With August comes the start of school. Students attending international schools have all pretty much started with the first semester. Whether you have already started or about to start, there are some things you need to keep in mind for the coming year.
Be organized, plan ahead and set reasonable goals to reach: Academically, this semester is important – whether you are planning to apply to university or boarding school. You cannot do much about last year’s grades at this point, but you can certainly set the pace for the coming year. It takes organization, a plan, and a set of goals you are focused on achieving. Remember, how you do in school is the most important factor in admissions.
If you are applying this year, remember to build in to your schedule time to prepare for tests – SSAT, SAT I & II, TOEFL, or IELTS. Make sure that you register well ahead so that your scores can reach the schools you are applying to on time. Check the deadlines of applications for each of your schools.
School is your full-time occupation, applying to school is your part-time occupation. While you need to do well in school, prepare for, and take a variety of tests, applying to school is your part-time job. Allocate appropriate time to work on your applications. The basic information of the application shouldn’t take you no more than an hour to complete. The essays and completing your resume may take significantly more time. If you manage your time well, you can get all of this done in a reasonable amount of time.
Essay – don’t wait – start writing: The essays are the Mount Everest of the application process. They take time, so give them time. It is extremely rare that your first draft of the essay will be good enough to submit. So plan on writing several drafts. Check and double check, but get writing. Do not wait until the deadline. Most likely you have more than one essay.
University Bound Students: Let’s say you are applying to several schools that use the Common Application and a few University of California schools; that’s three essays right off the bat.
Boarding School Bound Students: Most likely you will have a combination of schools that use the SSAT Application or the Gateway Application or the School’s own application. While similar, they ask different essay questions.
Teacher Recommendations: Be sure that you ask as soon as possible for teachers to write letters of recommendation, if you have not already done so. Typically, you should ask teachers who know you well, in the classroom. This does not necessarily mean it is the class you do best in, but one in which the teacher sees you in many different ways: how you succeed, how you cope with challenges, how you work independently or in groups. Teacher recommendations should focus on you in their class.
Hopefully, they will have seen you in two years of class. But let’s say you have a new teacher, they will get to know you and see how you work in a very short time. You might want to give that teacher some background information to help them understand your passion for that subject.
Don’t choose two related subjects. For example, if for some reason, you take two math courses, don’t get two math recommendations. Math and science are great. Often it is best to get one from a quantitative subject (math or science) and one from humanities (English or social studies). Combined, these will give breadth to your academic interests. You might want to add art if you are planning on applying to art or architecture colleges.
Choose teachers from core subjects: English, math, science, social studies. Unless you are planning to major in a language or music, there is no need to ask those teachers for recommendations.
Only submit the requested number of recommendations. Schools really love it when you follow directions. If you send them too many recommendations, schools will think you actually have something to hide or overcome. Plus, they also might think you can’t read.
Build a resume to highlight your activities, hobbies, awards, and volunteer experiences. The resume is where you can list, chronologically, all the activities you have taken part in during high school, and only high School (9-12). If you attended a Chinese middle school, then the last year of middle school counts, as it is the equivalent of Grade 9 in the US.
The Common Application for university allows you 10 spaces to list your activities. The instructions for this section used to say, “List in order of importance your primary activities.” I think this is the best advice. Try not to think about what “makes you look good,” rather, list what you love doing, where you learned the most and the most engaging of your activities.
So if you have started school, I am hoping you’re on your way to a great year. If you are considering boarding school or university, get started. If you are just in the thinking process, start considering what to do in the coming year before you have to apply.
Until next time! In the meantime, I am still looking for questions you may have about applying to school, the admission process, or anything else school related.
Questions for Hamilton? Please email questions about the admissions process or university applications to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Quinn Anya & audio-luci-store.it (via flickr)