For more than 60 years, Singapore American School (SAS) has helped thousands of students and graduates apply for study at prestigious universities in the US and worldwide. SAS knows the application process can be daunting, and that expert guidance is imperative for helping students prepare for the demands of higher education.
US university admissions teams generally review aspects of a college application in a certain order. First, they look at grades. Next, they review academic rigor, followed by test scores and personal characteristics. SAS is one example of an institution that’s committed to ensuring students exhibit strength in all these areas, not only for the purposes of college admissions, but for their own success and general well-being.
Thanks to its long and distinguished history of helping students be the best they can be, SAS has some invaluable advice on how to stand out from the crowd of ambitious university applicants.
1. Get involved early and find things you love to do.
Admissions teams review all four years of the high school endeavor, so it’s crucial that you get involved in extracurricular and community activities throughout your freshman year. Universities are looking to admit students who are just as dedicated to themselves and their communities as they are to their studies. Find a couple of passions that you will eventually explore in depth – you could play a sport, volunteer, or join any number of student-run organizations. The key is to find activities that are of interest to you and dig into a few key ones.
2. Be realistic about what you can do.
Whilst at high school, you should make every effort to challenge yourself, but you should be realistic about how many extracurriculars and classes you can take on. Remember that you don’t need to take one of everything to impress an American university. In fact, taking on too many extracurriculars can hurt your application by making you look like you lack commitment and dedication. Instead, try your hand at a few different activities and stick with the ones you like best.
3. Talk to your high school counsellor and similar mentors.
High school counsellors are well-versed in the university application process, so take advantage of their services and experience. Inform your counsellor of your own interests, needs and expectations. From there, they can help you create a list of potential schools and narrow them down. Your counsellor and/or mentor(s) can help you navigate the application process for each school and write recommendation letters that reflect your achievements, work ethic, and interests.
4. Prepare for college admission tests.
Although this is not true for every school, most American colleges expect you to complete some form of admissions testing. This is usually the ACT or the SAT. High scores on these tests are especially important if you’re applying for a selective school. If you want to do well on these tests, you should read often and take courses that challenge you to excel. Practice tests like the PSAT are also available to help you prepare, but don’t start preparing for these tests too early—there is no evidence that test preparation is useful more than eight to ten weeks before the test itself.
5. Build rapport with your high school teachers.
Building solid relationships with your teachers is paramount for your academic and personal success. Teachers play an invaluable part in helping you learn and grow. Show your gratitude by connecting with them on a personal level. Later in your high school career, they can write recommendation letters that detail both your academic success and your unique character.
6. Focus on growth, and hold yourself accountable.
What are your academic and personal goals? What steps have you taken to achieve them? What motivates you? Where do you want to be in five, ten and twenty-five years? Reflect on your goals often, and consider keeping a journal to hold yourself accountable for your progress on them. Students who actively and consistently push themselves to reach their goals are the kinds of students colleges are looking for.
7. Learn how to study.
It’s no secret that you’ll spend a lot of your time at university studying, so you want to make sure you choose an approach that works for you. Your individual approach to studying will depend on the type of learner you are and which methods are most effective in helping you retain information. Try out different study methods until you figure out what works best for you.
8. Spend time writing reflectively, and keep copies of all your essays.
The more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Good writing skills are important since you’ll be required to write dozens of essays throughout your college career. If you need extra advice to hone your writing skills, consider visiting your counsellor. They’re experienced in reading college essays, so they know what a good essay looks like. And remember, a good essay topic is one that ignites your passion and makes you want to write. The most effective essays come from the heart, not from a list.
The most important thing to remember is that colleges want to admit students who are happy and successful. Take control of your own happiness and success by challenging yourself, reflecting on your goals, and working hard. Any student can achieve the bare minimum – but you are not just any student.