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It's the time of the year when many students from India would have commenced their studies at an American university; and if you aim to secure admission to the Fall 2008 term, the time to start planning is now!
International students often underestimate the amount of time required to apply for admission to schools in the US. Avoid this mistake by planning well in advance of the time that you intend to begin your studies. When setting your schedule, always remember that doing things early is the best way forward.
I cannot stress enough the importance of chalking out a time-table of tasks to be accomplished each month; and that's easier when you make quarterly plans -- the most critical of them being Q1.
Quarter One: September, October, November
University research and selection
The US offers over 3,500 university options! You can find several web sites with university listings, such as US News. Surf these sites until you find universities which offer the degree programmes of your choice.
Once you accomplish this, be sure to consider these other factors: admission criteria (GPA and test scores), accreditation, application deadlines, location and budget vs. tuition fee.
Research the university through its web site, take feedback from its current students and check out international student blogs. For postgraduate/doctorate applicants, contact the Graduate Director to ensure that the programme is in alignment to your career objectives.
Your university selection should ideally be a mix-bag of options: select a few that are competitive and with admission criteria slightly higher than your academic profile; select some with an admission criteria that exactly matches your qualifications; and select a couple of universities as a fall-back plan.
If budget is not a constraint, choose more universities to apply to; otherwise, shortlist at least 5-6 universities.
Prepare for university application
Before you actually apply, you must prepare for the things needed to make a complete application.
This includes: requesting attested Transcripts and Degree Certificates from past schools, getting recommendation letters from professors (and employers for those who have professional experience), writing the personal statement/essay, preparing for TOEFL, GRE/GMAT/SAT and taking the Test.
A complete application usually leads to admission decisions made early on.
Keep leeway to retake tests if scores are unsatisfactory. Take advantage of the ETS free score reporting service, which allows you to electronically convey your official scores to the chosen universities and is the fastest way to do so.
The personal statement needs careful planning and may require several revisions before you finalise one that truly reflects your personality, achievements, intentions and purpose of applying to the particular programme and university.
Some universities require your credits to be evaluated by independent credit evaluation agencies (for example http://www.wes.org/). You must check with universities that you have selected, and send necessary documents to the evaluation agencies that they prefer. This is usually mentioned on the international admissions web page.
You must meet the application deadlines of the universities to which you apply, which may be as much as ten months before the beginning of the school term.
You can either apply online and pay the Application Fee through a credit card, or download and print a paper application that can be mailed to the university and pay the Application Free through a money order check.
Make sure to pack in all the necessary documents and add a cover letter of its contents. Choose a reputable international courier service, ensure that you mail the application to the appropriate university office and don't forget to double-check the address! An express mail should reach in about five days. Use the online mail tracking feature to be certain of its delivery.
It is not unusual for institutions to request more information or resubmission of something you have already sent, so keep sufficient extra time for such a possibility. Your financial aid application may be needed to be sent along with the University application or once your application has been evaluated and accepted, depending on university policy.
Quarter Two: December, January, February
Most universities do not begin to evaluate applications and announcing admission decisions unless it is complete. Some documents that may be asked for, after you apply, and before an admission decision is made are Certificate of Finances and Proof of Income.
Your test scores would also need to be reported officially, by ETS or College Board (in case of SAT). If you have not done so at the time of taking your test, you would need to pay online and specify the Universities to which you would like your scores to be sent.
Universities that need credential evaluation to be done would wait for official evaluation to reach the International Admissions office prior to making an admission decision. To expedite this process, once can choose the express evaluation option offered by most of the independent credit evaluating services.
If you get a low TOEFL score, the university may recommend you to take up their English language course along with your degree programme. Since the decision to do so is often left to the discretion of the student, most universities expect you to confirm whether or not you agree to take up the English language course. An admission decision would be made only after you accept or reject their proposal.
Similarly, some universities may recommend you to take up extra courses on the campus, to make up for pre-requisites needed to commence your degree programme. Once you have been unofficially accepted into the degree programme, the university may ask you to confirm if you are willing to take up these suggested courses.
Once such example is of students with a 3-year undergraduate degree, wanting to secure admission to the MBA programme and is asked to take up the Bridge course. An admission decision would be made only after you accept their proposal.
Unless your application was delayed, you can accept an unofficial acceptance letter by Feb 2008. This is a good time to send your Financial Aid Scholarship applications to universities that accept them after you have been accepted.
During this time, three situations may arise:
Your official admission letter, also called the I-20 will be mailed to you by the University in the following weeks.
Tomorrow: Q3 and Q4 Planning
Manisha is Joint Managing Director at Career Mosaic Pvt. Ltd.
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