Unravelling the Secret to University Admits

How amazing would it be if students were to know the secret behind getting admits from the Top Universities? We could just list out the SOPs for all the top universities and a student could just follow it and land into his/her dream university.

But one rule does not apply to all and just as each child is unique, so is the admission process for these universities.

What does the admission profile of a Harvard admit or a one from CMU look like? What scores are needed to get into Cornell or Berkley; Should I engage in more co-curricular activities or internships? These are few of the mind wrecking questions going on inside a teenager's mind and he thinks- Do I dare to Dream?

Universities are looking for candidates who are at the top of their class, are curious, are ready to take risks and are creative, open to collaborate with others, inspire others, and can strike a balance between their work and pleasure.

Getting into a top university does seem to be a daunting task.

Let's not forget that these are just 17-18 years old who have the passion, the energy, and the drive to follow their dreams; the only thing required is the right guidance and the right direction. They are still wet clay, and these universities can mould them into responsible, innovative, conscientious citizens ready to change the world into a better place.

So, here is a break-down of what the Universities want:

  1. Academics: Importance of good academics cannot be emphasized enough. Academics was and will always be the first steppingstone to your dream University. Even though it may sound cliché, but grades do matter. Grades are what will take you past the first set of filters. And they need to be pretty much consistent. So, your grades from Class 9 onwards are definitely what will set you apart. Another point to ponder- is that the grades in all your subjects should be above average because getting an above average grade in a subject which you do not like just shows your perseverance and resilience.

    1. Test Scores: This reflects that you are ready to go the extra mile by enrolling for rigorous course work in addition to the basic requirement of SAT, that means doing those Advance Placement exams. Taking an AP exam in a subject not related to your degree shows your drive to learn something new that you may have an interest in but do not necessarily want to make a career out of it. As an International Student, even though you may have studied in a school where the medium of instruction is English, it is prudent to appear for the English Language test to prove your proficiency in the same. The test scores are what will take you past the second set of filters. Remember, Academics is an extremely important component of your application.

  2. Non-Academics: This is vast and involves a lot of parameters. Through this, the admissions committee can understand you as a person, what motivates you and what makes you the perfect fit for the university.

    1. Extracurriculars: the name itself signifies activities which are not part of the school curriculum. So, it can be anything from Sports, to Music, Drama, Competitions, and maybe even Writing. The list is endless. It could be an activity you are good at, have been pursuing it for a consistent period, may have taken part in few competitions; you could have been the captain of a team or just participated in school dramatics. What is important is that it should show your deep interest in the activity, how that activity has helped you as a person by, developing the qualities of co-operation, leadership and so on.
      Focus on ‘Quality over Quantity', think ‘Unique'. Remember, the key is that your interest in the activity is genuine and not something you want to show on the application. Do not forget, we are dealing with the Top Universities, and they are at the top for a reason. The applications are vetted against the best standards. A clear and clean approach is the best way forward.

    2. Community Service: Another aspect to understanding you as a person is by looking at any community services that you may have undertaken. The idea is that the world needs more people with empathy and sensitivity, and your education at the -university is also to help you in the process of becoming a socially responsible citizen. Hence the university's admission criterion is to look for candidates who are socially responsible, empathetic, and ready to inspire people around them.
      This can be something as simple as looking after a senior citizen in your society, delivering groceries and medicines to those who were confined to their homes during COVID, creating awareness about hygiene or taking steps towards protection of the environment. The world will not change in a day, but we can definitely make it better bit by bit and this is what the Universities wants to see, 'The kind of students who want to make life better for all Humankind.'

  3. Work Experience/Internships: A very simple question usually asked by parents is – How would Internships help my child? He is just a kid. And it is a very valid question too. So, let's understand what Universities assess from these internships? The internships show the universities how well the student adapts to a work environment, how he can meet deadlines, co-operate with his seniors, and work under a bit of pressure. Since the idea is to see the students' adaptability to the work environment, the internship can be in any area. Of course, if the internship is in the area he wants to study in, it stands out as it shows that the student is keen to experience how his prospective course will be applicable in a real-world scenario.

  4. Letters of Recommendation: A testimony to your achievements as a student not only for your grades, but also for your qualities as a person - is the letter of recommendation. Your recommender could be a teacher who may have known you for many years, who can vouch for your performance, your values, your future potential, and in short can be able to write about your personality. Therefore, it is sensible to go with a teacher who knows you well than one in whose subject you perform well. The recommendation should be authentic and not driven by what you want to showcase!

  5. Essay: Here lies the opportunity for you to demonstrate what you may have been unable to write about elsewhere in the application. This is the chance to show to the university the 'Real You', what drives you, your challenges, your aspirations, your strengths, and your weaknesses. For a teenager embarking on a new journey, who is a little nervous and, apprehensive, here is your chance to speak about your fears and how you overcame them, who were your idols, why you want to join a particular university and what has been the reason for choosing a particular course. Remember, the university knows you are just 18 or 19, so be real, be transparent and write it yourself because no one knows you better than yourself. Some Universities break their essay into short answer questions which are very specific but pretty much aimed at knowing you as a person. While others have introduced video essays to evaluate how students respond to unprepared situations. Questions are impromptu and students may be given some thinking time to write or narrate the responses within a time limit.

Though meeting the requirements of and fulfilling the criteria for securing admission at a top university may seem to be an uphill task, the key is to start early. Give yourself enough time to move forward in a systematic, organised manner. It is ideal to chalk out a road map before embarking on this exciting journey leading to an even more amazing destination- the University of your Dreams.