Hi Seeds! I know that many of you are beginning the process of applying to college. I wanted to write and provide you with some information about attending college in the United States, and give you some specific information about a program at Harvard that pays tuition for low-income students. Please feel free to email me with any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org). Best of luck! -Rachel Applying to College in the United States:
1. Get started! If you are considering attending college in the United States, start preparing NOW (even if you are in your first year of high school!) Register to take the SAT and TOEFL tests, start thinking about teachers who can write you a letter of recommendation, work on your personal statement and brush up your resume. The National Association for College Admission Counseling has a lot of helpful information here. Here is some good information for international applicants from the College Board.
2. There are several required portions of every college application. You will have to take the SAT I (Scholastic Aptitude Test). You may also have to take up to three SAT II Subject Tests, which are required by most of the more competitive colleges in the United States (be sure to check whether the colleges you are interested in applying to require the SAT II). Information about the SATs is available on the College Board website (this web site should be your first stop for most college-related questions). Most colleges also accept the ACT test in place of the SAT I. You will probably also have to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test, which measures English proficiency. More information is available here. These tests are very important, and it is important to study for them well ahead of time (and take them more than once, if necessary). If you are going to buy a study book, get one published by the College Board that contains copies of real tests, such as the book 10 Real SATs.
3. You will need to write a personal statement. This is a short essay (500 words or less) that tells the college something about yourself that they might not already know from the rest of your application. This is a chance to tell the college about an important or unique experience you have had or share your thoughts, reflections or ideas. Some quick do’s and don’ts: • • • • • • •
HOW you write your essay is just as important, if not more important, than WHAT you write about. I know people who wrote their personal statement on topics like getting a haircut, but in a way that showcased their writing skills, creativity, and personality. Proofread your essay very carefully. Have someone else help you to make sure it does not contain grammatical, spelling or factual errors of any kind. Do not start the essay with a quote, unless it’s a really great, relevant, quote, and never use a quote without making it very clear how it is related to the rest of the essay. Colleges want to hear YOUR voice and ideas, and won’t be impressed by someone else’s words. You do not need to write about a specific college, or why you want to go to college. Avoid using clichés or copying other people’s writing styles. Never use a word unless you are totally sure what it means. Write from your heart, be original, memorable, positive and interesting. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays is a fairly good book on the subject (you can read much of it for free online here). Here are some more tips on writing a great essay.
4. Your resume. You will also need to create a resume. A resume is a list of activities and awards that you have received during high school. Here are some sample resumes (this is just one
version – ask your friends who are already in college to send you their resumes, too). You should attach a copy of your resume to your applications, and also bring copies of it to your college interviews. You should proof-read your resume for errors or misspellings, just as you did for your personal statement.
5. Recommendations. You will need to get letters of recommendation from your teachers to send
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to the colleges you are applying to. Make sure you check how many recommendations and of what kind of each college wants. You want to get recommendations from teachers who know you well, have taught you in a class or activity that you excelled in, and who will be able to write about you as a person and as a student. They can usually write a similar recommendation for all your colleges. When asking for recommendations, make an appointment to meet with your teacher outside of class. Ask, politely, if they would be willing to write you a recommendation for college, and if they felt they could write a strong POSITIVE recommendation. If they say yes, you should provide them with a folder for each college, containing: A copy of your resume A copy of your personal statement An addressed and stamped envelope for each college The application deadline and any other important application information for that college – and a date by which you would like them to finish writing your recommendation. A thank-you note, thanking them for taking the time to write your recommendation. Make sure that you give your teacher at least a month to write your recommendation – this means you need to ask well before application deadlines! They will definitely appreciate you being organized and helpful. More information is available here.
6. Applying to college You may apply to some colleges online through the Common Application web site or through the Universal College Application web site. You will register here, and submit all your applications through the web site. Much of your information (name, address, etc) will be automatically entered into a form for you, and you will be able to use the same personal statement and resume for most of the colleges you apply to. However, some colleges have additional information, essays or questions that you will have to answer. Make sure that you check the requirements for each college. You can also use the Common Application web site to access your financial aid forms.
You may wish to apply for Early Decision (which are binding – meaning you must agree to go to the school if you are accepted) or Early Action (which are not binding) programs, which will tell you your admissions decision earlier in the year than regular applications. There is some good information about Early Decision and Early Action programs on the College Board web site.
7. Interviews. Some colleges conduct interviews (either in person or by phone). If you have an interview in person or on the phone, here are some important tips: • •
Before the interview, decide on a few keys points or aspects of yourself that you want to convey to the interviewer – especially things that might not come across in the rest of your application. Spend some time researching the college (look at their web site, etc). Chances are, you will get a question along the lines of, “Why do you want to go to this college?” and you will need an informed answer. If you can cite some facts about the school, or connect it to your interests, that will strengthen your application.
