Choosing your colleges is another challenge. Here I think students need to expand beyond their current awareness of schools and find schools that truly fit them. Remember the first point about why students should go abroad because there are more colleges/options. But if everyone applies to the same Name Brand schools, then they are not taking advantage of this. One good place to begin your search of lesser-known strong schools would be www.ctcl.org. But don’t stop there! There are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the US alone!
What do universities look for in an applicant?
I would actually turn that question around: What is the student looking for in a university? Now, I realise that this may be hard to answer since the student has never attended college, but it is the most critical question and actually answers the implied question here, i.e., what should I promote to make them pick me? Universities do not believe that there are too many all-round students. Their job is to-build-an all-round student body. Therefore, your best bet is to promote that which differentiates you! Okay, think of it like a school Tuck Shop. The products that you choose are like students. There is not one product that everyone wants, so you need to stock the shelves with a variety of products. If I try to promote myself as the sweet/savoury/chocolate/samosa/chip, I will probably only make someone less interested in me. So I should promote myself as the BEST chocolate, or the BEST samosa. The University may have already taken in too many samosas this year in Early Applications and not want me, but that is why I should look for several schools that I want to go to. Someone will be looking for the best samosa! So the answer to the question of what I want out of university will help the admissions committee realise that I chose schools according to best FIT, not just that I want to wear their T-Shirt.
How should a high school student prepare for an undergraduate education abroad?
This is a great question and it is what I base my whole personal counselling on. Many students initially come to me because they think that I can help their chances getting in, but I inform them that is the easy part. These years in high school should be about preparing the student for success IN college, not just getting in. One of the first things to do is to mentally take ownership of the process. Parents should not drive the process but should empower the student to do so. Our culture in India does not always push students to do things themselves; even our high school curricula are quite prescribed. The amount of flexibility and choice that a student will be faced with requires preparation. Better that they fail a few times now while they have a safety net than to be hand-held through the whole process and then stand alone like a deer in the headlights of a truck when they arrive at college!