Now I’ll move on to one of the major aspects of the application process; SAT and TOEFL scores! How important these scores are, differs from one school to another, but in general (and from what I have seen) they are damn important! As you may know the SAT consists of three sections, Math, Reading and Writing, and their significance are in that order. The math section is mostly pretty basic stuff. The thing that brings most peoples scores down is “silly mistakes” which mainly consists of simply arithmetic miscalculations and other easily avoidable errors. This is my guide to the SAT reasoning test:
First, buy The Princeton Review’s Math 1 & 2 SAT book. Although it is designed for the subject tests, reviewing
the basics (math 1) is a great way to start preparing for the test. After you have gone over all the basics and done
the problems in the book, move on to Top 50 Skills for SAT Math. This book is filled with tips and tricks that can
really help you with the challenges of the math section. Although both these can help, the best way, and I do mean
BEST way, to raise your score is by practicing the test. If you’re just interested in the math section, do two full SAT
math sections a day for about 2-4 weeks and you will mostly like score in the coveted 700+ range.
Now as for the reading; I honestly don’t know that much about this section and how to raise your score.
However memorizing vocab and reading really sophisticated books before the test (and by before I mean 2-3
months) can help raise your score from what I’ve seen. In most SAT I’ve taken, I only see 3-5 questions that could be
answered by memorizing the vocab at the end of the SAT books. Take into consideration that those 3-5 answers can
raise your score by 30-70 points, which will really make a difference in your overall application. For the writing, just practice writing timed essays and study the first 25 skills from Top 50 skills for SAT Reading & Writing. Finally, with regards to the subjects, there’s not much advice other than study hard and learn how to fully utilize your calculator.
Also, take the SAT as much as possible! Everyone applying next year should take the May test. My best advice is to get the subjects out of the way early. Focus next year on the reasoning only! Early Decision applicants can't sent December and January scores, so take that into consideration.
Now that we’re done with SAT I’ll move on to essays. The way I believe admissions goes is that they see if you are a strong candidate academically (through your scores, transcripts and accomplishments). If you fit that criteria, and most applicants to highly competitive schools do, they see from everything else (most important of which is your essays) if you stand out from the crowd and deserve to be admitted. You could get the best scores you can, but if you don’t have strong, personal, and unique essays then you’ll just be a set of numbers to the admissions officer and you’ll likely get rejected. First piece of advice regarding the essays; START EARLY! You’re going to mostly likely apply to a large number of schools, meaning you’re gonna have to write a larger number of essays. In most cases, after you’re done writing your essay, you’ll reread it and think of a million things to change, so give yourself as much time as possible to be able to make your essays as best as possible through consistent review and editing!
The major thing about the essays is try not to be generic. Write about something that is genially unique about you, whether that be a love letter to Wikipedia or how passionate you are about Lord of the Rings. These admissions officers read thousands upon thousands of essay each year, so give them something that will make them remember you, and more importantly, something that will make them connect to you on a personal level. Take a lot of time to think about what issues or stories in your life that you feel you need to highlight. If you come from a small village and you feel that is a large part of how you are, write about your summers there. If you feel that science and research is something that you identify yourself with than write about that. Whatever you do, don’t write something just because it was the first thing to pop in your head. Choosing what to write about is probably the single most important part of the essay, so take your time. Once piece of practical advice I have on this issue is to always write down any idea you have in your phone so you don’t forget it later. Thinking that it’ll come back to you when you start writing isn’t the best way to approach it.
Choosing your List
The last thing I want to address is choosing your schools. Now, going to US News and looking for the top 10 schools in the world and choosing them as your reaches is probably going to end badly. Schools are more than just their names. There are a ton of good schools that aren’t highly ranked, but are just as good as most others. Only apply to a school that you honestly want! That said, apply to as many of them as you can. In all likelihood you will only get accepted into 1-3 of your top choices, so the more reaches you apply to the better your chances. Again, that said, you have to be realistic when defining a reach. If your scores are not relatively high, and you do not have many accomplishments, then your chances of getting into MIT and Harvard are not going to be favorable. Applying to a school which is very likely to deny you will be a waste of time and effort that you could have put into getting into great schools that have a much higher possibility of accepting you. The main example of this is MIT and Stanford. Out of all the top schools, these two have the most demanding applications. Both of them require a lot of writing and their topics are usually unrecyclable (you can’t use them for other schools). Instead of applying to MIT which has a very low acceptance rate, you could use that time and effort to apply to two or three other great schools that have a much more lenient approach to admissions like Carnegie Mellon and UIUC. Also, APPLY EARLY DECISON/ACTION! It really helps in your chances, probably more than anything else. I cannot stress this enough, applying early will really increase your chances! It shows that you're not just somebody who applied cause he liked the name of the school and so on.