US College Admissions for Undergrads: 5 Critical Components and How to Tackle Them

Are you thinking of applying to the US for undergrad education? If yes, I hope you read this so you can better prepare yourself for the application process.

Unlike India and the UK, where only good grades matter to get into a college, the US takes a more holistic approach. They believe that just test scores and GPAs do not completely reflect who a student is and what he or she can bring to a college community.

Grades are a very small part of the entire application process. They want to know you as a person, your likes, your dislikes, your passion and what others think of you. They understand that not everyone can get A’s in all subjects and that’s why the activities outside of your classroom matter.

Let’s explore the different points needed to help in the process.

Undergraduate College Admissions in USA

Key Components and How to Tackle Them

1. Grades

Grades in College Admissions in USA

Good grades are the stepping stone for getting into a good college. The most rigorous courses offered in high schools today are Honors, AP and IB courses. If you are doing well in school, keep your grades consistent.

For example, if you are an A student, make sure you keep up with your A’s for all 4 years of high school. If you are a B or C student work hard to get to an A or a B. If you can’t don’t stress too much as you can showcase your strength through your activities outside of your classroom.

US College Admissions - Critical Components

2. SAT / ACT

US College Admissions

Every college in the US accepts either the SAT or ACT. Decide which one works best for you and take the test no more than 2-3 times. Time is of the essence and does not use it in trying to get the perfect score instead of work in areas where you can excel.

SAT is a multiple-choice, 3 hours plus 50 min optional essay writing test. The highest possible SAT score is 1600. Check the SAT test dates and register at

On the other hand, the ACT is a 2-hr, 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes if taking the ACT with writing) test and the highest possible ACT score is 36. For more information visit their website at

Both SAT and ACT test purpose is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college. Lately, some colleges like the University of Chicago have made the application process test-optional where one is not required to take the test. So, unless you know which college you are applying to, its highly recommended to take either one.

Related Articles:

SAT / ACT Planning and Guidance for High School Students

SAT vs ACT: Which One to Choose?

SAT vs ACT Diagnostic Test: What makes a “good” SAT vs ACT assessment test?

3. Extracurricular Activities

Guidance for US College Admissions

A very important part of the puzzle is who are you outside of your classroom? What do you do in your free time? Are you a member of any club? Do you play any sports or an instrument? What is your passion and what are you doing about it?

For instance, you may have an interest in computer science. But in your free time, you play soccer and do debate. Your passion and activities are not in sync. Show the college you are interested in studying Computer science by either being the President of the Robotics club, making an app or a website for an NGO.

Use your summer well by doing internships in the related field of interest or attending a summer camp. Whatever you do, do it consistently for 4 years and take it to a higher level of achievement. There is no need to do 3-6 different activities; instead, excel in 1-2 activities. Also, what you do here will help in writing those essays and defining who you are. Read my blog on the summer planning roadmap for Grade 9 – 12 students.

Don’t just check off the box. Follow your passion and show a spike.

Related Article: Advice on Extracurricular Activities by Former Asst. Admissions Dean at Stanford University

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4. Essays

College Application Essays for US

This is your chance to brag about yourself and tell the college how awesome you are through your essays. Tell them your story, your struggles, challenges, and victories.  Make sure you write those essays yourself and your parents, teachers or siblings are not doing it for you. Make them laugh, cry or smile and keep the language simple.

Trust me, the application reader is reading 100’s of such essays a day and can tell who has written them. You don’t have to try too hard to impress the reader.

Just share your life story. Be genuine and authentic.

Related Articles:

How to Utilize Your Summer Break while Staying at Home during COVID-19 Crisis

How to Write a Great College Essay – Strategies, Tips

All You Need to Know about College Essays – Importance, What do Admission Officers Look For, and Essay Types

College Essays – DO’s and DON’Ts

5. Letters of Recommendation (LOR)

LOR from school teachers, school counselors, and other community members help college admissions officers get a more complete picture of the applicant.

It’s a way of getting to know the applicant better from another valued person. What do they think of you? How are you as a person.

Letters of Recommendation (LORs)

The college knows about your grades already, but this is the opportunity for others to describe you as a person.

Get to know your teachers at a personal level as it will help them write a more personal recommendation. Make sure the teachers write about personal strengths also along with academic achievements.  Make sure you ask your teacher for that letter in the month of June or July or just as school reopens so they have enough time to think and write about you.

Finally, don’t forget to send a Thank You note. Some schools require mandatory LOR from at least 2 teachers while other schools don’t enforce it.

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Parent Tip

College Admissions Tips for Parents

College success starts in high school.

We are not talking about grades but hard work, commitment, sense of purpose, writing skills, critical problem-solving skills and time management.

Need any advice on college admissions? Please feel free to book a one-on-one session with me.

How to get into Harvard & Stanford and Top US Colleges? Watch this video:

Featured Image Source: Niche

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