Everything you need to know to get started.

Note: The following answers have been structured in accordance with the O and A-level curriculums, which are the most common amongst our clients. This definitely does not mean that we do not cater to clients who have undergone their education under different curricula.

How do I apply to colleges/ Where do I start?

The majority of students that apply to the United States, Qatar, and certain other countries do so through the Common Application. The online application to the United Kingdom is through UCAS. You may choose to use the Universal Application to submit your app to the US colleges as well but we encourage you to stick with the Common App. In addition, several US colleges have their own application processes (most notably MIT) and are affiliated with neither the Common App nor the Universal Application. You can start filling out the Common App and/or the UCAS by going on the links below. Note that both the Common App and UCAS get refreshed every year at the end of July so all accounts made before that time will be lost.

Common App: www.commonapp.org

UCAS: www.ucas.com

What do I need to send to my colleges?

United States :-

Essays : The Common App has its own main essay, the topics of which can be found on the following link: http://blog.commonapp.org/2015/03/31/2015-2016-essay-prompts/ . This essay is sent to all the colleges that you apply to. In addition, most colleges have their own college essays (supplement essays), typically one each but the number may vary.

Teacher/Counselor recommendations: One Counselor Recommendation is required. For most colleges, Teachers’ recommendations (typically two) are required. Note: You may choose to send additional recommendations (from your peers, coaches, employers, etcetera) but they are not required.

Extra Curricular activities (ECs): There is an entire section in the Common App that asks you to list down your ECs. The greater your extra curricular involvement, the greater will be your chances of admission.

Transcripts and expected grades: These will be uploaded by your school counselor and typically consist of your O-level internal exams, O-level final exams and A-level internal exams. Your expected grades are also sent.

SAT/ACT: Most colleges require one of either SAT and ACT. There are, however, many standardized test optional colleges some of which give international students significant aid. A list of these can be found by clicking on the following link http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/07/27/a-list-of-180-ranked-schools-that-dont-require-act-or-sat-scores-for-admissions/

United Kingdom :-

Personal Statement: You will have to produce a single personal statement for your college application. This statement gets sent to all 5 universities you apply to. Students should use the following link to get some helpful tips on how to get started on the PS; https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/getting-started/when-apply/writing-personal-statement

Teachers recommendation: Only one teacher’s recommendation is required, preferably related to the course you are applying for.

Note: no counselor’s recommendation is needed.

Final grades and expected grades: You are required to fill in your O-level final grades while your expected grades are uploaded onto UCAS by your school counselor.

Canadian Universities :-

 Personal Essay: You will have to produce a series of short personal essays for your college application.

 Transcripts and expected grades: You are required to send attested copies of your O-level final grades, A-level internal grades and expected grades.

 English Proficiency Letter: This is a letter that your school counselor will send for you that will exempt you from your TOEFL requirement. You must have a C or better in your O-level to avail this.

 LUMS :-

Personal Essay: You will have to produce a single personal essay for your college application.

Teachers’ recommendation: Two teacher’s recommendations are required, preferably related to the course you are applying for.

Note: no counselor’s recommendation is needed

SAT: You are required to submit your SAT score. For SBASSE, you are also required to give either the SBASSE Subject Test or submit at least 3 science subject tests.

Transcripts and expected grades: You are required to send attested copies of your O-level final grades, A-level internal grades and expected grades.

Extra Curricular activities: You are required to send in a list of your extra curricular activities along with copies of any certificates that you may have acquired during high school.

NOTE: We also help students produce quality applications for universities in Singapore, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Australia.

What is a good SAT score?

Depends on what colleges you are aiming for. All colleges upload their student body’s median score range (25%-75%) to help you extrapolate what kind of a score is considered competitive for that particular institution. A ‘good’ SAT score for a particular college is typically the upper limit of this range. This does not imply that if your score does not fall into that median range, you will be rejected. Individuals with unexpectedly low scores still have a shot and those with unexpectedly high scores sometimes still get the bad news.

How do I prepare for the SAT?

