US College Admission FAQs

US College Admission FAQs

What should you do to prepare to enter an elite university?

– Spend all your educational years developing excellent study habits

– Have hobbies and interests outside of school

– Develop leadership skills

– Contribute to your community through volunteer work

Why do extracurricular activities matter?

Colleges place significance on school grades and standardized test scores as they indicate your academic preparedness for college and your potential for success. Essays are important as they showcase your ability to effectively communicate ideas, while also revealing aspects of your character, background, and vision. These components are obligatory in the college application process.

On the other hand, extracurricular activities are voluntary pursuits that you choose to engage in without external pressure. They demonstrate qualities such as motivation, focus, and passion, indicating your commitment to developing skills and talents aligned with your interests. Long-term involvement in a particular extracurricular activity can also provide leadership experience. For instance, consistently teaching underprivileged children in your neighborhood and taking the initiative to gather study materials highlights your organizational abilities, perseverance, and self-motivation.

Colleges value these qualities as they seek students who can independently shape their academic journey and adapt to the demands of college life. Additionally, colleges aim for a diverse community of students with varied interests to enrich the campus experience for all individuals.

What are impressive extracurriculars?

Research projects, entrepreneurial activities, science/engineering innovation, math Olympiads, internships abroad.

What summer experiences do colleges want?

Colleges typically look for summer experiences that demonstrate a student’s intellectual curiosity, engagement, and initiative. Find out more about the types of summer/holiday experiences which are often considered meaningful by colleges:

How to do independent research projects?

Embarking on a self-directed project can be an incredible opportunity for high school students to explore their passions, make a difference, and develop important skills. Whether you’re interested in environmental conservation, education, or any other area of interest, creating your own project allows you to take charge and create something meaningful. By following a few simple steps, you can bring your project to life and experience the joy of making a positive impact. 

Are SATs necessary?

No. But an excellent score can make you stand out, be considered for merit based scholarships.

Are SAT II subject tests required? What alternatives do I have?

These have been discontinued. Take APs to show your subject skills

How many APs to take? 

10-14 if you are extremely motivated student and 5-6 if you are less motivated. Most importantly, focus how you score not on the number of APs

What is PSAT?

It can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship Program and other scholarships.

Content on the PSAT/NMSQT is very similar to the SAT, with reading, math, and writing and language sections

Where to practice for SATs for free?

Khan Academy 

What is a good SAT score?

The definition of a “good” SAT score can vary depending on individual circumstances and the specific colleges or universities to which you are applying. However, more selective institutions and competitive programs often expect higher scores. For highly competitive universities, a good SAT score may range from 1300 to 1500 or higher. Stanford students for example achieve 1590 or higher.

It’s important to research the specific colleges and programs you are interested in to understand their average SAT scores and determine what would be considered a good score in those contexts.

How many times can I take the SAT?

You can take the test as many times as you want. However, its ideal to take it twice, one in junior year/class 11 and second time in senior year/class 12.

What is superscoring in SAT?

If you have taken the SAT twice and experienced an 80-point increase in your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score on the second attempt, but your Math score was 10 points lower, colleges that practice superscoring will consider your highest section-level scores, even if they were obtained from different test sessions. Numerous colleges that adopt a superscore policy encourage students to submit all of their test scores, and in some cases, it may be a requirement.

Although many colleges follow the practice of superscoring the SAT, it is advisable to carefully review the SAT score-use policies of each college on your list. This will ensure that you have a clear understanding of how your scores will be evaluated and considered by each institution individually.

Do all colleges superscore?


What is score choice?

Score Choice™ allows you to select which scores or sets of scores you want to send to a college. You control which score reports, by test date, will be sent to each college.

Is SAT Essay required?

It has been discontinued. 

(available only for some of the college board state partners who require the essay as part of SAT School Day administrations)

Understanding SAT percentile

Understanding SAT percentiles involves comprehending how well you performed in comparison to other test takers, while the score range of 400-1600 represents an absolute marking system. For instance, if your percentile is 75, it means you outperformed 75% of the candidates. Rather than focusing solely on composite scores, colleges and universities also consider a student’s SAT percentiles when evaluating their application.

Percentiles are determined by examining the cumulative scores of all students who took the test. Consequently, SAT score requirements for colleges can vary from year to year. For example, a university that required a 75th percentile score could have set a closing composite score of 1350 in 2022 and 1450 in 2023, based on the overall performance of test takers in those respective years.

To stay up-to-date with the current percentile and composite score requirements of the universities and colleges you are interested in, it would be beneficial to consult an experienced advisor. They can provide you with the most recent information and guidance regarding the institutions you plan to apply to.

Which AP subjects can I take?

Art history, Music theory, English language and composition, English literature and composition, comparative government and politics, European history, human geography, macroeconomics, microeconomics, psychology, US government and politics, US History, World History: Modern, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Computer Science A, Computer Science Principles, Precalculus, Statistics, Biology, chemistry, Environmental Science, Physics 1: Algebra-Based, Physics 2: Algebra-Based, Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, Physics C: Mechanics, Chinese/French/German/Italian/Japanese/Spanish Language and Culture, Spanish Literature and Culture, Latin

What are test optional, test flexible and test blind?

