Before we proceed, here are some info about me. I went to KTJ for A-levels, with a subject combo of economics, history and double math. I plan to major in Economics and concentrate in East Asian studies in Columbia. On top of applying to the US, I also applied to the UK and received offers from LSE, UCL, Warwick, Leeds and City University of London.
The idea of studying in the US appeared to me when I was 15 as I remembered myself shamelessly telling my friends that one day I’ll be going to one of those top-notch schools in the world. But it was out of my sheer admiration for the reputation and fame these schools bear. I had no idea what a liberal art college means and could barely give examples of US universities other than Harvard and MIT, left alone what courses I’m interested in pursuing.
Having said that, I still think applying to the US universities (US apps) was one of the most precious memories in my A-levels journey. I started off with only knowing taking the SAT is a prerequisite to apply to the US, I gradually became familiar with the mechanism and now, here I am, having everything set for my long-awaited university life to start.
When friends approached me asking for tips to successful US apps, the first thing that came to my mind is always “you don’t need to be perfect in everything”. In the end, the tedious and long application process that most of the US universities have is meant to give us as much space as we need to portray ourselves as an unique individual. It is not a prerequisite for you to be a CEO nor a Mathematical Olympiad gold medal holder because I believe everyone would have a unique life lesson that no one else could duplicate. Our job is to show the admission officers how the uniqueness has shaped us into who we are, how we think and what we believe. “The key lies on whether we can show them how interesting and high-potential we are as a teenager.” Hence, I think it is important that when you finish your essays, have other people proofread it, to see if they can picture “you” through the words you have written.
Though, the essay prompts could still be quite overwhelming. When this happens, I would suggest:
- Talk to people who know you well as a person. By asking the right questions, I often found out interesting traits they saw in me that I never realized and this does help me to know myself better.
- Reach out to people who are studying or have studied the courses or in the universities you are interested in because they know things that aren’t written on the university websites and often enough these would give us a very good grasp of the “true colors” of the university. So don’t be shy to ask people to connect you with all these seniors!
- Brainstorm essay ideas when your mind is relaxed (at least it worked well for me haha). While waiting for people to come for dinners, listening to music, doing window-shopping, I would think about the essay prompts from time to time and a lot of crazy ideas or random flashbacks actually came from here.
Still, the application journey was definitely not a smooth one for me. I had experienced academic pressure to juggle between my A-levels syllabus and the tedious preparation for my SAT1 and SAT2 exams. Having no science subject in my A-levels, I have long detached from physics ever since I graduated from high school. Hence, taking the physics subject test became a big challenge for me (I planned to take “world history” initially but the exam board changed the timetable and physics became the only doable subject for me). With less than 2 months of preparation (and with other exams and school responsibilities on hand as well), to be completely honest, I didn’t manage to catch up with the entire physics syllabus well and thus I experienced the bitter taste of getting unsatisfying exam results.
If you too, are doing A-levels and are planning to apply to the UK universities as well, please don’t be surprised if you find Upper 6 Term 1 a bit hard. You might find yourself sacrificing some of your “messing-around” time with friends but it is just temporary and Term 2 would be much more enjoyable with most of the university application done. If this may help, try to settle your UCAS application ASAP so you can focus on refining the US essays because they are both of totally different approaches. (I wrote most of my UCAS PS over the summer and submitted it in the first week when the UCAS opened for application.)
I’m not going to lie, it was still hard, even with tons of help from seniors and friends. However, if I were to talk to myself from two years ago, I would still encourage her to do this. I’m not going to lecture you on how the US education system might fit you but rather I would say, keep reflecting on your intentions to apply: are you genuinely interested in the education system and the lifestyles the US could bring or are you attracted merely for the reputation of the universities? The application might be hard and tedious, but a clear vision of what you are pursuing for your next 3 or 4 years of life would make the journey more bearable or even enjoyable.
If there is only one thing that you could take from my sharing, then maybe let it be this: “You don’t have to figure everything out to start doing something ”. As you go through the process, things will become clearer to you and the day will come when it’s your turn to share your experience. May all of you have a successful application but don’t forget that on top of the application results, the knowledge, skills and network as well as mental growth we get throughout the process are those that make the journey more worthwhile. Because of applying to the US, you might get the opportunities to make friends with people of diverse interests who are equally passionate towards the idea of studying in the US; you might find yourself spending your free time more efficiently as you explore across different networks to learn about the works of professors in your prospective universities, the resources available in different college communities, as far as to the history and progression of the land that you might be spending your next 4 years on.
Man Ching is in her freshman year at Columbia and her prospective major is Economics and East Asian studies. Fun fact about her: she loves PINK and still watches Barbie. She is also one of the Assistant Editors for CollegeLAH’s US section. Feel free to drop her a message at firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel like asking anything.