As an Independent Education Consultant, I regularly visit universities for a first-hand feel. Between 2018 and 2019, I visited over 50 colleges, and while that sounds amazing, it also meant that each of my visits was brief, and frankly, a bit rushed.
This time, I decided to do it differently.
I picked just five colleges, and gave them my full time and attention—met admissions officers, attended information sessions and took campus tours just like any student would.
Before I launch into the admission-related information I gleaned, let me whet your appetite for the delicious food and drink scene on campus:
I enjoyed a deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s in Evanston, a 5-minute walk from some of the Northwestern dorms.
A hearty bagel, washed down with iced coffee at UChicago’s Fairgrounds Café is the perfect start to your day. For lunch, I walked down to Chipotle through Nichols Park—a long walk, admittedly, but totally worth the calories!
I had a lovely dessert at La Dolce Vita in Ann Arbor. It was conveniently located a few blocks from the University of Michigan, so I had to indulge!
In Pittsburgh, I ate some yummy food at Noodlehead near Shadyside, a place where a lot of CMU students chill.
Now that I’ve filled you in on the good stuff, here come the nuggets of wisdom I collected:
First things first, even a superficial scan will tell you that each college has a distinct personality. Based on my conversations and observations during the tour, I realized just how true that is. Take the ‘holistic profile’ that most colleges expect, for example. In reality, it means different things to different colleges. Some lean more towards subjects and grades, others are partial to essays and extracurricular activities, and a select few assess you on each of these components.
Please note that I want to refrain from naming any colleges here.
Your Choice of Subjects is Important
I met with several admission officers to understand exactly what they are looking for, and here is what I found:
Your school profile and your choice of subjects in high school matters. A lot.
So what’s a school profile? It is a set of documents prepared and submitted by your school counselor to the college(s) where you are applying. These documents showcase a whole lot of vital information, including the curriculum, courses and subjects offered.
Now this is where they pick up their first clues about your potential. For example, if your school offers 20 AP courses, but you are taking only one of them, it sends a message to the admissions officer. Similarly, picking up Physical Education instead of Biology, Economics or Math, is a telling choice.
Put simply, choosing “easy” subjects can indicate that the student is not challenging themselves academically. And that’s a definite minus.
Now, if your school only offers ISC or CBSE, the colleges aren’t expecting you to take APs or other external exams. However, as an IEC, I would still recommend them if your schedule permits that.
Most universities in the US require you to complete certain core classes, including Humanities, Math, English, Sciences. Many colleges have formal core curriculums that widen your knowledge base and your world view. Most of these will likely offer you the flexibility to declare a major by your sophomore or junior year as well.
At colleges that do not require specific core classes, you can take courses based on your academic major. This works well if you want to kick-start your journey in your specific choice of academic major from the freshman year itself!
I have always been a big fan of the core curriculum, but of course, you need to thoroughly research each college that fits your academic interests.
Career Development Offices Are Super-Helpful
I remember how important the Career Development Office was during my years at college. The CDO members helped me so much in helping me build a good resume and explore the right internship opportunities.
What I learned on my trip was that UChicago’s career office is really special! They assign a career advisor to every student from the very day they begin their undergraduate journey. It’s like having your academic advisor, but for your career development and advancement.
Furthermore, UChicago has so many programs for its students; internships, career treks, job shadowing opportunities, industry pre-professional programs, and so many other opportunities which students have access to gain real work experience.
My takeaway: you absolutely must research the strength of the career development offices at colleges where you want to apply. After all, the fee for international students to study at selective universities in the US is pretty high. So making sure that there are enough opportunities to gain employment and industry experience is extremely important.
I hope my experience helps you signpost your roadmap with more clarity. Feel free to get in touch with me to know more about the admissions process and how to get into highly selective colleges!