Applying to University in the United States

by Vault Education Editors | May 06, 2009

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For U.S. students, the application process to U.S.universities is intricate and complicated, even with the strongpipeline and support available to them. Everyone completes a generalhigh school education; everyone takes the SAT or the ACT; everyonewrites admissions essays. Moreover, U.S. university applications are,for the most part, the same. For European students, on the other hand,applying to U.S. universities can seem like a completely daunting andutterly foreign experience. The application and the selection criteriaof U.S. universities is so vastly different from those of Europeanuniversities that it does not even help to do a European application.So if a student thinks applying to a U.S. university is even a remotepossibility, the earlier he gets started, the better. Even ifgraduation is years away, students should begin to consider how theywould complete an application and understand its different parts.

Extracurriculars and activities

Unlike their European counterparts, U.S.universities place considerable emphasis on an applicant'sextracurricular activities and community service. Whereas a Europeanuniversity mainly focuses on a student's test scores and academicpursuits, U.S. universities look at the whole package. It is notuncommon for selective universities in the States to reject applicantswith perfect SAT scores and top marks in their schools who have noextracurricular activities. U.S. schools are looking for well-roundedstudents with captivating interests to create a diverse campuscommunity. As such, it is very important for European students to startpursuing interests and projects that reflect their passions early on intheir high school careers.

U.S. schools give much more weight to activitiesthat students have pursued for several years than to a laundry list ofactivities a student joined in his last two years of high school to"pad his CV." Schools want to see an ongoing interest in something,whether it's music, sports or volunteer work. For example, a studentinterested in politics might want to join clubs like the law club, mocktrial team or debate team and might participate in his school's ModelU.N. conference. He might also consider volunteering for a community orgovernment election or for a specific political party and then couldconsider doing an internship with an MP or other government official.

Moreover, participating in extracurricularactivities a perfect way to show your leadership skills. As mostuniversity student clubs are entirely student-run, schools considerwhich applicants have the potential to direct those organizations whenchoosing their incoming class. They like to see students whoparticipate in a club or organization and achieve a position ofleadership, such as president, treasurer or other club officer.

Academics

The education system at European high schools isvery different from the U.S. system in that students select about threespecific subjects on which to focus whereas U.S. students study a widevariety of topics. European students' educational experience is highlyspecialized by the time they complete high school. A student can be ascience expert, taking only biology, chemistry and physics, or couldspecialize in the social sciences by taking geography, economics andhistory. U.S. students, on the other hand, are exposed to all subjectsthroughout high school and have a very broad knowledge in those areas.In most cases, this is not a problem for European students applying toU.S. schools, as it can reflect an academic passion.

However, an area of particular concern has beenthe SAT Subject Test exams, as many U.S. universities require studentsto take two SAT Subject Tests in addition to the regular SAT. Unlikethe SAT, which is a logical reasoning exam, the SAT Subject Testsassess students' knowledge of different subject areas. The specificsubjects available are Math Level 1 and 2, Biology, Chemistry, Physics,English Literature, U.S. History, World History, and most languages.For a student pursuing social sciences, there are limited options forSAT Subject Test exams because the World History exam focuses on LatinAmerica, Asia and the United States, in addition to European history.When selecting a course of study, it is always a good idea to keepthese issues in the back of your mind because certain subjects lendthemselves to specific SAT Subject Test exams.

Filed Under: Education

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