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top us universities looking for in indian students
Gayathri Gopakumar

Meet Gayathri - a Content Editor at Hotcourses India- an IDP company. A once-international student herself- she loves to research & give insights into the world of global education through her writing. When she isn’t working, you'll find her playing, travelling or binge-watching just about anything.


18 Jan 2019 1K Book icon 4 mins Share

What are top US Universities looking for in Indian students?

A look into what the entry requirements are for Indian students to study in top US universities

18 Jan 2019 1K Book icon 4 mins Share
top us universities looking for in indian students

For Indian students, getting admission into top US universities is no easy task. With over 1 million students from across the world applying to universities in the US every year, how do you stay ahead in the competition? Worry not! Here’s how we can help you prepare for it. 

In this article, we’ll take you through what exactly the top US universities are looking for in international students and how best you can equip yourself to meet their entry requirements.

Unlike other countries, universities in the US adopt a more holistic approach while selecting students – requiring them to produce personal essays, academic transcripts, SAT/GRE scores, references and financial statements.

As complicated as it seems, the idea is to project an all-rounder profile with in-depth specialisation in a particular area. Here’s how you do it: 

Grades – How have you done at school?

The most obvious factor that almost all universities look for is your academic performance in school. It gives them a background to how consistent you’ve been over the years.

Since the curriculum and examining standards of schools vary with countries, you’ll have to produce original certificate of graduation of high school and other transcripts for the universities to verify the authenticity. The universities may even require you to submit your school transcripts to a credential evaluator who’ll examine the authenticity and then translate the transcripts to the US equivalent for the universities to assess.

Gate keepers - SAT or GRE 

Have you ever wondered why SAT/GRE were such big deals? I did too, until I realised how significant a role these scores play in US university applications. 

Students applying for undergraduate programmes will need to score well in Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) while students applying for postgraduate programmes are required to score high in Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Basically, both these tests assess your analytical writing, mathematical skills and communication at different levels. 

Considering the sheer volume of applications, most US universities even use the SAT/GRE performance to screen applicants – the classic gatekeeper mechanism.

Average GRE score: 150-152

Average SAT score: 1050-1060

English language proficiency 

 Almost all universities in the US require international applicants to take up any of the two English as a second language tests: TOEFL or IELTS. Apart from merely following the lectures and modules, it is very important for the universities to know that you can participate in seminars and interact in classrooms.  

Although the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is accepted as well, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most widely preferred test in the world – with over 9,000 universities across 130 countries recognising it.

The test is usually 4.5 hours long and assesses your speaking, reading, writing and listening efficiency in English.

It’s safe to complete these tests a year prior to your university in-take period – usually in August.

Extracurricular – Show them what you’ve got

 As mentioned earlier, top US universities adopt a more holistic approach to select students. This means you’re more likely to gain admission if you’re involved in activities outside classrooms – such as community service, sports teams, theatre, debates, quizzes, etc. 

Universities are looking for students who can bring with them transnational diversity, talents and academic excellence. So, involvement in extra-curricular activities lets the admission officers know about your leadership skills, sportsmanship spirit and that you’re a team player. It also portrays your time management skills and how efficiently you balanced academic work and extra-curricular activities.  

In fact, according to QS, a survey by University Admissions Officers Report showed that about 35% of university admissions were based on leadership qualities portrayed by the applicant. 

So, start grooming yourself to be a well-rounded candidate and most importantly, make sure to highlight them all in your application.

Personal essay – all about the purpose and passion

It’s no brainer that essays test your English language and writing skills. But did you know that 93% of universities assess you personally through your essays as well? 

Unlike other countries which expect students to write on a particular subject, the US universities frame essay topics like “what you want to study and why” or “about a particular life experience” – topics that give them an insight into your personality! Since the application process doesn’t involve any interviews as such, what you write in the essay is pretty much how the universities will assess your personality. So you’ve gotta be extra cautious in how you word your essay.

Also, while you’re at it, make sure to mention your diverse background as many universities like the idea of bringing multiculturalism to their classrooms.

The requirement of a Statement Of Purpose may vary with the university. While many universities ask for you to elaborate on your purpose of study in their essays, few universities expect a distinct SOP document.

Either way, what they’re looking for is how you’ve conveyed your passion for the particular programme or subject area that you’re applying for.  About 93% of US universities find illustration of students’ passion for their subject extremely important, according to University Admission Officers Report in QS.  

So, have a clear idea on why you’ve chosen this programme and where you think it’ll take you in your career. Such clarity makes you stand apart from other applicants. 

Here are few sample SOPs for your reference.

LORs to substantiate

 All of your achievements be it academic or extra-curricular, need to be validated by the concerned authorities through their Letters Of Recommendation (LOR). Unlike other countries which requires one or two LORs, universities in the US ask for students to produce three LORs from respective people in-charge.  

Universities may ask for more than the above mentioned entry requirements – depending on the various programmes of study in the US. 

Now that you know what US universities are looking for in Indian students, it’s prudent to start planning your application right away. It’s safe to start preparations at least a year in advance –considering the SAT/GRE and IELTS/TOEFL tests that you’ve got to take up.  

The crux of it is – research the international student requirements for the university you’d like to apply for and take your time to then groom your profile to match that of their ideal candidate. But if you haven’t been able to zero in on a university yet, take a look at the top universities in the US.

Although a perfect match is never guaranteed, equip yourself as best as you can. Reach out to us for expert guidance by dropping a line in our chat box! 

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