Test optional – the decision is on you as to whether or not you want to send the SAT scores. SAT-optional colleges do not require you to send your score.

Test flexible – it requires you to send test scores, but it might allow for different options in place of the SAT. The school might accept IB or AP scores instead, or even admit you on your GPA scores.

Test blind – they don’t want you to send the test scores and will not consider them if you do submit them.

I have applied under ED. I want to withdraw from it. Can I?

In cases of extenuating circumstances, such as financial hardships, you may have the option to withdraw without facing any penalties. To avoid negatively impacting your future applications, it is recommended to verify and have a conversation with the school or institution involved.

What is ED I and ED II?

Timing: ED I applications are typically due in November, and students receive their admission decisions in December. ED II applications, on the other hand, have a later deadline, usually in January or February, and admission decisions are released in February or March.

Flexibility: ED I is considered the more binding option. If a student applies ED I and is accepted, they are required to withdraw all other college applications and commit to attending that specific institution. ED II is also binding, but it offers slightly more flexibility as it is a second round of ED I. You apply ED II after being rejected in ED I.

Competition: ED I generally has a higher level of competition, as it is the earliest application deadline. Many students who have a clear first-choice school will opt for ED I. 

Demonstrated Interest: Both ED I and ED II demonstrate a high level of interest in the college or university. Colleges consider demonstrated interest as a factor in the admissions process, and applying early decision shows a strong commitment to attending the institution if accepted.

It’s important to note that the specifics of ED I and ED II can vary between colleges, so it’s crucial to review each institution’s specific policies and deadlines if you are considering applying under either of these early decision options.

What is Early Action? What is Restrictive Early Action?

Early Action allows students to apply to colleges and universities earlier than regular decision deadlines. Under Early Action, students submit their applications typically in November, and receive their admission decisions earlier, usually by December or January. However, unlike Early Decision, Early Action is not binding, meaning students are not obligated to enroll if accepted.

Restrictive Early Action (REA), also known as Single-Choice Early Action or Restricted Early Action, is a variation of Early Action with some additional restrictions. Under REA, students can apply to one college or university early, usually in November, but they are typically prohibited from applying to other private institutions under Early Decision or Early Action. However, students are still allowed to apply to public universities and colleges, as well as colleges with non-binding admissions programs.

For example, if you are applying to Stanford under REA, you must respond to the offer earlier than in the other options and you may not apply under Early Action to other private colleges.

The key difference between Early Action and Restrictive Early Action is the restriction on applying to other early admission programs in the case of REA. This restriction aims to prevent students from submitting multiple binding applications and to encourage a more thoughtful and intentional approach to the college application process.

It is important to note that the specific policies and restrictions of Early Action and Restrictive Early Action can vary between colleges and universities. Therefore, it is crucial to review the policies of each institution you are considering and understand their specific requirements and deadlines before applying.

Does applying early action or early decision increase the chances of admission?

Yes, it does, provided you have an excellent profile. If you think you need more time to improve your scores or extracurricular activities, then it’s better to wait for the regular decision.

How to know if you should apply early?

If the college is your first choice, you have the profile they are looking for and you can afford it, then you should apply early decision.

How to build a college list?

Include a variety of universities that match your academic goals, interests, and budget. Other key considerations are location, rankings, size of university, extracurricular activities. The list should be a mix of reach, match, and safety schools.

Reach schools are universities where your academic profile falls below the average of admitted students, but it is still within the range of consideration. These schools are a bit of a stretch, but if everything aligns, you have a chance of getting accepted.

Match schools are universities where your academic profile is in line with the average of admitted students. These schools are a good fit, and you have a reasonable chance of getting accepted.

Safety schools are universities where your academic profile is above the average of admitted students. These schools are considered a safety net, and you are almost guaranteed admission.

What to avoid when building your college list?

  1. Applying only to highly selective universities: While it’s important to aim high, it’s also important to have a mix of reach, match, and safety schools. Applying only to highly selective universities increases the chances of rejection, and it’s not a balanced approach.
  2. Ignoring the financial aspect: Studying abroad can be expensive, and it’s important to consider the financial aspect when making a college list. Avoid applying only to universities that are out of your budget, and look for financial aid options and scholarships.
  3. Only focusing on rankings: University rankings can be helpful, but they should not be the only factor in your decision. Avoid applying only to universities that have a high ranking, without considering other factors such as fit, location, and academic programs.

Building your college list can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it in the end. Remember, starting early is key, so don’t wait until the last minute to begin your research.

How to demonstrate interest in the college?

Visiting schools is expensive but you can still show how keen you are to go to their school. Here are some ways to do it:

  1. Communicate with the college admissions.
  2. Apply early decision.
  3. Join the school’s Facebook page.
  4. Participate in the school’s online chats for prospective students.
  5. Request information literature from the school’s website.
  6. Reach out to the alumni.
  7. Reach out to professors in the relevant major(s).
  8. Ask to be connected to current students.
  9. Follow the school on Twitter.

How to use LinkedIn?

Open an account, go to search, type what you are looking for. You can search for research opportunities, summer program with full scholarship, professors, students of top universities. 

Add an optional message when writing to professors and students to tell them why you want to connect.