I remember, as an 18-year-old A level student, the stress and utter confusion l had when trying to figure out which universities to apply to, let alone which type of STEM degree would be well suited for my personality and intellectual capacity. It is not an easy task having to decide the trajectory of the rest of your life. What l do wish l had access to is a resource bank like Project Ignite Her where l could get to read articles and stories related to STEM and everything l needed to feel well equipped enough to move into the phase of life after high school. If you feel like you are in the same situation, then you are in the right place.
Here are some tips you could start implementing now as a high school student or high school leaver to ensure a higher chance of getting into the college or university of your choice.
Applying to university is generally a hard task. For example, only 5% of those that apply to top 10 universities in the world get accepted. So before you start the application process, ask yourself and give yourself honest answers on important questions. Is your academic background or extra curricula profile strong enough to get accepted into the type universities you want to apply to? Do you have the money to cover your costs for studying there? If not, which options of funding do the universities offer?
Once all the important questions have been answered, then we can get started.
Early on, create a list of the universities you’re interested in. Create a way to track your progress. For me, l had an excel sheet with all the important information like the name of the university, where it’s located, the application deadlines, whether the application has been submitted, the degree on offer that is of interest to you, description of their ideal candidate, grades required, type of entrance exam required, and the list goes on. Once you have set up this list, then you are good to go!
Out of the many universities you would want to apply to, make sure that at least three quarters of your applications are really good to increase your chances of getting accepted into any one or several of the universities; it's a game of probability. Having dozens of mediocre applications is not wise and a waste of time.
If you are still in high school, aim to get the best grades you can possibly achieve. Push yourself to be the best version of yourself so that you can increase the chances of getting into the university of your dreams. For high school leavers, I know at this point it’s a done deal in terms of grades and this isn’t a bad thing. Whether you achieved the grades you wanted or not, that’s okay because all you have to do is look at the universities you can qualify for academically (there are plenty of universities out there). Use websites like QS World University rankings and other ranking sites as they usually have articles and useful information about different universities and colleges.
If your grades are not perfect you could still save the day by getting a great score on standardized college tests such as the SAT or ACT when you are applying to universities in the US. When applying to universities in the UK, placement tests like the IELTS or the TOEFL are commonly required. It’s important to know well in advance what type of entrance tests the universities you are applying to require.
Admission officers often receive thousands of applications each year and thousands of students will have perfect test scores and good grades. Now they are faced with the difficult decision of choosing which students to admit into their universities. The next thing they look for are the essays and personal statements. Admission officers want to know the person behind the good grades. They want to determine whether you are a perfect fit for their university holistically.
Essays are your chance to shine and leave a lasting impression on the admission officers. Personally, l view essays as a chance to tell your story in a way that shows the fabric of what makes you the person you are. It’s a chance to tell them exactly why you want to study at their university and convince them why they should take you as one of their students.
Make sure you tailor each essay for each school you are applying to. DO NOT (yes in caps) have one generic essay that you use on all your applications. The last thing admission officers want is to spend a minute of their time reading a generic essay as they can easily tell a perfectly tailored essay from a generic one. You don’t want your application going on the mounting pile of rejections.
Telling the university how great you are is one thing. But having someone else confirm it makes the message much more powerful.
These letters should be written by teachers, coaches, employers, or people in similar positions who know you well. In exceptional cases, you can ask a friend to write one of your recommendation letters, if you have been through a lot together including meaningful extracurricular activities, and this friend is prepared to put in the work to write a genuine recommendation letter showing off your good character. However, never ask your parents or other close family members to write you a recommendation letter. That will only be seen as proof that you don’t have any good references.
The important thing is that the person that writes the letter of recommendation knows you well and are willing to put in the work to write a genuine letter. At some high schools there are career guidance teachers who can be your starting point when choosing people who can write you some reference letters. Career guidance teachers have the advantages of being knowledgeable on how to write a recommendation letter.
For any other person who is to write you a reference letter, you can give them a short guideline of how the reference should be written. Some universities have requirements on the type of information they would like to be included in the reference letters. Make sure you check with the university you are applying to if this is the case.
The good news is that you can use the same reference letter for all your applications. Just ask your reference to not mention the school name in the letter, or to produce multiple versions with different school names, then have them sign all the letters you need right away so you don't need to bother them again. Don’t forget to thank them for their help and let them know if you get accepted.
So as you can see, getting into the best universities takes hard work. You can often increase your chances of success by getting help. Ask someone you trust to proofread your application and give you feedback. Don’t just ask a friend or family member who will encourage you and say that everything looks great. Ask a teacher, a guidance counsellor, or some well-educated person you know to give you honest feedback that can help you improve your application. Look online for resources that give guidance on application processes.
And lastly, don't give up. Put in the work into your applications and you won’t regret it. Good luck!
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