Applying to US colleges? What should you be doing now?
March is an important time for those of you who have already applied to US colleges, as you will receive the results of your applications at the end of this month. For those applying next Autumn, your preparations for taking the SAT or ACT should be well advanced. Here is a summary of what you should be doing now, depending on your school year.
Year 13 (Upper Sixth)
If you applied by the ‘Regular Action’ deadline in January, the colleges will inform you whether you have been accepted at the end of March. Unlike British universities, acceptance at American colleges is not conditional on achieving particular grades at A Level. This will take some of the pressure off during the weeks before you take your A Levels if you are offered a place. But you must carry on working and achieve grades close to those predicted. If you do extremely badly for no good reason, the offers you have received may be withdrawn.
What to do if you are accepted
- If you have more than one offer, choose the college that you feel is the overall best fit in terms of the academic curriculum, extracurricular opportunities and geographic location.
- Any offers of financial aid should come at the same time as offers of admission. Consider these carefully, as the level of financial aid offered will have a significant effect on your final choice. If you receive notice that your aid application is incomplete, quickly submit the missing information so that the aid decision can reach you during the month of April. If the aid offer is not sufficient to allow you to attend that college, contact the Financial Aid Office to discuss whether any adjustments can be made. Prepare for that conversation by thinking about any unusual expenses or situations your family may have (e.g. “My parents annually provide about £3,000 support to my grandmother overseas,” or “My father has recently lost his job and our income is £10,000 lower now than it was last year.”)
- If possible, contact recent UK graduates of the colleges that offer you admission, and chat to them about their experiences.
- If you are offered a place at Harvard, attend the ‘Visitas’ weekend being held on 21-23 April 2018. It will give you a taste of life at Harvard and is a great opportunity to meet some of your future classmates.
- Inform the colleges whether you wish to accept their offers by 1st May (this is a national deadline and is the same for all US colleges).
What to do if you are put on the waitlist
- This means that you narrowly missed out on being offered a place, but could still be offered one depending on the level of acceptance from other students.
- Stay positive, and be sure to let the Admissions Office know of any major achievements since you submitted your application, as these may increase your chances of success.
- Although they may not be your first choice, consider all other offers you have received from both US and UK universities.
- Accept a place at a college by 1st May. If you are admitted from a waitlist after that date, you can inform the college you accepted that you are changing your mind (and don’t worry; this happens all the time over the summer for all US colleges. It gives the first college a chance to admit someone from their waitlist to take the spot you have turned down.) Or accept no places and plan to take a gap year or enrol in the UK or elsewhere.
What to do if you are not offered a place
- Explore other options.
- Consider taking a gap year and reapplying next year. (If you do this, it is better to apply to a different group of US colleges as it is very rare for the same college to offer a place to a student the second time around, unless he or she has achieved something very significant in the interim.)
- If reapplying, identify an adviser who can review all aspects of your application and help with improvements and finding ‘good fit’ colleges for your particular needs and aspirations.
- If taking a gap year, use part of the year on activities that will enhance your application, such as community service, work experience, academic research, or enhancing still further an extracurricular skill or activity (or any combination of the above).
Year 12 (Lower Sixth)
- If you are taking the SAT or ACT next term you should already have booked your place at one of the Test Centres and your preparations should be well advanced. ACT test dates: 14 April and 9 June 2018. SAT test dates: 5 May and 2 June 2018.
- If taking the SAT, be sure to take advantage of the free online practice toolsprovided by the Khan Academy.
- If your practice tests are not yielding the scores that you need, consider doing some more intensive practice during the Easter holidays.
- Once you have exhausted all the free online practice materials, there are a number of practice books available for purchase. They all contain full practice tests, but they differ as regards other content. For example, some contain more ‘test tips’ than others, some have a vocabulary supplement, some give full explanations of every answer, while others don’t. To look at the full range of books available, google ‘SAT practice tests’ or ‘ACT practice tests’ and choose the book that best caters for your particular requirements.
- But the most important task of all is to get good grades in all of the internal mock exams you are taking this summer. Since offers of admission to US colleges are not conditional on A Level grades (see Year 13 above), any exams you sit this year will take on greater significance than they would have done otherwise.
Year 11 (Fifth Form)
- Although there is not a huge amount for you to do this academic year in preparation for your US college applications, you should at least have researched the American college system and identified a long list of possible colleges you think might be suitable for you.
- If you are highly accomplished in a particular academic subject, you may wish to take the relevant SAT Subject Test a year early, as your scores will remain valid for at least three years. There are 20 subjects to choose from.
- To find out whether you are good enough, take the free online tests in your strongest subject(s), and if you get a high score, you should consider taking the subject test(s) early (on 5 May or 2 June 2018) as it spreads the load and you will have less to do next year.
- There is, however, one task that is absolutely crucial this year: work hard and get good grades for your GCSEs in the summer. Good grades will act as the gateway to whatever you want to do afterwards.
Inside Harvard dorms: roommates share their stories
If you are lucky enough to be admitted to Harvard College starting next autumn, you will spend your Freshman year living in one of the Harvard Yard dorms – right in the hub of the university. College roommates often form very special friendships which last the rest of their lives. In this article from the Harvard Gazette, several groups of roommates share their stories.