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Bring at least one copy of your resume to give to the interviewer, so he or she can refer to it during your interview, use it to take notes, and look at it after you leave, when writing up their recommendation. Be on time. Wear appropriate attire (no jeans, make sure your hair is out of your face, no strong perfume, etc) Smile, make eye contact, shake hands. Be as natural as you can. Listen carefully to the questions that are asked. It is OK to take a moment to collect your thoughts, or ask for a clarification before answering. Make sure you answer their question – but don’t be afraid to add some additional thoughts or ideas, if you think they would help you! Try to remain calm, confident and friendly. Smile! Try to tell your story – what is your background? What are your goals? What drives you? What unusual circumstances have you faced or overcome? Is it possible (but very rare) that the interviewer may ask you questions that seem difficult. How you answer the question is as important as what you answer – they might be trying to see if you can calmly defend a point of view or navigate a complicated issue without getting flustered. At some point, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. You should have prepared some questions beforehand. The most successful questions are those that ask the interviewer to talk about their own college experience. If you can ask something like, “What about your college experience most shaped the career you chose?” or “What was the most memorable part of college for you?” or “What advice would you give me when I arrive at college?” At the end of the interview, make sure you have your interviewer’s contact information (email, phone and mailing address). Thank them. As soon as you get home, write a thank-you note and mail it to the interviewer. You can also send a thank-you email. Thank the interviewer for his or her time, express that you really enjoyed the conversation, and re-state your strong interest in their school. Also, let them know how to contact you if they have more questions or need any additional information. Double-check your thank-you note for spelling or grammar errors!
More interview tips are available both here and here.
8. Financial aid. Financial aid (assistance paying for college) is a very important part of the college admissions process. Some colleges provide need-based financial aid (money based on your family’s income) for international students. Some colleges provide merit-based (money based on your accomplishments) scholarships or financial aid, and some only offer loans to international students. If the cost of college is an important concern for you, you should make sure to research the financial aid programs for the colleges you are interested in. There are several important forms that you will need to fill out to apply for financial aid (you can access them through the Common Application web site by clicking on “Financial Aid”). The financial aid offices at colleges are usually very helpful with this. Here is a list of colleges that frequently offer financial aid to international students and some advice about financial aid. You can also apply for outside scholarships, either in your country or abroad. This site has a list of scholarships that you can apply for. You should also talk to Seeds of Peace staff and fellow Seeds who are studying in the United States to get information about financial aid options. (See below for specific information about the financial aid program at Harvard).
9. Getting a visa. Once you are accepted to a college, and decide where to go, you will need to apply for a student visa. This can take a long time, and it is important to start the process right away. Here is some good information on applying for a student visa. You should also be in touch with Seeds of Peace staff for additional help and information.
For Specific Information about the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative: Click here Harvard is one of the colleges that offer financial aid to international students who have been accepted to the school. All the financial aid at Harvard is based on need â€“ this means that if you are from a lowincome family, Harvard will make it possible for you to attend their school. Here is some information provided by the HFAI program for international students. Basically, it explains that, if you are accepted to Harvard, they will make it financially possible for you to attend. If you are considering applying to Harvard under the HFAI program, send an email to Rachel Culley at email@example.com (I received financial aid through HFAI during my time at Harvard, and also worked as a Student Coordinator for the program). The Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) is an extension of the generous financial aid program at Harvard College. Under the Initiative, students from families with an income less than $60,000 who are accepted to Harvard under our regular application and admissions policies will have no expected parent contribution for their education over 4 years here. Additionally, families that make less than $80,000 have seen their expected parent contributions significantly reduced. The first step a student must take to benefit from HFAI is to apply to Harvard College. Harvard admissions are need-blind, which means that Harvard does not look at whether or not a student can pay for college when they determine whether or not the student is accepted. Admissions requirements, as well as forms, are available here: http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu. The postmark deadline for freshman admission is January 1. Click here for a link to Harvardâ€™s application timeline. In addition to filling out all the application materials, students will also need to apply for financial aid. In order to apply for financial aid, students should fill out the Financial Statement for Students. This form is found on http://www.fao.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k51861&pageid=icb.page230186. This form helps the financial aid office determine what kind of financial aid package a student will need to be able to afford attendance Harvard. Harvard Financial Aid meets 100% of all families' demonstrated need; last year our need-based scholarships totaled over $90 million. So, in order to benefit from the initiative, a student must apply to admission at Harvard and for also apply financial aid at Harvard; if accepted, he or she will receive a financial aid package that meets his or her demonstrated need. If you or your family has any special circumstances that affect how you will apply for financial aid, you may want to get in touch with the financial aid office at Harvard in order to explain your family's situation and ask about any extra measures that you might need to take. Their website is http://www.fao.fas.harvard.edu or you can call the office at 001- (617) 495-1581. The website also has full instructions about how to apply for financial aid, including the links that are given above, as well as additional links to other information that you may need to provide. If students would like to talk to current students about life at Harvard, the admissions process, or have other questions, they may also call the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative Office, at 001- 617-384-8213 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.