Tuesday, January 5, 2010

'Ma, I made it to a US college'

'Ma, I made it to a US college'

Jan 04, 2010
New Straits Times

By Nurjehan Mohamed

THE trick to being accepted into an American university can be summed up in one word: preparation.

"In a way, you should start preparing as soon as you enter secondary school," says Jay Getz, a volunteer with the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE).

He recently spoke to parents and students at MACEE about how to put together a solid application for United States universities in conjunction with the organisation and the US Embassy's International Education Week.

Aside from your grade point average (GPA), university admissions officers would also be looking at standardised test scores (such as the SAT or ACT tests) as well as your commitment to extracurricular activities and your essay.

The essay, he adds, is the chance for you to sell yourself and to show admissions officers what you can offer the university.

"It's similar to applying for a job because you're trying to put your best foot forward," he says.

This is not the time to boast about your achievements but neither should you be too modest about what you have done.

The essay, Getz adds, is what would differentiate you from thousands of other applicants who are relatively equal to you academically.

The essay would reveal who you are as a person -- your background, how your life experience will inform your education and the benefit you would bring to the community at the university.

Some common mistakes that applicants make while writing their essays are that they are vague; they philosophise about topics they are not passionate about and which they haven't thought through; and they fail to give concrete examples of how they have developed as people.

Getz recommends that students start planning for the application process while they are still in secondary school.

"They should be committing themselves to extracurricular activities at school or community service outside of it; and they need to start as soon as they can.

"The later students start, the more difficult it is for them to show the kind of commitment universities are looking for," he adds.

But these activities shouldn't be something that students just tick off in a box; they would need to show that they are passionate about what they do as well as exhibit leadership qualities.

Aside from the basic academic requirements, universities generally look for leaders and people who are dedicated to the subjects that they want to study.

"If you do something you are passionate about, it would be easier to continue doing it and communicating about it."

Basic tips for writing the essays include being clear, concrete and concise and to choose your topics carefully.

"Be consistent with the activities listed in your application.

"Choose an activity you did well and avoid writing about adversities you have yet to overcome," says Getz.

Avoid writing about religion and political adversity as well as common topics such as global warming or how Barack Obama's election was important to you.

Getz also advises against putting anything on your blog or Facebook account that you wouldn't want an admissions officer to see.

"They have the technology to go ahead and look at it if they want to," he says.

While some universities give preference to local high achievers, international students sometimes have an advantage over American students trying to get into college.

The number of Malaysian students enrolled in US institutions of higher education has increased from 5,428 to 5,942 in the 2007/08 academic year, according to Open Doors 2009, the annual report on international student mobility.

The total number of international students in US colleges and universities has increased by eight per cent to an all-time high of 671,616 in the 2008/09 academic year.

"Many universities want their students and faculty to have a diverse experience with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

"International students, by that definition, bring that needed variety to a campus."

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