What you need to know if you want to study at US colleges

International School Savremena’s students are taught according to the Cambridge International programme, which enables them to continue their education at world’s prestigious universities.

Some of the best colleges are in the USA and that is where many students from Serbia, Savremena’s students included, would like to take the next step in their education. However, the application process is unclear to many of them, and they need to get informed and prepare everything they need in time.

Each college has a defined procedure that needs to be observed. This is why the students need to carefully study the procedure published at the college’s website. However, over 650 US colleges use the same, standardised application, called the Common Application.

The information we have prepared covers the requirements for applying for most colleges in the States.

Qualifications required for applying to a US college

Several factors affect your ranking at colleges in the United States of America.

  • Student profile – This segment should showcase the student’s results, including all curricular and extracurricular activities, along with a list of desired universities.

  • Letters of recommendation – Having two or three such letters is highly recommended. Ideally, they can include a recommendation from a Cambridge International AS/A level English teacher, as well as the general impression of the class teacher or school administrator about the student’s curricular and extracurricular activities.

  • Essay – This is where the students get to introduce themselves in their own words and show the admissions committee what kind of person they are, what drives them, what values they hold dear... The students are advised to make sure that they check the college website for information about important essay requirements they need to observe.

  • Interview – This is the final step, which can be scheduled before or after the application deadline, and performed over the phone, via a video call or in person. Savremena’s students can practice this step with their mentors in order to leave the best possible impression at the actual interview.

  • SAT/ACT mark – Some colleges may require candidates to provide test marks. Students who come from schools where lessons are fully English-mediated, such as International School Savremena, require no additional testing, as ICE and AICE diplomas are recognised all over the world.

  • English language test – Although Cambridge students attend lessons in English, some countries, such as the US and Italy, ask for TOEFL or EILTS test results, as proof that the candidate’s level of English is adequate to meet the academic requirements. Faculties in some other countries also accept Cambridge English C1 and C2 diplomas, which you can acquire through taking an exam provided by our LINK Examinations Institute.

Simple application for universities

To apply for prestigious American universities, the students can use the Common App, whose database contains over 900 universities worldwide.

Before applying, students can use the Common App to get learn more about a university they are interested in; they can learn whether the university offers any benefits and, if it does, what these benefits are, see whether the university has a campus, whether the university is all-male, all-female or mixed, and much more.

The students will surely find this app useful when it comes to making their choice regarding the next step in their education.

Things to keep in mind when applying

The application assessment process involves the candidate’s entire personality, including, besides academic achievement, their extracurricular activities, as well as the values and ideals the student cares about.

The curriculum implemented in the student’s secondary school might also be an important factor.

When it comes to International School Savremena’s students, the important thing is that the students who come from schools that observe the Cambridge International curriculum have achieved good results, as this programme is in accordance with what US colleges require from their students.

Extracurricular activities

So, it is clear that, besides academic results, colleges in the States also value the candidate’s extracurricular activities. An important thing to know is:

There is no defined list of extracurricular activities

This means that the students should participate in the activities they want to or have to engage in; also extracurricular activities encompass not only the numerous school clubs, but also volunteering, activism, as well as work engagements.

During their assessment, US colleges do not rank extracurricular activities by any defined marking system, but try to perceive the wider context and evaluate how much the students might have learned from those experiences. In other words, the actual object of assessment is how good the students have used the opportunities that presented themselves to them. Therefore, when it comes to extracurricular activities, the students should list everything they have done outside school that can be relevant for their application.

TIP FOR STUDENTS:

When it comes to the participation in extracurricular activities, what carries the most weight is the level of your engagement, i.e., how actively you participated in said activities. If you have led a club or started one yourself, it can serve as proof of your leadership abilities, which is quite valued in the selection process.

Bearing in mind how valued extracurricular activities are abroad, International School Savremena has implemented the special Duke of Edinburgh's International Award (DofE) programme, where the students, with the support from their DofE coordinator, engage in various extracurricular activities throughout the year, which puts them a step ahead of the other candidates who apply for colleges worldwide.

What to include in your essay

Essay is the part of the application where the students can say whatever they want, however they want.

In other words, it gives the candidates an opportunity to express themselves in their own words.