There are numerous methods that you could employ that could aid in your SAT preparation but, at the fundamental level, the more the time and effort you put into your preparation, the better your score will become. We recommend that you purchase the Official SAT Study Guide (which has 10 diagnostic exams) and the Word Smart I (Note: Direct Hits is also good though Word Smart is often better) – word memorization is essential for the SAT and we recommend that you aim to memorize 1000+ words overall. You may purchase the Princeton Review for additional diagnostics. In addition, you may also choose to purchase Barrons but we would strongly recommend that you do not use Barrons to prepare for Critical Reading. Barrons’ writing is also not very reliable, however, it is a very good book to prepare Math from. If you feel that you need help with grammar and the Writing section in general, Grammar Smart and Sparknotes’ SAT Writing notes are both excellent resources. Khan Academy is an excellent resource for Math, especially with regards to the new format. We would also like to recommend that you avail online forums, such as College Confidential, on which individuals discuss SAT preparation and techniques. We would further like to recommend our very own, Altamash Rafiq’s, free online Critical Reading section guide for the current version of the SAT: http://altamashrafiq.blogspot.com/2014/04/sat-critical-reading-guide.html

Self study is essential for good SAT preparation and you can expect to not see much improvement if you wait for lessons to sink in without actually practicing them. Many choose to take tuitions or academies for SAT preparation but we feel that these are often not very useful due to their ‘lecture-like’ milieu. If you must have someone teach you the SAT, we recommend private tutors that provide one to one service.

When do I take the SAT?

Note: The March session of the SAT is not held in Pakistan.

We highly recommend that you get done with your SAT during your first year of A-level. The SAT is offered in: January, March, May, June, October, November and December. You may take the SAT as many times as you wish but we recommend that you aim for only two takes (though three takes is no sin). Good month combinations for the two takes are as follows :-

  1. 1st attempt: October or November of A1. 2nd attempt: March or May of A1.
  2. 1st attempt: January of A1. 2nd attempt: May of A1 – this is the most commonly used combination.
  3. 1st attempt: March or May of A1. 2nd attempt: October of A2. Note: This is the last possible combination if you wish to apply as an Early Applicant.

We recommend that you take your SAT II in the October (only if you are done with the regular SAT by then) or November of A2 as some of the material required for the exam is often not taught until you enter A2.

Important Note:You may have heard that the SAT is going through a format change that will come into effect as of March 2016. In accordance with this, we highly recommend one of the two following month combinations :-

 Current Format:1st attempt: October or November of A1. 2nd attempt: January of A1.

New Format:1st attempt: May of A1. 2nd attempt: October of A2. Note: This is the last possible combination if you wish to apply as an Early Applicant.

 We recommend that you do not attempt to take tests that adhere to different formats since that disallows the possibility of a super score. We also recommend that you go for the first of the two combinations conveyed above as there is more preparatory material available in the market pertaining to the current format.

How do I register for the SAT?

You may register online by using the following link: https://sat.collegeboard.org/register. You will need to make a free College Board account first.

Is there an alternative to the SAT?

Yes. There is an alternative test known as the ACT. For more information on the ACT, please visit: http://www.act.org/products/k-12-act-test/

Additionally, many colleges in the USA are test-optional, meaning that they do not require you to submit standardized test scores. A list of such colleges can be found at: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.

What is the difference between Early Action and Early Decision?

Both Early Action and Early Decision applicants are required to submit their applications before the regular deadline and are informed of their admissions decision soon after. The primary difference between the two is that Early Action applicants are not committed to the school they apply to, and have until the 1st of May to accept or decline their offer of admission if they get accepted. Early Decision, on the other hand, is binding. This implies that any applicant who gets in is required to enroll. In case a student who applied for financial aid is not offered a package that enables attendance, the student is released from the commitment.

Do my chances of getting into college improve in EA/ED?

Yes. Acceptance rates for the EA/ED cycle are significantly higher than those for regular decision.

What kind of financial assistance do universities provide?

