Applying to colleges, especially as an international student, can be tough. But it is not as intimidating as it may seem once you work the smart way (hardly) and obsess over your dream college.
If I were to ever give my 16-year-old self some meaningful advice, it’d be to start planning and working towards applying to colleges and that includes internships, volunteer, competitions, spending time doing your hobbies, reading newspapers, etc. Just prepare yourself. Most college admissions officers prioritise extracurricular more than your SAT/ACT score. Heck, colleges like Middlebury, Mount Holyoke, Bates, and more are test optional – which means you can choose to send your SAT/ACT scores or not to. As a matter of fact, these colleges tend to encourage students to know more about you as a person through your common app and writing supplement. They want to know how you think, rather than what you already know. Almost all colleges seem to tell us that we are more than just our grades.
A common error vis-à-vis the Common Application is answering ‘no’ in the optional art/music/theatre supplement. Top tip: ALWAYS answer yes and keep the doors open. You will need to play extra cash if you answer no and send in a portfolio later. Plus, the admissions office may be confused since you’ve answered ‘no’ in your common app.
Another common error is misreading the deadline. This happened to me BIG TIME. I misread one of my top college’s deadlines by THREE days! I was flabbergasted — that is all. Fortunately, they agreed to extend my deadline and accepted my application nevertheless, because I had already sent my financial aid application, thank goodness. Top tip: read the deadlines carefully.
If you are not sure where to apply yet, I suggest talking to an alumni, see their CVs and doing research. You may want to read books/novels about the state/city/town as well. That will give a good idea whether the college is a good fit for you or not. Let’s face it: you are going to spend the next four years in that place — you need to know what kind of a place you are going to.
About the essays, I would like to stress the fact that they are very important and good opportunities for you to work harder and make a good impression. Admission officers will probably evaluate whether or not you are a suitable candidate by just looking at your essays.
As for the optional interview, I suggest you take it and prepare yourselves beforehand. Try test-runs and mock interviews with a college alumni from your family/friend circle. Listen to their feedback and work on it. There will always be a room for improvement, but remember to be yourself–a college should accept you for who you are and what your dreams are.
Whatever you do, be yourself on paper too. Write about something that means something to you, or has made an impact on you one way or another. Do not just write about your piano lessons if you did not enjoy or get anything out of it. Write about why you wanted to learn how to play the instrument.
GOOD LUCK to you if you are currently in the process of sending your common apps or otherwise. Stay calm and don’t fret–just be obsessed with your dream college.