College Application Tips

Written by Overseas Education Consultant and Study Abroad Career Counsellor in Mumbai, Karan Gupta


Applying to universities overseas can be extremely demanding and intimidating. Karan Gupta simplifies the college application process for you.

Once you have decided which universities you want to apply to, you have to make sure that you work carefully on each document that is required. Below is a list of documents required by most overseas

1. Application form – If you are applying to the US as an undergraduate, you can use a common application form, which can be sent to over 240 universities. Keep in mind that some universities will additionally require a supplement to the common application form. Undergraduate students applying to the UK can use the UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service) and apply to 6 different courses by using just one form. Graduate students to the US and applicants to UK, Canada and Australia can download forms from the university websites or fill an online application. Even if you are filling an online application, you must still send your transcripts, recommendation letters and other supporting documents by snail mail or courier to the universities you are applying to.

The common application form for undergraduate students is available on


2. Application fee – Some private liberal art schools and Ivy League universities in the US waive application fees for undergraduate students. A fee waiver from your school or college counselor can help you save application fees to schools. Graduate students to the US and Canada cannot use fee waivers and often have to pay application fees ranging from $20 to $175. Most UK and Australian universities do not charge any application fees. Please make sure that you check the university website for the most accurate information on the application fee.

Some universities give a discount on the application fee if you apply online!

3. Statement of Purpose – “Writing an essay can be a stressful and intimidating prospect. The important thing to remember in approaching the essay is that this is your chance to describe yourself in your own words. Remember: Who you actually are, will always be more interesting than whoever you think the college wants you to be! Tell us what you have done, but rather how it has affected you, or why it is so important to you” says Colorado College. As the name suggests, the SOP is your personal statement about who you are, what has influenced your career path so far, your professional interests and where you want to go from here. The SOP usually ranges from 500 to 1500 words. Keep in mind that the Statement of Purpose is your chance to talk directly to the admission committee. If you want to stand out from other applicants, you can use the SOP to convince the admission committee that you have interests and experiences that are different from other applicants. Says Helen Mathur, Education Consultant, “Make sure that your essay reflects your own specific experiences. Be sure to introspect and explain what you have learned about yourself. Admissions committees are not interested in general statements that anyone could have written.” Keep in mind that a good Statement of Purpose will increase your chances of getting admission and sometimes may even compensate for your weak areas. A ‘not-so- good’ SOP will certainly be used against you and most likely will get your application rejected.

If you have faced obstacles in your career, breaks in your education years, or have had extraordinary life experiences, you can explain these in the SOP.

4. Resume – Graduate applicants should make a one-page resume and send it with their applications. Resumes are optional for undergraduate applicants. A resume outlines all your achievements, activities, skills and so on. Please remember that a resume is not a curriculum vitae, but is a one-page document highlighting your strengths.

5. Recommendation letters – Recommendation letters are letters from employers, teachers or project guides. Try to get recommendation letters from people who know you well and who have had ample opportunity to interact with you. Avoid letters of recommendation from people in high positions who have not worked with or taught you. For instance a letter from the Head of Department of your college who has not taught you has less importance than a letter from a professor who has taught you for two years. If the university has its own recommendation letter format, use it in addition to a general letter of recommendation.

You can ask your recommenders to discuss weaknesses in your application. For example your teacher can explain poor grades in a particular subject.

6. Financial Aid form – Undergraduate students applying to private colleges in the US can apply for financial aid and must fill in a separate financial aid form. Make sure that you carefully state the amount that you can pay for your education based on your family income, assets and savings.

Your expected family contribution, income and expenses are all related and should make sense to the admission committee.

7. Bank letter and Affidavit of Financial Support – Universities in the US require international students to prove that they have enough funding available to cover their educational costs. At the graduate level, you must send your financial documents irrespective of whether you are applying for an assistantship or not. Remember, the admission procedure is two-fold. The department you are applying to seldom sees your bank letter (the university admission office retains your financial documents).
The bank letter should state that your sponsor has the funds in his or her account. Letters stating “solvent to the tune of” and “capable of paying” are usually not accepted by universities.
Financial affidavits can be made on letterheads instead of government stamp papers and should be notarized or attested by a Special Executive Officer (SEO).

If your university has a separate form for financial affidavits, you must use it.

8. Transcripts, Marksheets – Make sure that you send official sealed copies of your mark sheets and transcripts to the universities you are applying to. If you have graduated, you must also send your degree to the universities.

Notaries or SEOs cannot attest transcripts, mark sheets and degrees. The respective colleges must attest them.

Once you have all your documents ready, make sure that you have checked the application deadline of the schools you are applying to. If your university requires standardized test scores, you must use an Additional Score Request form (ASR) and get ETS to send your official test scores directly to your universities. Many universities require the official standardized test scores to be in your file by the application deadline date, so make sure that you do not delay your official score reporting.

If you have extracurricular activity certificates and other achievement awards that you would like to highlight, make a separate booklet and send it with your applications. You can include articles written, awards won, community service certificates and so on. Be sure to indicate why these activities or awards are important to you. Says Stanford University, “In addition to academic excellence, we are interested in students who have made significant contributions to the life of their school or community. We do not favor one type of activity over another; nor is it necessary to participate in a large number of activities. Rather, we look for students who have committed themselves to their chosen activities over a period of time and who have shown energy and enthusiasm in working with others.”

When your application is ready add a cover letter and send your application to the address stated on the application form. Make sure that everything in your application is well explained and keep a copy of your application for your records. Remember, your college application should convey who you are and what things are important to you. Make each university application with great care and adhere to university rules.


Karan Gupta is the leading international education and career consultant in Mumbai, India. Since 1999, he has given career counselling and has helped thousands of students with study abroad and get admission and visas to universities and colleges in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore and EU and also helps them get scholarships, loans and financial aid. In addition to aptitude tests and career counselling, his firm also provides training and coaching for the GMAT, GRE, SAT, ACT, TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE exams. Karan Gupta is the best study abroad career counsellor, consultant and career guidance expert in Mumbai.

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