Universities in the USA provide financial assistance in the form of university grants, university-restricted scholarships, state and federal grants and scholarships (not available to international students), loan assistance, and academic year student contribution/student employment. University grants are awarded on the basis of financial need and do not need to be repaid. University-restricted scholarships can be based solely on merit, but often require the demonstration of financial need as well.  State and federal grants and scholarships are similar to the above, but are funded by state and/or federal governments and are therefore usually available only to US citizens and permanent residents.

Universities in the UK rarely offer any form of financial assistance. The University of Cambridge has an 800th Anniversary Scholarship, which is reserved for the top two applicants of any given academic year from Pakistan. The scholarship is a merit based one which covers everything from tuitions fees to a termly stipend. Similarly, Oxford has a few scholarships, merit based, but they are for international students as a whole, and not specific to Pakistan. Oxbridge scholarships are incredibly competitive. Certain universities in London offer merit based scholarships, usually around 15-25%, but these are both rare and difficult to attain. Apart from Oxbridge, one must be prepared to pay in order to study in the UK.

Does it make a difference to my application if I apply for financial aid?

Yes. It makes a massive difference as most universities are need-aware, meaning that financial need DOES factor into the admission decision. Others, including but not restricted to MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Amherst are need-blind, meaning that financial need is not taken into account in deciding admission.

How many colleges should I apply to?

The CommonApp allows every applicant to apply to a maximum of 20 colleges. Having said that, several colleges, such as MIT, offer their own independent application system, so it’s possible to apply to more than 20 colleges. However, just because you CAN apply to as many colleges doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Remember, quality over quantity. The more supplement essays you have to write, the higher the chances of you having to compromise on the quality of those essays. Ultimately, the ideal number of colleges you should target depends on how skilled a writer you are and how many supplement essays you think you can handle without compromising on quality.

For universities in the United Kingdom, UCAS allows each individual applicant to apply to 5 colleges at most. Additionally, one may only apply to EITHER Oxford University OR Cambridge University, but not both. One does not have to apply to 5 universities, but given that the effort of applying to 1 university is the same as applying to 5 (since all you really do is write a Personal Statement, as discussed above), you may as well use all 5 spots. t.

Do I need to know what I want to study at university?

Not necessarily. At most colleges in the USA, you can wait until your fourth semester i.e. the second semester of your sophomore year before you have to declare a major. This gives every student a lot of leeway to take classes from a wide variety of areas and experiment with their academic interests before committing to a major.

The UK higher education system is the complete opposite of the US one. You should have a rough but good idea of what you want to study at university, and should choose your A-Level subjects accordingly. When applying to the UK, you are required to choose a department that you apply to. Professors from that department will then review your application. You do, however, have the ability to change courses once you get to university, but you must know what you want to study at university before applying.

What is a Liberal Arts college?

Liberal Arts colleges are colleges that focus on undergraduate studies in the liberal arts and sciences. Such colleges aim to encourage intellectual vitality and impart broad general knowledge as opposed to pursuing more technical or job-oriented curricula. Liberal Arts colleges tend to be smaller and have larger teacher-to-student ratios than research universities. Examples of great liberal arts colleges in the USA include Williams College, Amherst College and Carleton College. An important point to note here is that the above does not imply that all Liberal Arts colleges do not offer engineering majors- Swarthmore College and Harvey Mudd College, for example, offer amazing engineering programs. A significant number of Liberal Arts colleges also offer 3/2 programs for future engineers.

Is it difficult to obtain visas to study abroad? What is the general process like?

The difficulty of obtaining a visa to study abroad varies from country to country. In general, the visa process involves paying an application fee, filling out a few lengthy forms and giving a visa interview at the embassy of the relevant country. As long as you give a good, tidy interview and have all the required documents with you at the time (such as a proof of adequate funding for your education), you should be fine.

A visa may not be needed in certain circumstances. If you are a US citizen attending a college in the USA, for example, you will not need a visa regardless of whether you attended a high school outside the USA.

When are the deadlines for the applications?

The specific deadline date varies from college to college, but for US colleges in general, Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are close to the 1st of November whereas Early Decision 2 and Regular Decision deadlines tend to be around the 1st of January. We recommend not submitting your application at the last moment since online servers tend to crash due to excessive traffic within a 2-hour radius of the deadline.