Pain Points of US College Applications and How To Get Around Them – Part 1

The summer has arrived. This is the time when students (and parents) eyeing the US colleges for undergraduate studies start feeling the real heat. The US college application process is complex enough to make the applicants getting stressed. Parents also get anxious with their children’s study abroad and career plans.

There are many steps involved in the college applications process. Some of them are real pain points, and both parents and applicants struggle very badly while dealing with them. From our past experience, the most critical ones are subject selection,  college selection,  college essays,  building an overall profile (including summer programs,  extracurricular activities and demonstrated interest),  financial planning (including arranging financial aid and scholarships) and timeline management. This post will cover the first three pain points.

Pain Points of US College Applications and Solutions – Part 1

Selection of Subjects and Electives at the High School

It’s not a secret anymore that a balanced subject combination is more likely to help you getting admitted at your dream colleges. The courses you take in Class 11 and Class 12 do matter in your college applications. The admission officers want to see a solid foundation of learning and preparation that you can build on during your time at the college. The elective classes like business, music, journalism, world history, geography, multimedia, computer programming, ICT, robotics add significant weight to your college applications.

The right combination of subjects and electives can help you to explore your interests, and have fun while studying. Students should also aim to take some of the most rigorous courses (AP or IB). Opting for a course that will give your exposure to a completely new subject or something that is more advanced than the usual classes is a great way of challenging yourself. It could also help you to discover new talent or interest.

It is important to know what kind of subject combination can lead to your desired career path. You should consider their college goals, and work towards identifying your core interests and best-suited career path. If you are interested in STEM careers, it’s better to opt for ICT, Robotics or Advanced Math. If you are keen on of Liberal Arts, it’s better to consider Economics, Business, and Advanced Maths.

It’s also advisable to speak to college admission counselors to get the courses evaluated before signing up. Certified Counsellors can provide a lot of valuable insight and advice on what courses are the most appropriate for a student’s abilities and interests. They will also help the students to make a personalized schedule while keeping the needs and goals of the student in mind.

Making a Sensible College List

College shortlisting or college selection is one of the greatest pain points of the Indian applicants. It is also one of the vital components that many students (and parents) get completely wrong. With more than 4, 000 college options in the US, it is no doubt a daunting task. Writing essays and working on each college application require time, effort and money. So, there is no point of applying to make a list of 20 colleges and submit half-baked applications. Ideally, it’s best to stick to 7 – 10 colleges.

It’s best to start thinking about where you want to go. Apart from taking advice from the school counselor and checking various websites on the internet, applicants should also check with other students (and their parents), friends and relatives who have been to the US.

Quite often, students (and parents) get too much obsessed with College and University Rankings. But, applicants should look beyond the rankings; especially, at the undergraduate level. First of all, all the ranking tables have got different methodologies. Secondly, the rankings might not help you to choose the best-fit college for you. Know the ranking methodologies of QS, Times Higher Education, and ARWU rankings and what do they mean for the students.

The college life is one of the most important phases of your life. Every student will have a different expectation from the college life. So, you should prioritize yourself and research thoroughly. You need to consider if you want to be a part of a large and vibrant college campus with 30, 000 students or a smaller and calm campus with 3, 000 students. If you are not comfortable with extreme weathers, you should not apply to colleges where winters will be harsh. If you a fan of a particular sport and want to continue at the college level, identify the colleges where that sport is popular. Last but not the least, availability of financial aid for the international students is a critical factor. So, you need to create the lists of colleges according to the policy of financial aid allocation for the international students.

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is not recipe for living that suits all cases” – Carl G Jung

It’s good to be ambitious and apply to the highly selective and competitive elite colleges (including Ivy League Colleges). Of course, it’s everyone’s dream to Get Admitted to Ivy League and Elite Colleges. But, you should also be realistic about your chances. Most of the top elite colleges have got acceptance rate around 5 – 20%. The Ivy League colleges like Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton etc. accept only 3 – 4 % of international students at the undergraduate level. So, it’s going to be extremely competitive. Hence, your ideal college list should include a perfect mix of ambitious, moderate and safe colleges according to your overall profile.

One silly mistake that students do is applying to the colleges where their friends are applying, or where their cousins are already studying (because of peer pressure). This is not going to help you in the long-run.

Another critical factor is the timing. Applying for the early decision round significantly increases the admission chances. But, if you are accepted by an early decision, you are legally bound to attend that college. So, you should only apply to college(s) at early decision round that you are certain about attending (if accepted), and not a college from you backup list. If you need expert help,  our counselors are more than happy to help you with college shortlisting.

Crafting Winning Essays

A compelling and well-written essay could help an applicant with marginal test scores and GPA to get admitted to their school of choice. Whereas, a poorly written essay can really cause your application get rejected.

You should get started while thinking about what the essay is asking. You should then relate the essay to your strengths, personality traits, interests, hobbies, family and friends, achievements, career goals, and incidents and life experiences that might have influenced you. Believe me, you can’t write a winning essay overnight. Good and effective essays take several days and weeks going through multiple rounds of drafting, reviewing and editing.

If you are going via The Common Application (Common App) route, you need to be familiar with the common essay prompts. Check out the 2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts.

One of the key things would be being honest and expressing the true you. The other components of your application are all about numbers and statistics. Your college essay is the opportunity to show the admissions committee who you really are. There is absolutely no need to worry about what the admission officers want to hear. Exaggeration and over-fancy stories (sometimes fake stories) might look tempting. But, the admission officers are too experienced to figure out that. Working on your college essay might be overwhelming, but it can also be one of the most fun parts of the college application process.

Finally, show yourself as an interesting person. No university or college wants to have a boring person on the campus. It is as important to spend time on extracurricular activities and community engagement as grades and test scores. Imagine a university like an amusement park and understand the ‘rides’ it offers, says Martin Walsh, college counselor, The Harker School and former assistant dean of admissions, Stanford University.

You might also like to read:

Top Tips That You Need To Know Before Writing Your College Essay (Part 1)

Top Tips That You Need To Know Before Writing Your College Essay (Part 2)

Top Tips That You Need To Know Before Writing Your College Essay (Part 3)

Top 10 Summer School Programs for High School Students in India

Check back to know about the remaining pain points – building an ideal profile (summer programs, extracurricular activities, demonstrated interest), how to secure financial aid and timeline management,  and ways to get around them.

About Author Tanmoy Ray

I have got a Molecular Pharmacology background with 5 years of research experience in the fields of Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Biology, Biomarkers, and Drug Discovery. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India). Currently, I am working with Stoodnt Inc. as a Career Adviser & Admission Counselor. I can be reached at

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