When it comes to essay writing, it is very important to know the following:

  1. Spelling and grammar need to be impeccable. When the essay is written, it is a good idea to give it to someone for proofreading.
  2. The topic is important, and so is the way in which we write about it.

Therefore, when the student is choosing a topic for the essay, it is not necessary to choose something unusual or grandiose. The committee is aware of the fact that the candidates are young and that they still do not have much experience. More than the topic itself, they value the story, i.e. the way the topic is presented in the essay. The subject matter itself can be something quite ordinary, such as family dinner, a sports game, or activities after school.

TIP FOR STUDENTS:

When you are choosing the topic, do not rely solely on lists and suggestions that someone else has made. The right topic is the one you care about and from which the readers will learn something about you.

Before writing the essay, make sure to read the guidelines:

  • If there is a question, make sure to provide an answer to it in the essay.

Remember:

  • People who are deciding about your application already know all about your grades, results and achievements. After reading the essay, they should know something more about you as a person.

Therefore, the essay does not have to be perfect, but it should say something about you and the way you think, the values you cherish, the passions that get you going.

Scholarships for foreign students

Many US colleges offer scholarships for foreign students. You need to know that there are two sorts of scholarships:

Merit-based and need-based scholarships

Also, some colleges are need-aware, while others are need-blind, which means that some of them recognise that certain students need assistance in the form of a scholarship, while other colleges do not.

The students need to view the website of the college they are interested in and carefully look for all relevant information about its scholarship programme.

TIP FOR STUDENTS:

While considering your college choices, focus on the institutions that satisfy your academic aspirations while also offering a suitable scholarship programme.

Many colleges inform you about the amount of the fee without the scholarship, based on which you can calculate the needed amount of the scholarship.

It would be best to start learning about the scholarship options without delay; you can discuss it with your mentor, who will help you. 

How to get a visa when you get accepted to college

The visa situation depends on the country.

The important thing to know is that:

Colleges work with every student on obtaining a visa

They have people in charge of helping the student in this process, which unfolds through a partnership among the candidate’s school, the family and the college.

TIP FOR STUDENTS:

If you have already decided that you want to study abroad, prepare on time by learning what you will need in order to get a visa.

What if you don’t get accepted

When applying for US colleges, the student needs to be well aware of the following fact:

There are various sorts of reasons why colleges sometimes don’t accept fantastic students

The student who does not get accepted into a first choice college should by no means think that there must be something wrong with them or their academic preparation. Many colleges simply lack sufficient capacities to accept all good students, and that is the most common reason for rejection.

TIP FOR STUDENTS:

Focus on the faculties you were accepted to; you can always switch later. And sometimes, the second or third choices turn out to actually be great.

Timeline

The application process implies certain deadlines that the students must strictly observe in order to have their application considered. There are 5 stages:

  1. Submitting applications: May–October.
  2. Early decision: For applications submitted before 15 November, a decision is reached by mid-December, when the student can opt for one college.
  3. Early action: If the student applies in the early decision period, they are not obliged to withdraw other applications if they have applied for several universities at the same time.
  4. Deadline: The last chance to apply for a US college is by the end of January or early February, when only one institution can be selected. The student receives the college’s decision by late March or early April.
  5. Final choice: By 1 May, the student needs to choose one faculty, after which waitlists are published. Upon receiving a confirmation from the faculty/faculties that accepted the application, it is important to notify those that the student will not attend that the position is available to someone else. Then the student makes a deposit at the chosen faculty and thereby reserves their spot.

Should they need any additional information about applying to US colleges, Savremena’s students are welcome to contact their mentor.

We wish luck to all participants in this process!

Contemporary in any sense of the word, our school offers functional knowledge and quality preparation for tertiary education in Serbia and abroad. Implementing modern and creative teaching in the classroom, where the teachers’ pedagogy and students’ performance are aligned with the highest academic standards for the high-school finals, our school develops linguistic, mathematical, scientific, artistic, cultural, technical and ICT competence, which is a prerequisite for further education and professional development. Teaching is supported by the interactive whiteboards and educational software, whereas practice exercises research and critical thinking.

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  • The differences between the National, Cambridge and Combined programme
  • The curriculum for each programme
  • The enrolment conditions
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  • The reasons why Savremena International School is the best choice for you
  • Our unique and creative teaching approach
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  • The Google Classroom Technology
  • How to become eligible for any university in the world
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