Timeline & Overview of the Application Process
Most colleges ask for students’ academic records starting from 9th grade. Any activities or academic work done before that is just preparing you for the work you’re going to do from 9th grade onwards. Even though 9th grade in Saudi Arabia is not considered “High School”, you might still be asked to submit academic work and extracurricular activities that were done in that year. As such, you should start preparing or at least thinking about your application starting from 9th grade. Use the timeline below as a rough guideline to help with your application process.
For a detailed and summarized infographic about the application timeline, click the image below:
9th Grade (Freshman Year):
Four years is a long time. Even though you might think that you will be able to remember all the activities and awards/recognitions, you will probably forget a couple of details that could’ve eased your application process in your senior year. Therefore, it is highly recommended that beginning in 9th grade, you start documenting ALL your activities / volunteer work / certificates earned/ summer jobs / competitions (won or lost) / classes taken outside of school… No matter how minor you think they are.
It is important to note a few things. First, you might not find clubs that you want to join available in your school. Do not let this discourage you. Universities want leaders and appreciate students who founded or co-founded organizations. For example, if you enjoy playing chess, start your own club in school. Or if you are a part of the soccer team in your school, start a local soccer tournament with other schools nearby. Just make sure that at least one teacher knows of the work you are doing, so it can later be added to your recommendations. An activity that’s been done from 9th grade until graduation looks good on your application and shows that you are both committed and passionate about something. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you play soccer or join the drama club, as long as you are consistent and enjoy what you’re doing.
Another consideration students in ninth grade could have in mind is to have a list of universities that the student wants to attend. This list will probably change during the four years as students acquire more knowledge about colleges. The purpose of this search is to have a broad idea of what universities expect and require from students. Some universities require that the student must take the most challenging classes offered in his/her high school, others require at least 2 humanity classes or an art class. This is important especially if the student attends a school with a non-fixed curriculum.
If you are in a school that allows you to select the courses that you are going to study, choose a curriculum that offers AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) classes. Keep in mind that both of these systems are fairly demanding and differ significantly from the standard curriculum offered in most schools. Following either of these advanced curriculums will not only serve as a great platform of knowledge to the classes that you will eventually take in college, but will also help strengthen your English language skills, making your academic transition in college significantly easier. You will be able to receive course credit during your first year at university if your score is high enough on either the AP or IB tests. Be careful when choosing into this system though, as your grades might drop significantly if you’re not ready for it.
10th Grade (Sophomore Year):
Because this is the first year of high school in most schools in the Middle East, the curriculum being taught might change. Again, try and choose a curriculum that offers AP or IB classes if you’re confident that you can perform well. Good grades in a curriculum that you are comfortable in are better than bad grades in a harder curriculum to admission officers. Either way, continue working on your academics for that stellar GPA that top tier universities look for.
Start looking into all the different programs that are offered in your country. Mawhiba for example, offers plenty of summer opportunities beginning from 10th grade. There are also different Olympiads that you can start preparing to enter (Math, Physics, Chemistry Olympiads). Look into research internships in local hospitals or universities too, as they might be a better alternative.
Again, it is important to show growth, passion and consistency overtime. Meaning, if you have been a member of a club for a year or two try to aim for a higher position (President, vice president, treasurer, etc). Or if you have participated in a competition and got 4th place, enter again and try to win 3rd or 2nd or 1st place. You should also start thinking about getting into leadership positions in clubs that you’re involved in. While you should be doing activities that you enjoy, don’t limit yourself to one category such as sports or student government.
Standardized testing is one of the most important factors of getting into a strong college. The summer after 10th grade is a great time to start preparing for the SAT’s, ACT’s, or any other standardized test you choose to take. (Keep in mind different universities accept different tests, so make sure that the universities you have in mind accept the test you’re preparing for).
11th Grade (Junior Year):
By now, your primary focus should be taking your standardized test of choice and improving your scores (don’t lose focus on your academics while you prepare for standardized tests). As an international student, more weight will be put on the science aspects of the tests that you’ll be taking (e.g. the math section on the SAT’s) especially if you’re applying to an engineering or pre-med program. If you are following a governmental curriculum such as the Saudi curriculum, even more weight will be placed upon standardized tests as they have no frame of reference (in most cases) as to how difficult your school is.
You should also start making a list of universities that you’re planning to apply to. Finalize this list by the end of the year because the application process will start in the summer following 11th grade. Take a look at the “Choosing Your College List” link for more advice. Also, if possible, try take SAT1 and the TOEFL exams in 11th grade, that way you have less to worry about your senior year.
In addition, do not forget to take the national tests and focus on them too (General Aptitude Test and SAAT during your senior year). Not only they are necessary for applying to a scholarship, but also they can serve as Plan B if you decided to apply to local universities.
12th Grade (Senior Year):
By the start of senior year, you should start your application process if you haven't done so during summer. Take a look at the college list that you've made and make a check-list of what each of them require. The earlier you submit your application the better. Make sure all your documents are ready and complete and send them in. Most universities allow you to send in your SAT scores even after your application has been submitted. Because of that, go ahead and submit your application as soon as you think your essays are ready. But review them first and make sure all your i's are dotted and t's crossed.
The general timeline we would advise for students would be:
August - Most applications are released. Start thinking about essay topics. Fill in simple information (i.e name, address, and so forth)
September 1 to 15 - Figure out and write down what you want your essays to say about you. Think about certain essays that could represent that.
September 15 to 30 - Begin first/second drafts of essays.
October 1 to 15 - Continue writing essays/creating better drafts.
October 15 to 31 - Have most preliminary drafts written.
November - Begin finalizing essays
December - Have everything finalized. Add last-minute touches. Try to have applications submitted a day or two in advance (in case of issues)
Don’t let senioritis hit you. Keep doing well, most importantly in the first semester before decisions are out. Sometime in the middle of your second semester, you should know where you’ve been admitted and start contemplating where you want to go.
One more thing to think about is whether or not you’re going to be doing a PG (Post-Graduate) year or not. Keep in mind that if you got into the college of your choice, you can ask that they defer your acceptance for one academic year (with a valid reason) and enroll in a scholarship program or do whatever is it you’ve been wanting to do.
Universities do expect that the student don’t waste their time during summers. Summers can be used to put the students’ skills into good use and learn new ones. A student can take summer classes, volunteer, build a website, get a summer job, do fundraising, etc.
You might think that the place you’re in has limited resources; thus, you don’t have much to do. However, this is your chance to prove to yourself and universities that you can reach out. Building your own website just requires you to stay at home and think. You can learn a new language or teach someone a new language. Don’t make the place where you live in an excuse to not do anything.
If you are interested in studying in the US during summer, in a prestigious pre-collegiate university program for example, it is most likely going to ask for your TOEFL score to ensure that no language barrier would exist. Therefore, if a student can financially afford it, he should take the TOEFL exam during the academic year. Note, that if you choose to take it in 9th grade or 10th grade, you might not be able to use that score when applying to universities later on since TOEFL scores are only valid for 2 years.
To view application deadlines for 2015-2016, click here.