financial Aid, the earlier you fill the form, the better.
December and January FOCUS Demonstrated Interest
Most colleges want students who really want to be at their college. Except the Big Ten or so who don’t doubt that almost everyone wants to be at their campus. For the rest, the best way to gauge your interest is to observe your communication pattern – do you respond to mails promptly? Do you browse through the information links they send you?
- Take any additional, optional opportunities you get to share more about you – opt for all alumni or other interviews, take any additional tests suggests, send any additional scores or information or awards that come up later.
- Prepare for interviews and take all interview opportunities that come.
- Engage on the Facebook page of colleges you have applied to.
For those still working on their applications, complete the Common App, Complete any residual apps.
Check application status to see if any additional documents need to be sent and if your scores have reached all colleges.
Take your Pre-Boards, of course! If you finished your applications in time, you have all the time to prepare for these.
As acceptances come in, reach out for any further info or financial aid requests
February and March FOCUS Board Exams
Crack your boards!
As acceptances come in, reach out for any further info or financial aid requests. Submit all additional documentation on health checks, insurance, financial readiness etc. Fill Visa forms and submit Visa documentation
Have fun in college!
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