【US College】What to prepare for the US University application - PROCESS & TIPS!

Hi everyone, it is Luk here, been awhile since I have made a post and it is about time I did. As you may or may not know I went to university in the USA for my Bachelors of Science. I have had many friends ask me how the application works or how to make their application standout. When I was going through the process I had very little knowledge on the subject and know how overwhelming it can be. Luckily for me, I had professional help and was able to gain a good understanding what makes a great application. Below includes the process and key tips for applying to a US university.

Before we begin, I want to clarify one quick thing. Depending on where you are from different countries use different terms to describe what year of high school you are in. For an examples Canada uses grade 10, grade 11, grade 12 (Final year) versus the USA uses for the exact same years, Sophomore, Junior and Senior. In this guide I will use the Canadian version.

A. Good Grades is needed

Beginning in grade 10 it is already time to begin the application process. The most important thing to do this year is to ensure you have good grades. Admissions staff will consider your grade 10 grades, even yearly grades, but this is the year they really start to count.

B. Extracurricular Activities Is A Must!!!

You should also look into if not ready for your extracurricular activities. Don’t wait to do these tell the last second or else it will show on your application. It does have to be much, especially since you don’t want to burn out, but a light commitment once a week over a few years will do wonders for your application.

I would recommend join one club/sport education program beyond what is required for your standard education and do 1 hour of volunteer work a week. For only 2 hours a week which is very manageable it will provide a great deal of value to you application, you will gain new skills and perhaps enjoy doing it.

While the following link by youthconnect.ca is specific to Toronto, Canada it does give you a good idea about different volunteer ideas if you are unsure àà http://www.youthconnect.ca/htdocs/english/getinvolved/what.asp


C. Start Preparing For the SAT/ACT

The next thing you need to start considering the SAT or ACT standardized examinations. These are the examinations that are required by the majority of the Universities in the USA. I personally took the SAT and I believe the majority of students take the SAT. However, either is fine, the follow link gives a good comparison between the two ààACT vs SAT: Key differences between the ACT and SAT by Study Point.


i. Purchase the SAT bible


You need to start studying/ take a practice test now so you don’t feel the pressure later on. Again your grades are the most important so I would recommend studying during your winter break and summer breaks. I know it might be difficult to do so after a long semester but it will make a large difference. I would recommend buying the "The Official SAT Study Guide (Redesigned SAT)" from College Board. This book is your bible and depending how much work you put into this you may also need other resources. This blog post provides some good recommendations for SAT booksààThe 10 Best SAT Books Recommended for SAT Prep .

ii. Retake the exam if necessary


If you are up for it, I would recommend even taking an SAT exam. The SAT exams a broken down to three sections, Math, Writing and Reading. Each section is scored out of a 100. The best part of the SAT is when you apply to schools you only report the best scores of each section! Thus you do not need to worry if you flunked a test or were unprepared since there is no downside to taking it.

iii. Sign up for  SAT word of the day

Another study tip I want to recommend is definitely to sign up for an email service SAT word of the day. The SAT exam tests your knowledge of many obscure words that is even difficult for native English speakers. Signing up for a word of the day is an easy way to learn new works earlier on without being overwhelmed, plus it is free!
Here is a link to one place to sign up àà http://www.testmagic.com/sat/word-of-the-day.htm .

In general for SAT studying try to do a little each day when you have time off and even better work with a friend (hire a tutor) to motivate to work hard.

D. Selecting Schools

i. Create a list of about 20 schools

The final thing you need to start doing, and the most enjoyable, in grade 10 is start to make a list of potential schools you would like to attend. Things to consider when selecting a school include, ranking/quality, location, areas of study, campus life, employment candidacy after school and much more!

One of the best websites for looking up schools is: http://www.usnews.com/rankings.
From there I would also visit each university website as well. I would recommend creating a list of about 20 schools you would consider attending; this list will shrink down significantly once you apply but it provides a good base of potential schools. Of the 20 schools:

  • 5 should be safety school (schools you think you can easily get it)
  • 10 medium schools (50/50 chance you will be accepted
  • 5 reach schools (10% chance you will be accepted)
Then once you have a better idea how your grades and SAT scores are shaping up you can eliminate schools according to your grades as reach schools may shift to medium schools and vice versa.

ii. Sign up for school mails 

Finally, I have an important tip for you that is not too well known. When looking at university websites, they all will have a place to sign up for a mailing list for prospective students.  While this is a good way to get additional information (through email and physical mail) the larger benefit is it helps you gain entrance to the respective university.

Unknown to candidates, school admission staff when reviewing your application will consider if you were on the mailing list as a demonstration to have shown interest in the school. So while may be a small help, it does not take much effort and aid your application. For an example if you wanted to join the Yale University mailing list, a prestigious school, you would sign up in the following link: https://apps.admissions.yale.edu/register/inquiry.

This concludes what is need to be done during your Sophomore year. This is by no means a set timeline, some people will need/prefer more time so should start in grade 9 other will need less. I found this time line worked well for me, giving lots of time to prepare without too much over kill. Keep in mind to focus on school as that is your #1 priority. 

Secondly, when possible get started on SAT study. I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming, this is an exciting journey you are about to embark on. I can honestly say I am very jealous. Don’t see this as a chore, it does require hard work but it is also a tremendous opportunity to go to the university of your dreams. Please see our other blog posts as this is part 1 of 3. The other posts will focus on what to do in grade 11 & 12 of high school. Recommend ready all early on so you can get a sense of the total process and revisit them for further guidance/comparing progress. See you in Grade 11!
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