Students often ask me what it takes to get admitted into a college or university in the United States. The U.S. educational system does not follow the British O’Level and A’Level system that many students on the Indian Subcontinent are familiar with. This article will give a brief overview of the American system of education and applying for admission colleges and universities.
In the U.S., students go through what is called K to 12 education. Children start their formal education with kindergarten at age 5 or 6. Prior to this, many parents will send their children to preschool, but it is not mandatory. The majority of American children enroll in public schools, where tuition is already paid for by taxes. A city with a higher average income will generally have a better-equipped and resourced K-12 school system than a city or town with a low average income.
School systems usually divide the K-12 years into elementary school, middle school and high school. How these years are divided may differ, but a common example would be K-6 as Elementary, 7 and 8 as Middle School, and then grades 9 to 12 as high school. In high school, students have a greater level or responsibility and freedom in choosing their subjects. Many high school students drive themselves and have part-time jobs. When students successfully complete grade 12, they get a High school diploma. Alternatively, students can opt out of high school by taking the General Educational Development (GED) tests, but these results do not hold as much value as a high school diploma.
Applying to Colleges and Universities
In the subcontinent, colleges and universities are different from their American counterparts. In the United States, colleges and universities offer the same level of education. In order to enroll in a college or university, the applicant must have a High School diploma or GED. The difference between universities and colleges is that universities are generally larger and have separate schools (colleges) with them. For example, a single university may have a College of Fine Arts, College of Business Administration, College of Humanities, and College of Natural Sciences within it. Each of these colleges will have a separate dean to oversee the particular programs that it runs. When you apply to a university, you usually have to decide which college you would like to be part of.
When American students apply for colleges or universities, they must generally submit the following:
• Standardized Achievement Test (SAT) scores
• High school transcripts (includes all course grades and GPA)
• Application forms (provided by the school you apply to)
• Advanced Placement (AP) test results
Many colleges require you to answer essay questions as part of the application process. They are not looking for a standard answer. Admissions officers are looking to learn more about you and how you express yourself. Most applications also include a section about extra-curricular activities. In the United States, admissions officers want to see students who not only excel in academics, but also in other areas like sports, fine arts, or student leadership. Whereas the British educational system focuses primarily on academics, American educators like to see “well-rounded” students with a variety of interests, abilities and skills.
If you plan to study abroad in the United States, you must use your high school years to make yourself an attractive candidate. Take AP classes, take your SATs for the first time in your 10th year and again in your 11th year. Ask teachers who know you well to write you recommendations, and get involved in after school activities. A four-year commitment to the school football team will school recruiters that you a team-player and can balance academics with other activities. Start looking at schools early, in your 10th or 11th year, to get an idea of what they require for the admission process. Colleges and universities have loads of information for prospective students on their websites, and you can always contact their admissions office with questions. Keep in mind that even if you gain acceptance to a university or college, you still must work out a way to finance your education and you must apply for the proper visa.