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About US Universities

THE US UNDERGRADUATE LANDSCAPE

What are the different types of universities?

Broadly speaking, there are three different types of US universities:

 

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) focus on teaching the liberal arts and sciences. They are usually undergraduate focused, and do not offer graduate programmes. Classes at LACs tend to be smaller and more discussion based owing to the small cohort sizes.

 

Public Universities

Public Universities (or state schools) are publicly funded. They offer lower tuition rates for state residents and are typically very large, comprising over 10,000 students. They are often made up of multiple campuses (like the University of California colleges, for example).

 

Private Universities

Private Universities are not publicly funded and unlike liberal arts colleges, they do offer graduate programmes. They usually only have one campus, and are typically quite research focused. The Ivy League colleges are all private universities.

What will my education look like?

Higher education in the United States follows a liberal arts model of education, emphasizing the broad-based study of various disciplines (like the sciences, the humanities and the arts) as well as an in-depth understanding of your chosen field of study, or major.

At most public and private research universities – whether you go on to study Engineering at MIT, Economics at Penn State or Comparative Literature at Harvard – you will be required to take a few classes that teach you foundational knowledge in writing and quantitative reasoning. This is not the same as a liberal arts college.

 

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal Arts Colleges will allow you to major in a variety of disciplines. Students take core classes across all disciplines in the first year.

 

Research Universities

Within the University as a whole, you can apply to study in the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Engineering, or the College of Business.

When should i take the ACT?

US Universities

All first-year applicants
Most Transfer applicants

NUS Medicine & NUS Dentistry

Applicants with IB Diplomas

NUS Law

Applicants with a C grade or lower for:
H1 General Paper; or
H2 Knowledge & Inquiry

SMU & UniSIM

Applicants without any of the following:
A-Level / IB
NUS High Diploma
Polytechnic Diploma

CRAFTING SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS

What do I need to get into a top university?

Universities in the US will consider both academic and non-academic factors in making their admissions decisions. You are required to demonstrate competency and skill in both of these regards.

 

ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS

Final Year Grades

IB; or A-Levels; or APs; or GPA

Standardized Testing

Either the SAT or the ACT.

Recommendations

You need two teacher recommendations and one non-academic recommendation.

Academic Honors

Applications require at least a few accomplishments that are academic in nature (eg: Honor Roll / Olympiads / Research).

 

NON-ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS

Extra-Curricular Activities

You should have at least ten meaningful extra curricular activities from Grade 9 onwards. These should demonstrate your interests and accomplishments outside the classroom.

Leadership

Universities look for mature, driven students who will go on to become leaders in their fields. You should try to showcase instances of you taking initiative and showing leadership in and outside of school.

Community Engagement

Universities want to know that you have made an impact in your community. You should demonstrate how your community (school or otherwise) have benefited from your actions.

Essays

Your college essays should give admissions counsellors insight into who you are, what experiences have shaped you, and why you are the best fit for the university you are applying to.

ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS
Final Year GradesIB; or A-Levels; or APs; or GPA
Standardized TestingEither the SAT or the ACT. Some universities also require SAT Subject Tests
RecommendationsYou need two teacher recommendations and one non-academic recommendation.
Academic HonorsApplications require at least a few accomplishments that are academic in nature (eg: Honor Roll / Olympiads / Research).
NON-ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS
Extra-Curricular Activities
You should have at least ten meaningful extra curricular activities from Grade 9 onwards. These should demonstrate your interests and accomplishments outside the classroom.
LeadershipUniversities look for mature, driven students who will go on to become leaders in their fields. You should try to showcase instances of you taking initiative and showing leadership in and outside of school.
Community Engagement
Universities want to know that you have made an impact in your community. You should demonstrate how your community (school or otherwise) have benefited from your actions.
EssaysYour college essays should give admissions counsellors insight into who you are, what experiences have shaped you, and why you are the best fit for the university you are applying to.
ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS
Final Year Grades
IB; or A-Levels; or APs; or GPA
Standardized Testing
Either the SAT or the ACT.
Recommendations
You need two teacher recommendations and one non-academic recommendation.
Academic Honors
Applications require at least a few accomplishments that are academic in nature (eg: Honor Roll / Olympiads / Research).
NON-ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS
Extra-Curricular Activities

