Despite being a novice, I was fixated on navigating the admissions process to become a Maryville College Fighting Scot. As an international student, the admissions and scholarship essays were the most challenging aspects. Secondary education did not coach me to write candid, advanced, concise essays that American colleges expect of their applicants. Students are encouraged to share profound and vulnerable experiences while demonstrating grit and growth. To succeed in the college admissions process, I knew I needed to develop a sense of direction and show maturity.
Here are some things I learned during the 2020-2021 college application season:
The quest for GREAT GRADES
Grades are undoubtedly a crucial factor. However, don’t be dissuaded if you don’t have the best grades. US colleges review admissions and scholarship applications holistically, meaning they look at the entire application before making a final decision. Colleges want students to contribute positively to their community and help to change the world— not necessarily the smartest. However, it is still imperative to have solid grades, as this enhances a student’s value proposition. How did I do this? I ensured that I completed all assignments, studied for tests, and excelled on examinations. Universities want to see how well you perform throughout the year, including your national secondary school-leaving examinations (CSEC and CAPE) results.
Here are a few questions to consider:
How active are you in your school and community?
Did you volunteer?
Are you a leader? Are you pursuing your academic passions outside the classroom? Do your activities provide any link to the interests you mentioned elsewhere on your application?
These are questions that colleges ask when reviewing your resume. Don’t peak your activities to deceive admission. Ensure that you participate in those that you care deeply about. For example, I am passionate about leadership; I served as a Form Captain, Assistant Form Captain, Prefect, and Senior Prefect, distributed from first to sixth form. Colleges will see my passion from the start to the end; as more valuable than joining the 4-H club in the second semester of upper sixth form.
What are your teachers saying about you?
In college admissions, everything holds weight, and it is no different when it comes to letters of recommendation. Bearing this in mind, I chose teachers aware of my academic aptitude and community endeavors to write personal letters of recommendation. I asked teachers who were enthused and wanted to see me succeed. Generally, I gave my teachers about a month to write my recommendation letters. It is essential to provide ample time so that they can reflect if necessary. A brag sheet summarizes your activities and honors and can refresh a teacher’s memory.
The goal of any scholarship application is to stand out. When submitting a recommendation letter for the International Diversity Award, I used a UC Berkeley program director who wrote an excellent letter on my behalf. I am pretty sure that this demonstrates my ability to thrive in competitive environments outside of my comfort zone. Everyone has a math teacher, but how many students can get a college recommendation letter in high school?
Enjoy the process. Build your college list wisely, and put your best foot forward in each component. Find your competitive edge, and tell your story. There is no better feeling than a letter that starts with, “Congratulations!”