Many students believe they need to start planning for study abroad only in Grade 12. But college applications require a lot of time, thought, and effort. High school students who are determined to pursue their studies abroad should aim to begin the ground work as early as Grades 9/10. Starting early provides a better understanding of what the college application process entails, and prepares students to deal with it without getting overwhelmed. In this article, I talk about various things students can do in Grades 9-11, to be prepared to deal with the college application process in Grade 12.
Focus on School Grades
Often, students believe only their ‘Board’ results or Grade 12 academics are important, but that is not true. Universities look at academic transcripts of 4 years (9-12), if not longer. So it’s important to try your best and perform well in academics throughout high school, not just in Grade 12.
Students should try and gain a better understanding of themselves – their interests, skills, limitations, and aspirations. An understanding of oneself can help students choose projects and activities sensibly as they begin building their profile. Understanding themselves is also crucial for writing meaningful essays.
Start Profile Building
Universities abroad don’t focus only on grades.Experiences and achievements beyond studiesare important, as they help admission officers understandyour personality. Sometimes, students feel they need a long list of extra-curricular activities to strengthen their application, but this is a myth. Instead, you should involve yourself deeply in a small number of activities or projects for a long duration (a sport, art, writing, research, community work etc.). Have an impact in whatever you choose to do, climb to a leadership position, developed some skills etc.
Develop Reading and Writing Skills
Being able to write well, read through large volumes of information, and carry out research, are crucial skills required at college. Develop these habits early - make it a habit to read books and the news.
Begin your research and understand your options. Which country do you want to apply to colleges in? Understand how the experience differs between countries – USA vs. UK vs. Singapore, and so on. Attend college fairs, and learn about different universities from seniors, friends, and family who’ve been through the experience before. Doing this early will make the entire college shortlisting process less scary later.
Think About What You Want to Study
Some students know exactly what they want to study at college, while others are confused. It is normal to be confused, with so many options at your disposal, so don’t panic if you are a bit lost. Start reflecting internally on what you enjoy learning about, as this might determine which colleges you apply to. If you plan to pursue your studies in the U.S., also remember that most colleges don’t expect you to declare a major in the freshman year – you can study various subjects and decide your major later.
Prepare for Standardized Tests
Standardized tests (such as SAT) are important. While students usually take SAT in Grades 11/12, they can start preparing earlier through options such as the PSAT (Preliminary SAT), a test conducted by the College Board, makers of SAT. By taking the PSAT in Grade 9/10, students get a real sense of what the SAT is. The PSAT Score Report gives students detailed feedback on their skill gaps - by identifying weaknesses early, students understand what they need to work on most. Students should then take the SAT in Grade 11, as they are more relaxed then. This way, if they need to retake, they still have time for it later. Also, if the universities you’re applying to require other tests, such as SAT Subject Tests, take these at the end of Grade 11, or early in Grade 12.
Submitting high quality college applications require discipline, hard work, and effort. Making sure that you have a plan to tackle every component, and having a support system to help you through the process, will make the process easier for you. And if you do everything at the right time, you will find the process enjoyable and realize there is no reason to stress.
About Author: Ms. Lisa Jain
Lisa Jain is the Representative of The College Board in India. In her role, she works extensively with schools across India to help with the implementation of College Board programs. She also interacts directly with students and parents, educating them about how College Board’s programs and resources (such as SAT, AP, PSAT or Big Future) help in the college application and admission process.
Lisa was previously the Head of Marketing at an international school in Kolkata and has worked in the Equities division at UBS Investment Bank in London for two years.
She pursued her MBA at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad and her undergraduate degree in Industrial Economics at the University of Warwick in UK, on a scholarship. Lisa has also successfully completed Level II of the CFA Exam.