Pacing Your Application:
International Students aspiring to pursue UG Degree in US Universities
The journey to U.S. universities can initially seem daunting to international students seeking an undergraduate degree in the US. However, the process isn’t as difficult as it looks. With proper planning, meticulous time management, and a clear action plan, the journey can be both smooth and enriching. More importantly, this process lets students identify gaps in their profiles, and the steps they take to address these gaps improve their overall academic standing.
So, how should you start the process?
Start by planning early. Beginning your preparation well before applying will afford you ample time to enhance your profile, so the earlier you start, the better. Remember, the US admission cycle often begins earlier than what many international students are familiar with in their respective countries. For academic sessions starting in September 2025, deadlines close by the first week of January 2025. In some Universities, deadlines close even earlier.
Your preparation for applying to a US university should ideally begin 2 years before your first semester begins. So, if you are applying for the fall 2025 academic session, your SAT exam should be cleared by the end of 2023, when you are in your 11th Grade. The entire 2024 should be dedicated to the application process itself. You should actively begin working on your application 6 months before your application submission date. Two important dates in this context are November 1st and January 1st. These dates mark the deadlines for Early Action/Early Decision and Regular Decision respectively for most top schools. However, some universities have different deadlines, so always double-check to avoid last-minute confusion. Ensure your application is complete at least a month before the deadlines. So if you’re targeting the November 1st deadline, submit your application by 1st week of October. In that case, start your application 6 months before October 1st, that is, by the first week of April.
Submitting early can increase your chances of admission. If you find yourself behind this schedule, it’s not the end of the world. However, having more time at your disposal is advantageous.
When applying to U.S. universities, factor in your school exam dates, as it will most likely be unfeasible to work on your applications during this period.
The Starting Point
Begin your application by introspecting over a key question:
What are my goals and how will my past learnings, coupled with what I shall study during my undergraduate years, help me reach that goal?
Having clarity on this fundamental question will guide you during your college research as well as during crafting your Essays and Personal Statement. Target to have your initial draft ready by mid-April.
Here’s a suggested timeline for a UG student applying to US Universities for the Fall Semester 2025:
- March 2023 – Begin your SAT preparation by March 2023. First, open a College Board account. After signing up on the College Board’s website, download the College Board’s Bluebook App and take the first Official Digital SAT Practice Test. With your score in hand, set achievable goals and begin your SAT preparation. Prepare diligently over the next three months and take the second Official Mock test by mid-June. If you have prepared well, the score you receive around June should be a good indicator of how well you will score on the actual exam. Here are the three scenarios:
- If the score you receive is close to your Target Score, then book the dates for your exam without wasting time. Take another Official mock right before booking your test just to double-check that your score doesn’t fluctuate too much from what you received on your second mock.
- If the score you receive is slightly less than your target score, then allocate some additional days for your preparation. Try to give more hours per day for your practice, instead of procrastinating taking the test. Your score might fall if you delay taking the test beyond a point. Assess the mistakes in question types you’ve made during the Practice Tests, and target those question types for improvement.
- If the score you receive is significantly lower than your targeted score, then you need to prepare rigorously and reassess your expectations vis-à-vis the SAT exam
Remember, the SAT is a part of your application, not the entirety of it. Regardless of how much you score in your second mock, schedule your first SAT attempt in a way that allows you the option to take your second attempt before the end of 2023.
- Tip: The seats in the SAT exam centers of your chosen city may be fully booked on your target day way before you expect. So, plan and book the test; don’t wait until the very end.
- September-October 2023: The Advanced Placement (AP) exams are scheduled in May every year. So if you plan to take your AP exam in May 2024, then you should register for it around September-October 2023. AP exams serve two primary functions. First, by taking the AP exam, which tests you on college-level content, you can showcase your academic rigor and your depth of understanding in the subject of your choice. Universities worldwide, especially in the US, can assess your readiness for Universities through the scores you receive on AP exams. Second, many colleges offer credits for AP exams that can be used to skip introductory courses and enroll directly in more advanced classes.
If you have been planning your undergraduate education in the US well in advance and you believe that you are ready for a college-level exam in your chosen subject, you can opt to take the AP exam in 11th Grade or even earlier.
December 2023: Considering your desired major, you can participate in both online and offline bootcamps as well as in other educational camps that are often organized during winter breaks. If you excel in any sport or pursue extracurricular activities at an advanced level, you can earn associated certifications. The winter break is also an excellent opportunity to participate in activities that will enhance your overall community engagement. Select an activity that genuinely ignites your passion and resonates with your values.
April 2024: Start your college research by the first week of April. The College Board, the organization that conducts the SAT, offers a tool called “College Search” to help you select colleges based on your preferences. Research colleges based on your interests, fees, selectivity, scholarship and other available financial aids, median SAT and GPA, and other factors that you consider important, including location, diversity, and extracurricular activities. You could visit the University Scholarship portal and International Admissions website for more information. Also, try to attain webinars conducted by your shortlisted Universities. Your SAT score should help you shortlist your college as well.
May 2024: Begin working on three Common App essay prompts simultaneously. These essays should show who you are and the obstacles you’ve overcome. Read each prompt carefully, reflect, and write sincere essays that highlight your perseverance and personal growth. You will need to submit one Common App essay so choose the one among the three that will help the Admissions Committee get to know you deeply as a person.
