This will help you equip yourself before you begin applying to colleges in America.

With November just beginning, we have reached the peak stage of application season. Those applying to the U.S. for undergraduate studies are frantically looking for outlets of information regarding majors, financial aid, specific programmes, college locations, etc. and the online world is abuzz with chatter as students try to meet the New Year’s deadlines.

However, you may be one of those undecided students, just looking to explore your options, and might have no clue where to get started! If you fall into that confused category, then look no further — we have made you a get-to-college checklist that will help you figure out the best way to approach the U.S. college application process. So, read on.

The Tests

Usually, colleges in the U.S. require some sort of ‘admissions’ test, though they are used quite differently in the process than one would find in the Indian education system. For undergraduate colleges, the SAT (scholastic aptitude test) or the ACT are accepted. These two are similar in some ways – they both test reasoning in math, writing and reading – but the ACT also has a small science section. These tests are aimed at testing your high school development in these broad fields. The best way to prepare is to just take as many practice tests as possible!

Some colleges also require a few SAT Subject Tests, which tests students’ aptitude in specific subject areas. The College board (the organization that arranges these tests), offers the examinations in a variety of fields – math, sciences, humanities and languages. For more specific information, look up the ‘middle 50s’, as they are called, for the colleges you are interested in –they will show you the ranges of scores that accepted students usually are within.

The Recommendations

For those of you applying from a school with an Indian board of education, this part of the application can seem a little daunting. But we have some advice for you. Colleges in the U.S. just want to know that you worked as hard as you could during your ninth through 12th grades, and that you were an active participant, both in and out of the classrooms. Unsure of whom to ask for a recommendation? Well, most colleges need two recommendations from teachers. Our first piece of advice to you would be to pick a teacher who has known you really well, and for a good chunk of time. You want them to be able to say inspiring and warm things about you, so that the admissions committee can get a sense of who you are as a person. And second, is to pick the teacher whose subject you are the best at. Love mathematics? Maybe the math teacher is the right person for the job. Doing great in geography? Choose the appropriate teacher. Just remember that you are trying to present yourself in the best (and most honest) light.

The Extra curricular

One main difference between the U.S. and Indian admissions process is that in America the admissions committee looks at everything, from your scores to your grades, as well as what you’ve been doing outside of school. Don’t restrict yourself to listing the academic honours you’ve won or the clubs you’ve been a part of. Sports, both within school and on a state or national level can look impressive. Been painting for 10 years? List that down, and maybe write to the college to see if they would like to see a sample. Great at playing the oboe or tabla? Make sure that it’s noticed on your application. Even the simple things – organizing a beach clean-up with students at school or volunteering at your neighbourhood old age home – can make a difference, so be sure to jot them down somewhere on that application.

The Essays

This is a category on our little checklist that may or may not apply to you. Many colleges in the U.S. ask you to provide an essay in addition to your application. I think these can be broken into two different categories – the ‘why’ essay and the personal essay. The ‘why’ essays ask you why you are interested in that particular college. It is your opportunity to win favor with the admissions committee, so make sure you take up that chance! Write about your favourite programme, a professor you love who teaches there, or just the general atmosphere of the college that appeals to you.

The second type of essay you might encounter is the personal one. Here you will be expected to share something about yourself or your background and interests that is not evident in the rest of the application. This is your chance to speak about your passion for basket-weaving or your deep interest in jazz dance, or anything else that has captured your interest for a significant period of time! Either way, colleges aren’t expecting a Hemingway piece, so it is okay to write simply and succinctly — just show them who you are.