March 25, 2019

Application Insights: A Student’s Perspective

In 2017 Forbes published an article titled ‘Did an Ivy League Place Just Get Easier for Indian Applicants’. The article suggested that with the election of Donald Trump, the number of international applicants to US schools might go down.

In fact, this was something a lot of Indian SAT applicants were worried about. After all, safety and security are just as important as a good education. At the same time, other countries like Australia, UK, and Canada offered good alternatives. So a lot of students did start considering these options.

Despite all this, a large number of students would still prefer to study undergrad in one of the top US universities. The number of international students in these universities may have slowed down, but the number of Indian applicants is still on the rise!

A lot of students choose to take a long-term view. By enrolling now, they will graduate in 4-5 years. At that point, given the current US trade and economic policies, and anti-immigration stand, it is very likely that the American market will have a tremendous need for a talented, trained pool of workers, especially in the science and technology firms.

This means that Indian students, most of whom are concentrated in these fields of study, will be in the right place at the right time to meet this demand.

The SAT Math Test

One of the first hurdles that you need to face as early as possible when applying to US universities, is the SAT exam. While you need to ace all sections of the exam, we are going to share some tips specifically for the Math test.

No matter how good you think you are at maths, you will very quickly find out that the SAT Math test is less about your math skill and more about how you tackle a timed standardized test.

The test itself is based on concepts that you will already be familiar with—geometry, algebra, some statistics, and trigonometry. It is divided into two parts:

  1. One section of 20 questions, to be completed in 25 minutes
  2. One section of 38 questions, to be completed in 55 minutes. The use of a calculator is allowed for this section.

It’s not just essential to get the right answers, it is even more important to work through the questions at top speed!

The minute you start going through the practice tests, you will realize that the real challenge is finishing all the questions within the given time limit. Can you actually correctly solve all 58 questions within the available 80 minutes? Most students really can’t, unless they are adept at mental maths and have put in a lot of practice in taking such tests.

Let us give you an example. Get a stopwatch and time yourself for the following question.

The posted weight limit for a covered wooden bridge in Pennsylvania is 6000 pounds. A delivery truck that is carrying x identical boxes each weighing 14 pounds will pass over the bridge. If the combined weight of the empty delivery truck and its driver is 4500 pounds, what is the maximum possible value for x that will keep the combined weight of the truck, driver, and boxes below the bridge’s posted weight limit?

How long did it take to arrive at the answer? Yes, you can see at first glance that this is a simple algebraic equation that you need to solve. But were you able to do so within 70-75 seconds? What does it mean if it took you 80-90 seconds?

Well, to put it simply, taking more time on a question like this means you have less time for the rest! This question is not a multiple choice question, so you simply have to solve the equation and write the correct answer. But in a multiple choice question, you need to be even more careful. Working too quickly can lead to mistakes, especially as the multiple choice answers can be very close, and it is easy to pick the wrong answer in a hurry.

Here are some important pointers to help you ace the test:

– Start preparing early. You should ideally start preparing from class 10, or at least the beginning of class 11. Get in touch with the SAT TEST PREP institutes in your town (Gurgaon).

– Stay realistic about your ability. This will help you see how much you need to improve and work to bridge this gap.

– Be consistent in your practice. Don’t give up, and don’t try to do things at the last minute.

– Pick a time and find a place where you can study undisturbed. Stick to this schedule.

– Set aside at least half an hour every day just for SAT math problems.

– Mark the questions you get wrong. Come back to them and try again the next day.

– Learn all mathematical formulae and revise every week. You should be able to recall them within seconds.

– Try to solve problems using a number of different methods. This way, when you actually take the final test, you will automatically choose the quickest way.

– Try to solve problems that are at a slightly higher level. The more you challenge yourself, the better your ability will become.

– Take at least 4-5 SAT practice tests before the final test.

As long as you put in the effort, there is no reason why you can’t ace the SAT!

Of course, the next question is, after the SAT, how can you prepare an application that will get you into the best school?

Here’s what three current students studying at top US universities had to say about their experiences.

Student 1, University of California-Berkeley: “One of the most important takeaways from my application process was to move beyond rankings. When I started out, I was hung up on the top-ranked university, but the more I got involved in the application process, I realized that beyond a point there isn’t really much differentiation in university. For me, what it boiled down to was the college’s specialization, the Professors and the kind of infrastructure they offered in my area of interest. Plus, while applying, I really started to get a better understanding of what I was looking for. I spoke to a lot of students and admissions officers, and it became pretty clear that while on paper most universities may be similar—say a university ranked 5th and one ranked 15th, for example—but often the vibe and ethos of the university is different. I got accepted at 3 of the 4 universities I applied to, but ultimately I chose Berkeley because it offered me the best environment that suited my learning style.

