In September 2015, after seeing some U.S. universities visit BIS Hanoi, I started preparing my application for college in America.
There are certain things to look for when you are choosing your university. Your first impression of an institute is its overall ranking (and more importantly, that of your majors). The quality of a college and its student body is also something I considered. You cannot know for sure, but you can have an idea of this by looking up the average GPA and SAT score of a school and compare these numbers to your own. Personally, I had chosen Universities where I felt I could learn from my peers and at the same time have the opportunity to help out other students.
The scholarships offered by a college also played a large factor in any decision. I found the "IECA Financial Aid Chart for International Students" especially useful in providing information about the average aid received by a student from a University as well as the percentage of students that received that aid.
Regarding scholarships from universities in the US, there are 2 common types of scholarships: merit-based scholarships and need-based scholarships. The scholarship that Temple University awards for international students like me falls into the category of auto-assessed merit-based scholarships. Fortunately, I was able to meet the criteria with regard to the scholarships that I applied for.
Making your profile stand out among other applicants
In my opinion, how to make yourself stand out from other applicants is the most difficult task. It is always important to keep your grades on an upwards rise or constant trend throughout high school so the admissions team can trust that you work hard and be worthy of your 4-year scholarship - a fluctuating transcript won’t make a good impression. Temple – the university I applied for is among the universities that set out distinct criteria (high school GPA and cumulative SAT scores) to benchmark scholarships. The admissions board also looks for the applicant’s ability to give back to their community. It matters not the number of activities you participate in, but the duration of those activities, to show whether you are truly committed or not.
In November 2015 - My first application profile was very generic. It consisted of an essay and a CV. My Common App essay talked about issues that couldn’t possibly be tackled by this student – it had big words but lacked content, and I’m sure the admissions team saw straight through that. As a result, I was rejected from the first two Universities that I applied to, let alone given a scholarship.
December 2015 – It was hinted for me to rethink my essay concept. My new essay, written almost from scratch, was about more personal anecdotes, and how I am directly related to this as opposed to just some person saying she wants to have a big impact on the world.
Then there was the idea of creating a video to introduce yourself. I ended up producing a four-minute-long video, introducing myself, but in a different way – through baking a cake. Although my video project still had flaws, I think it showed my willingness to put in the extra work and acted as a visual interpretation of who I am.
Making a good impression with the University you are applying
Please be kind and respectful towards the admissions officers that you email. A good impression with the admissions officer can change your situation. After all, behind the screens they are normal human beings with feelings. For example, in the U.S., you would send the bulk of your applications between November and January – if it is near Christmas, wish the officer a Merry Christmas.
This wasn’t necessarily the case for me at Temple University, but it was for another school that I applied to – Earlham College. I built a very good relationship with my admissions officer, and it all started with a simple 'Merry Christmas!' Later on, the admissions officer shared with me the recipe for her mom’s chocolate cake, a recipe which I followed and shared the cake with my friends at school. It honestly made the waiting process a lot more bearable.
All in all, I’d just like to say a big thank you to BIS Hanoi and my teachers for my education and the support I've received throughout this application process, my family and friends for being so supportive of my decisions. I wouldn’t have been able to do this alone.
Le Tran Thu Thao, BIS Hanoi Alumni
Full scholarship holder 2016-2017
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States