What goes into an application to US Universities?

What goes into an application to US Universities?

Applying to colleges in the US is not a straightforward process. Whilst many students and parents around the world believe that grades are the be all and end all of admissions criteria, that couldn’t be further than the truth.

While your high school or junior college grades are key indicators of your academic ability, most universities in the US are interested in discovering who you are outside of the classroom.

As a result, admissions officers are hoping to see evidence of a vibrant personality with diverse intellectual and extracurricular interests.

Let's take a look at the four key elements that will make up your application.


Personal Profile and Recommendation Letters:

This section consists of factors largely outside of your control, including where you live, what nationality you possess, and what school you went to.

Similarly, your recommendation letters will be written and sent directly to the universities you apply to. Typically, you will have a total of three letters, with two written by teachers of your choice, and a third written by your school’s university counselor, or another school official.

There is a little bit of strategy involved here, as you would want to get recommendations from your teachers who taught the classes most relevant to your intended major at university.


The Numbers - Your Grades and Test Scores:

Of course, your grades matter a great deal - they serve as testament to your academic success and determination over the course of your high school years, and grant admissions officers an insight into your interests.

Although most colleges don’t have any hard and fast rules about grade requirements, it would be a good idea to choose your A-Level, IB or AP subjects in coordination with what you want to study in university, demonstrating your background and foundational knowledge, along with your commitment to the subject or field. 

The SATs come into play as a key statistic to back up your stellar grades.

Although students across the world have begun to question the relevance of the SAT in recent years, data published by top universities, including MIT, reveal that strong SAT scores play a pivotal role in admissions.

There’s a fair bit of strategy involved in submitting your SATs - a student with strong grades but weak SAT scores would do better to forget about them, while a student with a weak academic record can recover by posting strong test scores.



As the introduction to this post mentioned, admissions officers are incredibly interested in understanding who you are as a person, along with what drives you.

Extracurricular activities are a fantastic way of sharing your personal motivations and interests, especially as they are typically self driven. Extracurriculars can take a myriad of different forms, whether through sports, the arts, community service, student government and the like.

Of course – just taking part isn’t always enough. More important than any title or participation trophy, are the learning points that you take from these activities that facilitate your personal growth - so if you’re currently part of the MUN or debate club at your school, much like most Singaporean students are, it would be a good idea to set your eyes on leadership or administration of your organization.

Leadership comes at a premium after all.



While your activities list will allow you to demonstrate the breadth of your extracurricular engagement, your essays are the best opportunity to weave together common themes and elements from all of your experience, to narrate deep and effective stories about yourself.

Different universities will have unique prompts, but almost all of them will ask you to tackle certain key questions - what matters to you? Who are you? What do you want to do?

Writing authentic stories about yourself will take a significant amount of work, from brainstorming relevant experiences, understanding how to effectively narrate those stories and ultimately sitting down to write those essays. It may seem like a daunting task at first, but with time, contemplation and reflection, your stories will begin to take shape in no time!

Bounce your ideas off your friends, family or any other mentor figures in your life - its always a good idea to get a second or third set of eyes on your work to make sure your ideas are coming across accurately.

So there you have it!

An overall picture of all the different elements that will go into your actual application - and what admissions officers will actually be looking at.

Whether you’re a couple years out from your applications, or if you’ll be applying as early as this November, it's a good idea to get a complete picture of all that you have to complete, and start early to give yourself the best shot at creating a winning application!