As the 2013-2014 US college application season comes to a close, hopeful high school seniors will be getting admission decisions. As they get their yeses and noes, it's important to begin looking ahead to the upcoming season and for the rising seniors and juniors to see what they can do differently to make better applications than their older brothers and sisters.
Through the years, I've seen many Filipino students go through the US college admission process. Invariably, they make the same mistakes year after year and without proper and qualified guidance, they will continue to make these mistakes year after year. These mistakes lead to unnecessary stress during the application process and ultimately more admission denials than necessary. If you are applying to US colleges, it is important that you recognize some of these mistakes and eliminate them from your own application.
Starting late. This is easily the biggest mistake most students make. Here in the Philippines, we are used to waiting until well into senior year to begin thinking about and applying to US colleges. It is not TOO late to begin senior year but make no mistake, you are late and there is a price to be paid for your lack of punctuality. So if senior year is already too late, when should students start thinking and applying to US colleges? Ideally, thinking about whether or not to go to the US for college can begin as early as sophomore year (10th grade or second year high school).
This will come as a shock for most students. Why so early? College is still more than two years away! One very simple reason: in some schools (Xavier comes to mind), there is an option for some third year students to do the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. While the decision whether or not to do IB should not solely rest on whether or not you want to study abroad, it can be a factor. Completion of the IB program is NOT a requirement for admission to US colleges but it is for admission to Canadian, UK, or Australian schools. If you are thinking of Canadian, UK or Australian schools, the IB Diploma is a must or you will need to take an additional foundation year in Canada, Australia, or the UK before you can proceed to a four year university in that country.. For US colleges, the IB Diploma is highly desirable for admission in the most competitive universities. If the IB Diploma is not an option at your high school, you can probably get away with starting as late as mid-junior year bu avoid delaying much longer.
But more importantly, students who start late don't have the discernment and reflection time needed to make good decisions about the college application process. Should you even go to begin with? If so, what kind of schools should I be looking at? What kind of student or learner am I and what can particular universities offer and what can I offer to particular universities?
Starting early also conveys many advantages: it allows you to put together a testing plan so you can take the required standardized tests at a leisurely pace allowing time for re-takes if necessary. It also allows you to plan your summer vacations so you can visit prospective colleges, a very important part of creating a good college list.
Ignoring fit. What is fit? It is simply whether or not the university you are interested in fits you as a learner, as a student and as a person. Is this college going to help you in not just getting a job but in becoming the person you want to become? A lot of students don't consider this because for Filipinos, the concept of university fit is foreign to us. We go to colleges here based on the reputation of the schools. We go to Ateneo because it's supposed to be really good in business and it's really astig to be thought of as “Ateneo material”. We go to UP because it has engineering or medicine. We go to La Salle because it's near our house and it's not as mayabang as Ateneo and UP is so....what's the word? Radicalized? I hear that word a lot but I'm not sure what it means but there it is.
But we don't know much about US schools except for what we hear and from what we read in publications like US News and World Report's rankings on the Best Colleges in the US. If you go simply by rankings and name recognition, it's easy to go wrong. So do your homework. Get proper guidance to help what universities are a good fit for you.
While you may prefer to ignore fit, I can most assuredly tell you that the US colleges won't. When evaluating your application, they will ask a key question: are you a good fit for their school? Unlike most colleges around the world, American universities are not interested in simply populating their classrooms with students with the best grades. While those are important too, equally key is whether or not you will blend well with your classmates: are you going to contribute to class? Are you going to be a leader? Will you be an interesting person to talk to in the cafeteria or in the dorms? Or are you going to spend your four years holed up in the library just studying? Putting together a freshman class is much like putting together a championship basketball team. You can't have all shooters on a basketball team: you need rebounders, shot blockers, tough defenders, good passers. You also need good leaders and those who will be a positive locker room presence. So when you are putting together your college application list, think about that. Are you a good fit for the college you are applying to?
Overestimating your chances at elite universities. I once talked to a student who was turned down at Penn. He was really and truly upset. He said that it wasn't fair that he was turned down and he saidt he had great grades and good recommendations, test scores, and extra curricular activities. Plus the IB Diploma. I was sympathetic....until I actually saw his grades. He was somewhere just above a B average. In IB language, a lot of 5's and a 6 or two. While his grades were good, they were not even close to what Penn and the Ivies were asking for. I could tell his application got a five minute look and landed on the "reject" pile almost immediately. To be academically competitive at Penn, he needed 7s and maybe a 6 or two, in other words, somewhere closer to a straight A average. This happens all the time. Parents think that their kids are such great students that it's a shock that Harvard would turn them down. The tiniest bit of research should have told this student the cold, hard truth: that an application to Penn would most likely result in a rejection. He should have looked at less competitive universities which may have been a better academic fit for him. Poor kid. Stupid kid.
I'll finish up with four more reasons in the next post. Thanks for reading!