You should have at least ten meaningful extra curricular activities from Grade 9 onwards. These should demonstrate your interests and accomplishments outside the classroom.
Leadership
Universities look for mature, driven students who will go on to become leaders in their fields. You should try to showcase instances of you taking initiative and showing leadership in and outside of school.
Community Engagement

Universities want to know that you have made an impact in your community. You should demonstrate how your community (school or otherwise) have benefited from your actions.
Essays
Your college essays should give admissions counsellors insight into who you are, what experiences have shaped you, and why you are the best fit for the university you are applying to.

UNDERSTANDING THE UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS PROCESS

How do I apply to US Universities?

1

Decide which universities you want to apply to. You should consider not just rankings, but other factors that contribute to student experience like location, design of curriculum, size of classes etc.

Click here to learn more about the different kinds of universities.

You should also decide whether you want to apply via Early Action / Early Decision or via Regular Decision:

Early Decision

Early Decision is typically restrictive and binding. This means you can only apply to one university as an Early Decision applicant, and if you get accepted, you must accept the university’s offer.

Early Action

Early Action is not binding. You can apply Early Action to your top university choice and also apply to other universities under Regular Decision plans. You do not have to accept the university’s offer if you get in.

Regular Decision

Regular Decision deadlines are usually in the first week of January in the year you intend to enrol in university. You will receive acceptance offers in May and you may decide where you wish to matriculate then.

2

You need to create an account on an application portal in order to submit your university applications. There are three common portals used in university admissions:

Common Application

This is a centralized platform allowing you to apply to hundreds of universities with a single application. More information about creating a Common Application account can be found here.

Coalition Application

The Coalition Application allows you to apply to over 140 member colleges. It includes a “Locker” to upload all of your supporting documents in one place. See all member colleges here.

Individual University Portals

Some universities (notably MIT and the University of California system) have a separate application portal. Students must apply directly to these universities. More information can be found on each university’s Admissions website.

3

Submit your standardized test scores. Click here for the SAT score requirements and here for the ACT score requirements at top universities. You can send your SAT and SAT Subject Test scores directly to colleges via the College Board website. You can send your ACT scores to colleges via the ACT website.

4

Write and submit your college essays. Each university will require supplemental essays and will have university-specific prompts of a few hundred words each. Click here to see a list of some of the most creative supplementary essay prompts.

5

Craft and submit your resume. Your resume should provide information about your educational background, your extracurricular/work commitments and your academic accomplishments.

6

Contact your teachers and request your letters of recommendation. You will need two recommendation letters that are academic in nature and one recommendation letter that is non-academic in nature (written by your Form Tutor / Civics Tutor / NS superiors etc).

YOUR TIMELINE FOR APPLYING

When are the application deadlines?

There are two application cycles in US university admissions — Early Action or Early Decision, and Regular Decision. To learn more about the difference between Early Action and Early Decision, please click here.

Early Action / Early Decision

Most Early Action/ Early Decision deadlines fall on November 1st of the year that you are applying in.

Regular Decision

The Regular Decision deadline for most universities is the first week of January in the year that you will be enrolling in.

Exceptions

A notable exception is the University of California system, which does not accept Early applications, but has a deadline of November 30th.

Is there any benefit to applying early?

Applying early indicates to schools that they are your top choice. The most recent statistics show that there is a distinct benefit to applying early – in some cases, close to 50% of the cohort was filled by early applicants.

COLLEGEREGULAR DECISION ACCEPTANCE RATEEARLY DECISION ACCEPTANCE RATE% OF CLASS FILLED BY EARLY APPLICATIONS
Brown University5.7%21.0%44.3%
Columbia University4.3%15.9%46.8%
Cornell University8.3%24.3%46.8%
Dartmouth University6.9%24.9%49.1%
Harvard College2.8%14.5%N/A
University of Pennslyvania6.5%18.5%53.7%
Princeton University3.8%14.8%N/A
Yale University4.7%14.7%N/A