Checklist for Traditional Undergrads

By Rajkamal Rao

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If you want to pursue the traditional route to a 4-year degree - take the SATs/ACTs/TOEFL; research schools based on ranking or other criteria; and apply, this page is for you. Here's our complete checklist to successfully complete the process.
  1. Review the Why the US pages. In this section we provide a good overview of US Higher Education.  Consider showing this to your parents or other elders who may be skeptical of your ideas to go to the US to study.

  2. Be aware of the challenges faced by international students once they land in the US.  We are not talking about things which are outside of our control here (such as visas, immigration rules and adjusting to extreme weather).  We believe that as more international students seek to go to the US for higher education, they are increasingly getting a bad deal.  They end up making many wrong choices - throughout the admissions process - that will affect them throughout their career.  

  3. Review our primer on US college costs.  This will help you better discuss with your elders as cost will likely be a huge factor in their decision to send you abroad.

  4. Review the first four steps of our proprietary Seven-step approach.

    You should be able to understand these concepts well and apply them to your situation.  Go back and review the content in Steps 1 and 2, including all links - we hope that you would be experts in these two steps by the time you are done.

    Review Steps 3 and 4 with a little caution because it is not only hard to predict how market conditions in the US will change but also difficult to select your field when you are just entering college. [We admit that these steps make more sense to our Graduate School friends].

  5. Understand more about the tests that you need to take to get in to a US college.  ACT or SAT?  When to take the pSAT?  TOEFL?  If you feel uncomfortable taking the ACT or SAT, check out this list of over 800 schools that make taking these tests optional.  [There are legitimate reasons to feel uncomfortable because a recent study shows that SAT scores are not good predictors of college success.  Watch a good interview from PBS here].

    If you decide to take the SAT, be aware that the format of the test is changing in 2016.  The new SAT is being completely revamped.  For the old SAT, review these links for information on how best to prepare:  CBS News and Foxnewsbusiness.  Also, visit - a site that over 2 million students have used to prep for the SAT for free.  The company was founded by professors and graduate students who wanted to make high quality test preparation universally accessible. In 1999 Eric Loken and Josh Millet were graduate students studying for their PhDs at Harvard University when they began teaching free SAT prep classes in the Boston area.  The web site now receives over 50 million hits per month.

  6. Now it is time to research US colleges.  For more information, you can buy our book on Amazon. 

  7. Complete steps 5, 6 and 7 of our 7-Step approach to finalize your target colleges and strengthen your application.  If you want to consider earning a double major, look at the kinds of courses that are being offered by your target colleges and eliminate those that don't meet your needs. 

  8. Consider visiting an EducationUSA local office (in Bangalore, Yashna Trust).  Visitors to the center receive one free basic advising session during which their background and suitability for education in the USA are examined.  Rather than let the counselor waste your time about the basics, ask him/her specific questions about the steps above.  

  9. Researching the above points will require hard work, patience and guidance from an elder, preferably someone who has gone to the US for higher education. You can also contact us but our services will involve a fee.  Relax, though!  Our fees are modest when compared to the investment you are planning.

  10. If you decide to take the plunge, sign up with ETS to take TOEFL and the College Board to take the pSATs/SATs or the American College Testing organization for ACTs. 

  11. Choose which schools you will apply to are Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Admission.  Here's an excellent primer on the topic.

  12. Fill out college application forms and submit relevant application materials.  To know if your SAT scores are good enough to get in to a school and/or analyze related acceptance information, click here.  Colleges generally use the 25th and 75th percentile approach to inform students about how selective they are.  If a college says that its Math profile on a 25/75 basis is 540 / 600, this simply means that 25% of the students had a SAT math score lower than 540 while 25% had a score above 600.  In other words, the middle 50% had scores between 540 and 600.  Here is an excellent list of colleges grouped into the 25/75 SAT profile.

    If the schools that you have chosen belong to a group of nearly 500 colleges and universities that accept the Common Application, you need to apply only once.  The Common Ap is a not-for-profit membership organization that provides a common application form that students and school officials may submit.  You will also write a 650 word essay choosing one topic from five defined topics.

    Remember that there is no fee to fill out the Common Ap and there's no limit to the number of colleges that you can apply to.  However, each college will impose its own application fee.     Click here for an excellent guide from the Fulbright organization on how to fill out the Common Ap.

    If your chosen schools do not accept the Common Ap, you will have to apply to them directly. 

    Each college has its own requirements for what constitutes the set of application materials but the following is a good list:  School Report, Midyear Report, Final Report, Teacher Evaluation, Common Ap College Essay (if applicable), Essays for individual supplements as dictated by each college, Recommendation Letters and Forms.

  13. Consider taking Advanced Placement courses and exams.  This step is optional but recommended.

  14. Go to for information about how to complete your application; finance your studies; apply for your student visa; and prepare for your departure.

A Note About Rao Advisors Premium Services

Our promise is to empower you with as much high-quality, ethical and free advice as is possible via this website.  But students often ask us if they can engage with us for individual counseling sessions.

Individual counseling is part of the Premium Offering of Rao Advisors and involves a fee.   We suggest that you review our Note on Premium Services for more information.  Or you may contact us directly for more information about our Premium offering.

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