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USA Studies: Tips and Advice 2

Mon 18 Apr 2016

The answer is no.  Harvard is highly regarded in social sciences majors (history, economics, political science, psychology, sociology).  For more technical majors (for example, engineering) the #1 school is right down the road - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT.  So first of all, it is important to understand that rankings are dependent on major.  Harvard, with a 6% acceptance rate, is not the right school for every major.

So where can I find these rankings?

America has many different rankings – and it can get confusing, I know.  With over 4,000 different colleges and universities, everyone wants to use some sort of ranking to look good.  What is widely viewed as the most credible source for rankings is the US News and World Report.


Getting accepted into highly ranked universities

While there is no magic formula to guarantee acceptance into the best schools in America, there are some things that students must have (in order of importance):

  • TIME By this I mean that almost all top universities have an application deadline of January 1.  That is for the next fall’s (Aug/Sept) intake.  So students need to plan early!   
  • GOOD ENGLISH Top schools will require 7.0 on the IELTS or 100 on the TOEFL.  Most higher ranked schools will require 6.5 on the IELTS or greater than 80 on the TOEFL. 

Some schools will waive the English requirement based on a student having certain scores on a specific test (ie. Critical Reading portion of the SAT) so it is always good to check an individual school’s requirements.  Nonetheless, students must have strong English.

The TOEFL has historically been the more commonly accepted English test in the USA.  Now the IELTS has grown in popularity in the US (as it is the English test of choice in the UK and Australia) and most schools will accept either one.  Both now have a speaking component (the TOEFL internet based test has adopted this) and the IELTS has had one which is level or band-scored by a tester.    

Other things that are required:

  • Good Grades: Students have to demonstrate strong academic performance.  The top schools often require all or mostly A’s (3.9-4.0/4.0 grade point average) with a few B’s more common in the top 50-100 universities. 
  • SAT (or ACT) score:  Most top schools require this test as we discussed in my first blog.  All publish their median scores so a student can see if they fall into the range or not.  (Many top schools also require SAT II, or subject tests, these usually will be taken by the top, top students in subjects related to their major). 
  • Essays and Letters of Recommendation:  These are very important and often not thought about enough by international students.  Essays need to be creative and demonstrate how a student stands out, but in a humble way.  Letters of recommendation should be from teachers or advisors who really know the student and can talk about them in a detailed and meaningful way.

  • Extracurricular Activities:  These can include sports, music, charity work, clubs, leadership roles…almost anything that students get involved with outside of their daily academic work.  And they do make a big difference!!  Most schools in America realize that these may not be as common for international students – but all students have interests or hobbies so they should try to explore them. I was recently talking to one student in Vietnam where I live who started their own fashion blog.  Very cool!

There is not a ‘science’ of selecting students to top universities.  Each of these things is important creates a picture of the student for the school to evaluate.  For example, I had a Grade Point Average of 3.7/4.0 and an SAT score of 1,310/1,600 (I took it 3 times…as your highest score counts ).  I played a lot of sports which probably helped.  I did not get into Ivy League or top 10 schools, but many in the top 20/30.  I ended up attending Boston College close to my home town which is ranked #32 and did my MBA at Georgetown University which is ranked #15.  Finances (scholarship) also plays a big part in the decision selection of which school to attend. 

Well, there may be the occasional student who has all of the above and can go to a top university directly but it is much more common for students to be missing one of these items or don’t quite have the scores they need for their dream school.  In these situations, a pathway course, like ONCAMPUS University Transfer Programs, with transfer flexibility may be the best option for students.  Pathways like these may not get a student into Ivy League schools – but certainly are good feeders into top 50/top 100 universities.  Or it may be that the student’s major is not necessarily one that is tied to a high ranked school.  Recent student majors I have worked with like this include:  Fashion, Criminal Justice, Radiography, Education, Nursing……just to name a few.

We’ll talk more about finances next time, which is another very important topic for parents and students. 



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