Applying to Colleges/Uni's in the US - Ask me Anything

(13 Posts)
MissConductUS Sat 30-Jun-18 23:57:30

Hi all
I'm a Yank (New Yorker) and just finished the two year process of looking at and applying to colleges in the US northeast with my son. His sister is about to start that process. We looked primarily in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He's going to attend a small college just outside of Boston that has everything he was looking for and offered him a good amount of merit aid.

We used a private college counselor, which was a huge help. He has some accommodations for his now mild ADHD. You can ask me about standardized testing, research websites, applying electronically, how aid is awarded, reputations of specific schools, etc.

I can't be of much help on how the process differs for international students or if particular schools have special scholarships for them. They do all have extensive coverage of the application process on their websites and the admissions staffs are generally excellent about replying to emails.

So have at it. smile

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CatNut2017 Sun 01-Jul-18 09:53:48


What is Merit Aid?
Do results matter? Or is it just where you go?

MissConductUS Sun 01-Jul-18 10:12:35

Hi CatNut - great handle, I'm a cat nut too. I have three at the moment. smile

Most of the college admissions process in the US is driven by the colleges trying to manipulate their way higher in the various college rankings that are published by US News, Forbes, etc. One big factor in those rankings is the average SAT and ACT scores of the students who attend the school. If your child will help raise their average they will probably be offered merit aid, which is really just a discount on tuition. The more challenging the standards are compared to your child's scores, the less likely it is that they'll get merit aid. The really elite schools that are already at the top of the ratings don't generally offer it at all.

At the less selective colleges my son applied to he was offered lots of merit aid (50% of tuition in one case), at the more selective schools he was offered less.

Do results matter? Or is it just where you go?

I'm not sure I understand the question. Can you clarify?

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AdoreAMoose Sun 01-Jul-18 10:33:43

Hi! This probably isn't something you and your son will have looked at yet, but I'm asking in case you have more general knowledge about it than I do - totally fine if the answer is that you don't know. smile

Do postgraduate programs accept candidates without GRE scores if their academic records are otherwise very good? (First class degree, MA with distinction from top UK university, academic prizes/publications/conferences). I know that the more precise answer is probably that it'll depend on the individual university, but I'm curious as to whether it's something fairly widely accepted or not.

MissConductUS Sun 01-Jul-18 11:53:30

@AdoreAMoose - I do know this one, having applied to postgraduate programs myself.

It depends on a lot of factors, like the type of program you're applying for. Schools that require the GRE (which is pretty universal) can waive the requirement as they see fit, and often do. If you're going for a masters in fine arts, your creative portfolio will be more important. If you want an MBA, your business and work experience will be more important. It's usually the less prestigious programs that will waive the requirement.

I think that applying from outside the US would make it more important as they will be less familiar with the program you went to as an undergrad and the GRE will give them a standard point of comparison with other applicants. If you can possibly take it, do so. Not having it can only hurt you. That said, pick a few top graduate schools in your field and email the admissions staff about it. The answer will be very school and subject specific.

I hope this helps. smile

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CatNut2017 Sun 01-Jul-18 12:47:27

Do results matter? Or is it just where you go?

Hello again & thank you for answering questions!

In the UK, a lesser result from say Cambridge or Oxford is worth more than a high result from a university nobody has ever heard of.

MissConductUS Sun 01-Jul-18 12:48:46

Do results matter? Or is it just where you go?

I'll have a go at this based on what I think you mean. Your undergraduate grades are very important for several reasons. If you get merit aid, it's contingent on maintaining good grades, usually a 3.0 average. If your grades drop below that your merit aid is revoked until your grades come back up.

If you want to go on to graduate school, your grades (along with your GRE scores) will be critical in determining what programs will take you.

If you fail a course or two, you may have to repeat an entire semester, which will be very expensive. One common rating factor for colleges is what percentage of students complete the degree in four years.

Finally, it will be very demoralizing for the student if he or she is struggling academically. Always try to go to a program where you'll be in the top half of the applicant pool academically.

Let me know if that answered your question.

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MissConductUS Sun 01-Jul-18 12:52:18

catnut - our answers crossed! It seems I did have it right.

Prestige is certainly a factor, but less so in the US than in the UK I think. After your first professional job, no one cares much about where you went to college. We're a bit less class conscious I think.

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MissConductUS Sun 01-Jul-18 12:54:24

Oh, and you're welcome! It's nice to have a use for all that I've learned about the process with our son.

UK students are very welcome here in the US and I think our college system offers a different experience that may be better suited to some young people, so it's a win win all around.

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AdoreAMoose Sun 01-Jul-18 13:12:46

Thank you! That's very helpful to know. I suppose my problem would be that I'd be likely to get a fairly high score on the verbal and essay components, but an atrocious one for the maths, even with practice. I haven't studied maths since I was 16 and wasn't very good at it even then. I wondered if taking it and getting a low-average combined score would make my application less competitive than being an international applicant without it.

I'll take your advice and look up the specific admissions policies of the institutions/courses I'm interested in before I make any decisions, I think.

MissConductUS Sun 01-Jul-18 13:32:42

AdoreAMoose - take a free practice GRE and see how you do. Here's one, but Mr. Google found several:

If you take the real test you don't have to submit the scores. You control who sees them.

You might do better than you think.

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Needmoresleep Sun 01-Jul-18 14:11:39

AdoreAMoose, presumably a college decision will be partly based on whether you need funding. DS has been offered 5 years full funding to complete a PhD. This, inevitably, was pretty competitive and several well-qualified people he knew made up to 20 applications. (He was keen that the process did not distract from his Masters, so was a bit more focussed.) However, and inevitably, it seemed easier to get an offer if you did not need funding, or only partical funding.

There is a very active forum called Gradcafe which discusses US PG applications/courses, though some help may be available on The Student Room.

DS took GMAT. He did some, though not a lot of, practice. Bizarrely though he is a mathmo, he got a very high score on the English section. He has no idea why and did not expect it, but one reason to try the test. Or consider some tutoring/practice. This seems quite common for people who drop maths at GCSE.

MissConductUS Sun 22-Jul-18 15:46:59

Just a quick update for anyone who is interested. We were in the Boston area last week for DS's college orientation and visited two schools with my DD that represent opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first stop was Wellesley:

It's easily the most prestigious women's college in the US. It's small, highly selective, academically rigorous and has a really lovely suburban campus. They also have exchange classes with MIT and several other schools in the area. Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are both graduates.

Our second stop was Boston University:

BU is large (16,000 undergraduates), right in downtown Boston on the Charles River. The facilities are fabulous, it's quite historic and due to it's size, they offer a massive array of majors and courses. To make the size more manageble it's broken down into separate colleges depending on field of study. Martin Luther King Jr. took his Theology degree there.

BU is very selective (think one rung below Harvard or Yale), very highly respective and does a lot of important medical research. It's in a lovely, very safe area of Boston - much nicer than Harvard's actually. About 20% of the students are from abroad, so it's very foreign student friendly. They specifically mentioned getting a lot of applications from the UK and there were two British families on our tour.

Anyone visiting the area looking at US schools should seriously consider a tour at BU and Wellesley as well if you're looking with your DD.

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