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Strategy for a Successful College Application

Each member of our team has gone through this process before, some more than once, and we see no reason why we shouldn't pass on the tips to help make the process less overwhelming for you.
By GPA Admin

Strategy for a Successful College Application

We hope you know what you would like to study in your undergraduate degree in the U.S. and have researched the Golden Path Guide to identify schools that have the best programs in that field. 

This article is aimed to help you complete the application process successfully and secure an offer from the college of your dream.

Step 1: Assess Your Candidacy

On a sheet of paper, write down study results and achievements from your high school years. These include:

  • Grades: Your cumulative grades for each of the years of high school and for each subject as well as where you rank in your class (top 5%, top 10% or top 25%). Note that you can submit your cumulative grades for Grades 10 and 11 as is (e.g. 8.0 out of 10) and select the GPA scale accordingly. No need to convert them into the U.S. grade scale as the schools will do so.

  • Test Scores: Scores for your SAT and TOEFL. Note that even though you will enter these scores into your application form, you must request ETS to report the scores directly to the schools you are applying to.

  • Extracurricular Activities: Social, leadership and athletic activities that you have participated in, as well as summer jobs, travel, volunteer activities.

  • Awards: All recognitions, honors, scholarships, etc that you have received.

Step 2: Create School List

From your research, write down a list of schools that you would like to apply to. Some of you will have one school that you dream of attending and may not want to go anywhere else. Others will not be able to choose from the universe of hundreds and thousands. One approach is to create three buckets of about 10 schools:

  • Ideal: 3 schools you dream of attending, but you know are competitive and your grades and test scores are just below their typical freshman class profile;

  • Possible: 4 schools where you have a good chance and would like to go but it’s not a done deal depending on the applicant pool; and

  • Best Bet: 3 schools that are very likely to accept you based on your grades and test scores and you would be happy here.

Choose all schools carefully so you can be proud to attend any on the list. If you need help creating your school list, please contact Golden Path Guide.

Step 3: Create College Application Planner

Make a table with 10 columns, one for each school on your list. In the rows, fill in the most important information you want to keep track of regarding the application. We suggest putting down all application requirements, including deadlines andcontact information. Keep a note of schools that offer early decision, early action and rolling deadlines. The Golden Path Guide should provide you with all relevant information. If you need further help, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Step 4: Talk to Someone You Trust

Talk to your parents, a college counselor, your mentor or teacher about your study interests, school options, any questions and concerns you may have. You may also want to talk to someone who has studied in America or someone who applied and got in the year before, to learn from their experiences. The Golden Path Guide counselors have gone to excellent schools and we would be happy to help you. So don’t hesitate to Contact Us Your goal for this step is to arrive at a final list of schools you will apply to.

Step 5: Put Together the Package

The most important thing you should know about applying to college in America is that schools don’t look for a perfect student; they look for a diverse, interesting, intelligent and well-rounded class of students who want to go there. So your application package should reflect your true academic records and extracurricular achievements but more importantly your “uniqueness”. What is it about you that sets you apart and attracts attention from an admission officer who doesn’t know you, your background and culture?

Remember, all they have are transcripts, test scores, your extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation and your essay. The transcripts and test scores are beyond your control. You may have some influence over the letters of recommendation - in choosing whom you ask to write them. You do have control over your extracurricular but by the time to submit applications, it’s too late to change (by the way, this is why planning early is important).

Please refer to our suggested college application timeline for students in Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12 to make sure you have plenty of time to spend on your extra-curricular activities.

At this stage, what you have most control over is your essay. The essay is where you can most easily tell the admissions officer who you are as an individual, what special about your background, how it has influenced your beliefs and values, what you are passionate and care deeply about, what you dream to become and why that dream is important to you. So, make sure your essay is well written, well structured, grammatically correct and concise with all the major points clearly laid out and your voice reflected. Please read our articles about the essay for more tips. 

Step 6. Obtain Letters of Recommendation

In most cases, schools will ask for one or two letters of recommendation and they will accept a letter from your teacher or career counselor (if there is one in your school). These letters are read carefully by admissions officers, who hope to glean from them insight into how you perform in the college academic environment. Don’t worry too much about getting it from your principal. It is more important to ask someone who knows you well and can discuss your abilities as well as unique qualities. Ideal candidates are teachers who taught you in Grade 10 or 11. It’s not advisable to go back as far as Grade 9. You can submit one letter more than the number the schools ask for, but don’t submit more than that.

Step 7. Submit a Stellar Application

In the final steps of the application process, you will be spending a lot of time filling out forms, attaching supplemental documents, paying fees, requesting test scores and mailing in transcripts. It is easy to forget one or two things or feeling overwhelmed with keeping track of all the necessary steps for all the schools you want to apply. We recommend a few things to make the process more manageable:

  • Make a checklist for each of the schools that as you go through the process, you can check them off and no longer have to worry about it.
  • Submit your applications online, when possible. They get to the schools faster.
  • Use Common App for as many schools as you can to save time: you only need to fill out the form once and get it done for multiple schools.
  • Request your TOEFL and SAT scores to be send to all schools at once, so you don’t forget any school.
  • Make sure you have someone look over your essay(s) for feedback and before you submit, run a spell check!
  • If you are not good with details or dates, ask for help from your parents or a counselor so that you have a layer of safety.
  • Mail all translated, notarized copies of your transcripts as well as other required supporting documents to the schools after you’ve submitted your online applications (or mail them together with the paper application, if you use one). Use certified mail!

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