By now, you should have a broad list of schools you’re aiming to apply to. Check if they require additional supplemental essays and start working on those too. By the end of May, your first essay drafts should be ready. Until you finalize your application, take feedback from professionals and teachers and iterate on the drafts to perfect your narrative. Also, contact potential recommenders early on. Always remain in touch with your school counselor and explain your study abroad plans and the timelines.
- 3. May-June, 2024 (Summer Break)– You can also utilize your summer break to further refine your profile. Engage in research and try to have it published, do internships, and enroll in online courses to enhance your application. Making the most of your summer break is essential. The online courses you pursue and the internships you do should ideally align with your desired major. This way, the activities you participate in during your summer break will contribute to building a coherent narrative that will enhance your overall profile. Here’s a survey made by NACAC on the relative importance of each of the factors of your profile in admissions:
|Factor||N||Considerable importance||Moderate importance||Limited importance||No importance|
|Grades in all courses||220||74.5||15.0||5.5||5.0|
|Grades in college prep courses||220||73.2||16.8||5.9||4.1|
|Strength of curriculum||219||62.1||21.9||8.7||7.3|
|Admission test scores (SAT, ACT)||221||45.7||37.1||12.2||5.0|
|Essay or writing sample||220||23.2||33.2||24.1||19.5|
|Student's demonstrated interest||218||16.1||23.9||28.0||32.1|
|Subject test scores (AP, IB)||219||5.5||18.3||35.2||41.1|
|State graduation exam scores||218||2.3||8.7||18.8||70.2|
|SAT II scores||216||1.9||5.6||14.8||77.8|
- Remember, the survey is from before COVID-19, and priorities may have shifted over the past five years. Still, it offers a good insight into what’s valued in the admission process. Your grades and the rigour of your curriculum are clearly the two most important factors in the admission process. While the SAT’s importance has decreased, a strong score certainly boosts your application. It is very important to assess your chances realistically by looking at the Class Profile of your desired school and program and apply to moderate and safer schools in addition to the ambitious ones. Your final college list and all necessary documents should be ready by the first week of August.
- 4. August 1 – The Common App portal opens for the next academic year. Common App is a platform where you can apply to multiple colleges at once. Many universities on your list probably accept applications through it. Presently, over 1000 institutions utilize Common App. If your desired college isn’t on the Common App, apply directly on their website.
- 5. August-September- Submit all your applications between August and September. Universities offer different admission methods: early action, early decision, restrictive early action, and regular decision. Not all colleges provide each option. As an international student, you should figure this out in advance. Now, let’s delve into each admission type:
Early Admission- November 1st Deadline (Tentative)
Early Decision – The acceptance rate is pretty high; however, if accepted, you must get an admission and retract all other applications. This is ideal if your admission decision is not contingent upon the financial aid you shall receive. If you choose to apply through Early Decision, you should only apply to the most ambitious program according to your interest and profile.
Early Action – Non-binding and can increase chances for acceptance and scholarships. A good alternative to Early Decision and the most recommended way of applying to Universities. You can apply to as many Universities as you want through Early Action.
Restrictive Early Action – Similar to Early Action but you can apply to only one school.
Regular Admission- January 1st Deadline (Tentative)
Regular Decision – Regular Decision gives you more flexibility in comparing financial aids available. You will also get more time to decide. This option is good if you have begun the entire process of application late. However, with Regular Decision the acceptance rate is lesser than Early Action.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that pacing your application systematically will make the entire application process a stress-free experience. You will have ample time to tackle any exigencies that might arise during your 11th and 12th grades. Additionally, the scores you receive in your 11th and 12th exams are extremely important, and the application process should not hinder your exam performance. Therefore, meticulous time management is absolutely necessary. Applying early will also significantly help in enhancing the possibility of your acceptance. As per the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), reported by Forbes, “schools offering early action application programs accepted 73% of early action applications vs. 64% of the overall applicant pool.” You should craft your unique timeline using this as a reference.
In the context of 29th June 2023 US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down race-based admission policies across Universities, the importance of Early Decision and Early Action may further increase for International Students. Colleges that fear having their diversity profile reduced because of this decision may accept a larger percentage of International Students who apply to them to showcase their diversity profile unaffected by the decision of the US Supreme Court. So apply early and proceed methodically.
A tentative timeline for the Fall Semester 2025 has been given below. For any other questions please reach out to us. All the best!
The Timeline in a Nutshell for Fall Semester beginning in August-September, 2025
|Date||Actions to be made|
|October, 2023||- Clear SAT and register for the AP exam|
|December, 2023||- Pursue community engagement activities
- Bootcamps and other training programs
- Pursue advanced certifications in extracurricular activities in which you excel
|April, 2024||- Begin college research
- Use College Board's tool for college selection based on multiple parameters
- Prepare for AP exams in case you plan to take them
|May, 2024||- Start drafting 3 Common App essay prompts
- Check additional supplemental essay requirements
- Finalize essay drafts
- Prepare for AP Exams
|May-June, 2024||- Refine application during summer break
- Engage in research and publication, internships, and online courses
|August 1, 2024||- The Common App portal opens for the next academic year|
|August, 2024||- Finalize your list of colleges|
|August-September, 2024||- Submit your application|
|November 1 (Tentative)||- Early Admission Deadline|
|January 1 (Tentative)||- Regular Admission Deadline|