Another thing I realized when I was applying was that I would have really benefited from APs. I had the option, but I had chosen not to take APs, as I didn’t really know how useful they could be. Same for the IB curriculum, which my university offered, but I didn’t opt for it. In any case, if APs are an option, I’d suggest you take them because Indian students already have a strong academic base and cover most of the syllabus in a university anyway. The AP credits can be a blessing as they can contribute towards the total college credits.

It also turns out that my grades and SAT scores were not the main reason why I got accepted. There were others with better scores who did not make it through. I found that the colleges were more interested in seeing if an applicant had qualities like perseverance, drive and the ability to grow through experiences. I had shared my interest in music, and how I had been inspired to use this aspect in my volunteering work at a local blind school, helping the children there connect to music. It was the ability to take an interest, use it constructively, and then show how I had grown in the process that the admissions committee appreciated.

Finally, I found that references are an important part of the admissions process! I’m putting it out there because I literally went to my teachers at the last possible minute to ask for a reference. Luckily, they knew me well and had taught me for 2 years. But they were not happy about being rushed, and I also later realized that if I had discussed my application with them, I could have made sure they highlighted things in the reference that I didn’t get to cover in my essays. So that is something that applicants should definitely think of!”

Student 2, NYU: “My application was an eye-opener! The entire process was very different from anything I had done before. Unlike some of my friends, I actually made up my mind to apply abroad quite late—I was already mid-way through class 11 at that point. But once I had decided, I really made an effort to get things in place. I first of all researched online and read up about what to do. I spoke to some seniors I knew were also applying abroad, and started making comprehensive lists.

Academically I had a strong case, but US universities really prefer students who show interest in other aspects. If you are interested in sports or art, or any other pursuit, it can really add a lot of weight to your application. My seniors advised me to pick on one or two activities and really build my profile with them. Another thing I focused on early on was preparing for SATs. I didn’t have much time to prepare, but I made sure I did a lot of practice tests and studied for it at least a couple of hours every single day. Then I shifted focus to the actual school applications.

I feel this is where I kind of made things difficult for myself—I shouldn’t have left my essays for the last. The universities I had applied to had very thought-provoking essay prompts, and it actually ended up making me really delve deep within to try and answer them. The process was very demanding and I really went through some intense discussions with my family and friends, writing several versions of the essays till I was satisfied.

My advice to anyone who wants to apply would be to prioritize the essay and give it the time and effort it requires. The more personalized and genuine the essay, the better, but you can’t achieve that at the last minute. You should really try and draw links between your life experiences so far, and your goals, especially how you have grown over time. To give such insight, you need to brainstorm and introspect, so best to start early!

Unlike the Indian education system that I grew up in, I found the US process a lot more holistic. While Indian schools and even colleges largely focus on grades, I really appreciated how the US system gives importance to other interests and abilities as well. Because of this, I found that the application was more of a voyage of self-discovery for me. It was a rigorous and exhaustive process to be sure, but it was also an eye-opener, and an experience I am very glad to have had.”

Student 3, Boston University: “I was quite sure I wanted to study in the US, so I had started looking at opportunities right from class 9. I started preparing for the SATs early and also started shortlisting my top US colleges. I went over the websites, read the university blogs, and started getting a feel for what was required of a student there. I slowed down a little in class 10 because of the stress of school exams but got back on track immediately after.

By the time I started class 11, I already had my top 5 colleges in sight. I started out wanting to go to the Ivy League, but as I explored more options I realized that a university like BU was a much better fit in terms of student culture. I had already taken my SATs, and was trying to strengthen my application. I was therefore able to make sure that I could highlight my passion in a way that aligned with what my top universities were looking for.

The essay prompts were out in the summer, and I remember spending a lot of time on them. This was really anxious about the essays, as I had heard and read so much about them… I was stressed that my essays wouldn’t be good enough, or original enough, or wouldn’t stand out. I don’t even remember how many drafts I tried writing! I took on a lot of pressure, but ultimately I started writing down my ideas and working on them. I came to understand pretty quickly which ideas were too superficial. As soon as I identified which essay idea I really resonated with, it was not tough to plan an outline and a full draft. This is why it is useful to keep a lot of time in hand for essays and in fact, for the application as a whole—you will have a better chance of coming up with a thoughtful, impactful essay.

If I was to advise current applicants, I would say keep track of your deadlines! Even though I was so well organized and had my application materials in place well in time, I still managed to lose sight of one of my college application dates. I realized with less than 24 hours to go and had a very stressful time arranging for all the material and uploading it. This is especially important if the university you’re applying to has different deadlines for scholarships and honors programs.

Secondly, don’t apply to too many universities. Just spend an extra week or so to shortlist the top 4-5 universities that meet your learning targets and make sure you interact with students and alumni to get a feel of the student culture there. It’s going to be a new country among new people, studying extremely hard in a very different educational system—you need to make sure you’re going to have a good supportive lot around you! Plus, if you have fewer places you’re applying to, you can work on really polishing your applications accordingly.”

Tags: SAT test preparation, SAT exam, SAT, Boston University, SAT Math test, US universities, SAT exam preparation, SAT practice test

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