College admissions decoded: the path to formal education demystified

College education is still very relevant if you choose the right major and the right schools. A lot of preparation is warranted for college admissions. Here is what you need to do if you want to get your undergraduate (Bachelors, Associates) degree in the US. An article can be written separately on each of these steps but for now, manage with just this one

  • Major selection: Let’s say you are a senior in high school and you exactly know what sort of work you want to do in your life, then you can pick a major easily. For eg. If you want to design computer chips, go for Electrical and Computer Engineering; if you want to get a degree in acting, go for Bachelors in Theater. But if you don’t know your desires yet, you can skip this step for now.
  • Shortlisting colleges: There are thousands of colleges in the US. You should pick the ones which fit your bill. There are several parameters you should look at- quality of the program for your intended major, employment opportunities post-graduation, entrepreneurship culture on campus, cost and scholarship opportunities. If you don’t strongly feel for a major yet, look for colleges with overall good undergraduate programs along with the other aforementioned parameters. You don’t need to declare your major until the end of sophomore year in most of the US colleges. Once selected, you can also change it at least once in some colleges. You might ask where to look for information and the answer is that there are several websites which cater to this market- “College Board”, “US News” and “FastWeb” to name a few.


  • College Application: First thing you would want to find out would be the application deadlines for your desired colleges. Let’s say you want to start in fall (Aug/Sept) of 2015, the colleges will have their deadlines anywhere between November 1st 2014 and July 31st It’s more likely that the deadlines will be between December 15th 2014 and April 15th 2015 but early and late deadline colleges are not entirely unheard of. Please find out the specific requirements of college application from each college’s website but they will more or less follow this template- General Information, SAT scores, Letters of Recommendation, Transcripts, Resume, Essay, specific requirements for your major(if any), TOEFL (or other English proficiency tests) for international students.
  • General Information: This is the easy one. You list your professional details and the different schools and colleges you have attended.
  • SATs: One of the criteria for college admissions is the SAT score. SAT is the Scholastic Aptitude Test, a test on English, Math and Writing. You can find the test syllabus and sample tests on SAT’s website (google it). You take this computer based test and send your scores to your colleges of interest. Please take this test ahead of time so that scores are available at your desired colleges before the college application deadline.
  • Letters of Recommendation: This will give you shivers. You have to go back to the teachers whom you probably disregarded at some point in time and ask them to write letters recommending you for the college programs. Please be careful about whom you choose because in most cases you don’t end up seeing what they write. Please pick an ex-manager or a teacher who really was impressed with your capabilities and work. In most cases, each college application needs two or three such letters.
  • Transcripts: Fortunately or unfortunately, research has shown that high school GPA is the strongest predictor of college completion and success in the US. So, colleges want to see your transcripts and yes, they want to see a lot of A’s. Please order official transcripts from your schools to be directly sent to colleges, before the deadline.
  • Resume: Please prepare a one page resume enlisting all your scholastic and extra-curricular credentials. Remember, colleges are also looking for diverse, well-rounded individuals. So, if you have volunteering hours under your belt, that’s a brownie point for you. If you are a star athlete, that’s the whole brownie for you. Colleges look for both types- they like the focused ones (excelling in one particular field, eg. brilliant musician, teenage inventor) and the well-rounded ones (with diverse experiences and good academics).
  • Essay: I think this to be a very important piece in the application puzzle. Here is your chance to tell who you are and why do you want to go to college. Start with your personality. Tell them about your short term goals and long term goals. Tell them what you have done so far to achieve those goals. Tell them how college will help you achieve those goals. And tell them how their college can help you achieve your goals.
  • Specific requirements: Always check if your desired college or major has some specific requirements. For eg. Bachelors in Theater program at UCLA needs foreign language proficiency (Spanish, French or German). Some majors need Subject SATs.
  • English Proficiency: This is for international students from countries where the mother tongue is not English. Most colleges need you to take TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language), so make sure you take these and send the scores before the application deadline.

I will elaborate on some of these steps in my future posts but you got your framework, right? So, tie your shoe laces and get ready to tread the busy path of college applications.

2 thoughts on “College admissions decoded: the path to formal education demystified

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