Hi! I am Yugendran Rajaendran, pursuing bioengineering with mathematical and computational science at Stanford University. I was admitted by Stanford University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, Yale University, New York University, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University. Here are some tips that I followed to increase the chances of you getting into US universities.
1. Decide to apply
This might seem basic but this is the fundamental step. You have to decide whether you are willing to sacrifice your time and energy for this complicated application process. At first, the application process might seem daunting but with practice and hard work, you will be fine. Deciding to apply is important to determine the timeline of the following steps. So, I would advise, if you want to apply to the US universities, make up your mind by January of the application year.
When someone talks about applying to US universities, the first thing that comes to mind is the SAT exam. SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is conducted by The College Board, intended to measure literacy, numeracy and writing skills that are needed for academic success in college. The SAT compromises 4 sections: critical reading, writing, math and an optional essay. The test is taken at one sitting which lasts around 3 hours and 50 minutes. The alternative test is ACT (American College Testing) which compromises 5 sections: reading, English, science, math and optional writing test. Take a practice test in both SAT and ACT to decide which suits you the best. Most Malaysian students find the Math section of SAT easier than the critical reading and writing section, so do practise a lot. Start your preparation early, I cannot emphasize this enough. Plan your testing dates accordingly, so you can retake the test to improve your scores before submitting your application. If you have decided to apply for Early Action/Early Decision, you have to sit for the test by October to receive the score before the application deadline. Some of the universities like MIT and Caltech require at least 2 SAT Subject Tests. Please look into the requirement. If you are doing A-Level, IB or STPM, then the Subject Tests will be fairly straight forward for you.
3. Decide which universities to apply
The next step is to prepare a list of universities you want to apply to. I would suggest applying to around six universities in the US, so you are not overwhelmed by the application process. As a Yayasan Khazanah scholar, I followed the list of universities provided as a part of the scholarship. Apply to 2 high ranking/ prestigious schools, 2 schools that you like and 2 safety schools. Look into the specifics and requirements of the universities you want to apply to. If you are keen on applying to prestigious universities, make sure that your SAT scores fall in the range of the SAT scores of students who were admitted by the universities. Other factors to consider while choosing universities are finance, geographic, weather, accessibility, academics, reputation and major/degree popularity.
4. Start application
Application to the US universities uses a centralised system called CommonApp, Coalition Application and Universal College Application like UCAS for the UK universities but you are not limited to just 5 universities. The University of California schools uses a separate application where you can submit one application to all 8 UC schools. MIT, Penn State and The University of Texas at Austin use their own application portal. You can start your application process on the portal as early as August. Start early, so you can spend adequate time on important sections like essays. Some of the colleges like the University of California schools require applicants to list grades from Grade 9 to Grade 12 (PT3 to Pre-U equivalent), so make sure you have copies of your transcripts. You have to nominate teachers who will be writing your recommendation letter in the CommonApp by listing their email address. After you are done filling up your details and completing your essays, you can submit your application by paying the application fees. Alternatively, you can request for an application fee waiver on CommonApp if you are unable to pay. Your counsellor has to verify that you need an application fee waiver as well.
If you apply for Early Action or Early Decision, you will know your application status by mid-December. If you apply for a regular decision, you will know your application status by late-March or early-April, depending on the universities. If you are successful, congratulations! You will have until 1st May to reply to the school that you are attending. If you are waitlisted by the school you would like to attend, you can accept the place on the waitlist or reject the place. To increase the chances of you being admitted from the waitlist, it is recommended that you write a letter of continued interest to the admission office stating that the university is still your top choice and you will attend the university if you are accepted from the waitlist. On top of that, you can include any relevant academic progress or achievement you gained after you submitted your application. Meanwhile, if you are accepted elsewhere, I would suggest you accept the place as the percentage of students being admitted from the waitlist is low.
Yugendran is a freshman at Stanford University pursuing bioengineering with mathematical and computational science. He is one of the Assistant Editors for the CollegeLAH’s US section. If you wish to contact him, you can do so by emailing him firstname.lastname@example.org