International

Why Is The Admission Process For US Colleges Toughest Among All?

As compared to countries like the UK and Australia that have simpler admission norms and application processes, the USA is a different ball game altogether.

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Studying abroad. (Representative image)
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Do you aspire to get into a well-ranked university in the USA? If you haven’t prepared for it two to three years in advance, there is a high chance that you might not get a seat there. That means, for an undergraduate programme, the preparations need to begin in the ninth grade itself, thanks to the tough selection process. 

The admission and selection process in the US is completely different from those of any other popular study destination in the world. As compared to countries like the UK and Australia that have simpler admission norms and application processes, the USA is a different ball game altogether. 

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Justifying the difficulty level, education counsellors say that the institutes in the US are some of the best and most prestigious ones in the world and hence being accepted to them would involve hard work and outdoing global competition.  

“In other countries, students are asked to write a half-page-long statement of purpose (SOP) which relates to their interest and reasons for seeking admission. Along with this, candidates’ school grades and a couple of forms are all the formalities that need to be fulfilled. However, the USA process is far more tedious and complicated,” says Nitin Dang whose son recently graduated from a well-ranked university in the USA.  

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Does that make the applicant’s competitive edge a deciding factor?

“Yes, the admission process of an institution in the US may include a few more application requirements but all these requirements are realistic and reflect the student's overall academic journey,” says Piyush Kumar, regional director (South Asia), IDP Education.

Kumar adds: “US institutions receive applications from across the globe. To uphold their academic standards, reputation, and competitive learning environment for the admitted students, the institutions are keen on understanding an applicant's overall profile.”

The admission committee of universities takes into account multiple parameters such as the candidate's minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements, marks of standardised tests, essays and SOPs, candidate’s resume, and letter of reference (LOR) from the institution last attended. While the GPA ensures consistency in the student's overall academic journey, standardised testing measures a student's problem solving and critical thinking capabilities along with English language proficiency.

“Similarly, essays and SOPs help the college understand a student's perspective about his preferred course, institution, profile, short-term and long-term goals, etc. The candidate’s resume provides an understanding of their academic, non-academic, and professional achievements,” says Kumar. The LOR, he says, is to understand a student's academic and professional achievements from an independent third-party perspective.

Students have to apply to at least five to ten colleges to make sure that they get admission into one and that their academic year doesn’t go to waste. For each college, they have to write three to five essays on various issues.

“So, making those preparations and writing more than 25 essays means a whole lot of effort and study. Along with these, video and in-person interviews are held to assess interpersonal skills,” explains a professor who is part of the admission committee of one of the most prestigious US colleges.

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He also talks about why a candidate’s academic excellence is not the only admission criteria. “Besides academics, extracurricular activities and leadership skills play a decisive role in understanding the complete profile of an individual. In fact, for the top 25 ranked colleges, candidates’ family background, parents’ educational qualification and financial status matters, too,” he adds.  

This is because these colleges tend to give preference to students who have excelled in academic and non-academic areas in the face of challenges on the personal and family front if any. So, if there ever arises a scenario where two candidates have almost similar academic and non-academic achievements, the one who has had a challenging childhood will be preferred.     

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Some experts say that in those cases, if the parents have graduated from well-ranked universities in the US, that legacy helps their children in getting preference in admissions, too.

“So, I always ask my students, who plan to get a seat in a top college in the USA, what they add to the classroom that no one does. If you have a very realistic answer to this question, you can succeed,” says an educational counsellor who has dealt with international education for over 25 years.   

These requirements, however, only apply to well-ranked colleges and are not consistent across all institutions in the US. A student can refer to the preferred institution's website or seek help from a destination expert since the conditions may vary as per the selected course and institution.

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