We don’t mean to scare-monger, considering life is tough for students even without the burden of evaluation by powerful people sitting in a room thousands of miles away going through your application without having met you. But the competition is tough for colleges abroad. Especially if you’re applying to the top schools to which dozens if not hundreds and thousands of others are applying.
And the bar for qualification is set higher each year by successful students who seem to be achieving more than their predecessors ever did. There are entire institutions in some countries (like South Korea) to help young teens tick off the minimum requirements for their college application CV, no matter what it takes. Sometimes, students spend all their pre-college years preparing for their college admission.
You can complain about the status quo, but if you want to join the race, there’s no choice but to bow down to it. You’ll have to ask the question, what are colleges really looking for in applicants? But you’ll also be asking, who else is applying for the limited seats? What do they have that I don’t?
There are a few things that you absolutely need on your CV if you don’t want your CV to be rejected. In other words, here’s a list of the basics (beyond a good GPA) that you need to at least match your peers.
A high GPA
Most universities consider a GPA of 3.0 to be the minimum that will get you past the first hurdle of the application gateway. Anything lower than that is considered a low GPA. That’s not to say you can’t study abroad if you have a low GPA. You may have to address your issues, ace your SATs, prove that you are more than just a score and make some smart choices when choosing colleges. But if you have a high GPA, life becomes easier.
Strong Test Scores
SAT scores and any other test scores that you submit are not important on their own. But they help to generally give college authorities an idea of where you stand with respect to your peers. It’s not the only thing that will affect your chances of admission. However, if you have a low GPA and score high on your SATs, they can help to balance out your overall profile.
The college authorities want to make sure that they’re not just admitting someone who is only academic achiever. Extracurricular activities teach you valuable skills that help to make you a more rounded person. And they are important not just for your college application, but life in general. If you have no life outside school and after-school tuition, it’s time to change that.
Now is the time to learn something you’ve always wanted to, like the violin. Or you can join the school hockey team, or learn how to work on the organic farm in your schoolyard. Any activity that goes beyond your books or the library will elevate your CV, whether it’s sports, hobbies like film clubs, hiking, chess clubs, blogging, etc. or academic activities like math clubs, creative writing or the arts.
But a spike in your extracurricular will be particularly useful. In other words, if you plan to major in computer science, you’ll stand out if you have plenty of computer science-related experience under your belt.
A Sincere, Honest and Well-written Statement of Purpose
Your personal statement is the document where you get to show the college who you are. More than half of the colleges in the United States, for instance, consider the personal essays to be considerably important in their selection process. You can impress the authorities with your honesty, by telling things as they really happened. Exaggerations and lies are absolutely out of place in a personal essay.
At the same time, you will need to be specific in your essay. You’re not being asked to narrate your biography, but to tailor your major life experiences around the essay question and tell a compelling story.
Many students end up paying someone to write their personal statements. Don’t be that person. You may feel your writing skills are not as good as you would like it to be. But a personal statement written by someone else will never be personal. There are marks for eloquence, but if you feel less confident about your essay, have it proofread by someone you trust.
Any volunteering experience, whether in your country or abroad, will look good on your CV. What will look better is measurable volunteering experience? In other words, do you have evidence of the direct or indirect impact that you made to the lives of those you helped out?
For instance, say you volunteered at a local school for children of low-income families. Maybe you came up with an idea to get more kids to enrol at the school. Suppose that during your time volunteering, there was a 10 per cent rise in enrolments at the school. Such measurable impact can make a big difference to your CV.
Note that you don’t need to have a leadership role to make a difference. But it’s a fact that students with budding leadership skills are given preference during the selection process.
Internship or Some Kind of Work Experience
It’s not entirely common for immigrant high school students to have had work experience or internships under their belt. If you do, you’ll stand out from the rest. Having said that, plenty of young people in certain cultures have some kind of part-time work experience growing up. Whether it’s paper runs, milk runs, working part-time at the local library or bookstore, etc., any kind of work experience, even if unrelated to academic goals, lead to the development of character. Thus, they are valuable on a CV.
Letters of Recommendation
You’ll need to submit at least one letter of recommendation, either from your high school teacher, principal or someone you have worked for. Letters of recommendation are almost as important as your essay. It’s always better to have it written by a teacher whose classes you did well in. You’d be surprised how well your teacher will know you, and they can explain to the admissions committee just what makes you unique and special enough to be admitted.
Without these inclusions on your CV, it is going to look incomplete and likely to be rejected. Having said that, don’t fall under the misconception that you absolutely must have all kinds of extracurricular activities on your CV and appear well-rounded. It’s always better to have a deeper knowledge of an area that interests you greatly than to spread yourself too thin.