How to make a successful application

How to make a successful application

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


1. College Application Essay – The essay or statement of purpose, in essence is the only part of the college application process, which is entirely in your control. You can use this essay to talk directly with the admissions committee. If the college you are applying to has a word limit or a prescribed format for an essay, make sure you to adhere to it. Most graduate students are required to submit a Statement of Purpose. As the name suggests this essay talks about why you have chosen a particular course, your career goals and aspirations and so on. If you’re an MBA student, then the SOP should clearly talk about your work experience, your work related achievements, your teamwork and leadership experiences and so on. If you’re an undergraduate student, you can discuss your hobbies and interests in your SOP.

Some universities require more than one essay and may ask very specific questions. “If a university asks, ‘If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’ try to get into the spirit of things and answer in a straightforward way. Don’t be snotty, no matter how inane the question might seem to be,” says Shannon Brownlee (US News 2003).

“When a student writes to us that they work 30 hours a week and the money they make goes into the family income, then the fact that they weren’t president of the chess club makes sense,” says Michael Thompson, dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Southern California. If a university asks you a more open-ended question such as, ‘Tell us something about yourself’ then you have a chance to be creative or even tell the admissions committee something extraordinary in your life. 

Discuss things that you are passionate about, as admission officers look for such things. Make sure that your college essays talk about tangible things and not just abstract concepts. Give examples to support your statements.

Make sure that you proofread your essay carefully and show it to your English teachers for grammatical errors. Don’t write long redundant sentences and make sure you stick to the prescribed word limit.

2. Resume – Please understand the resume is most cases is a one-page document and differs significantly from a curriculum vitae. Career objectives, educational history, academic and other achievements, volunteer work and language skills can all be stated in the resume. All statements made in the resume should be brief and to the point. Make sure that you systematically categorize your achievements and state them in the resume. MBA candidates should focus on their work experience. If you have received scholarships or had any notable achievements, make sure that you mention this in the resume.

3. Extra materials – “If you have a special talent that can be captured in a portfolio, you should consider sending that material to the admissions office – particularly if you’ve received recognition for it from someone other than your mom,” says Rachel Hartigan and Ulrich Boser. (US News, 2003) It is best that you check individual university requirements before sending any extra material. Some universities do not want any extra material and discourage applicants from sending in any certificates, newspaper articles and so on. 

If you are applying for a course in drama, theatre, music and so on, then it makes sense that you send a sample of your past work as a portfolio along with your application.


‘Like all colleges, we seek to admit the most interesting, able and diverse class possible’ (Harvard College) and hence make sure that your application reflects who you are and what is important to you.

Financial Documents – If you are applying to UK, Canadian or Australian universities, you do not need to send any financial documents along with your application. However, international students applying to the US have to send a bank letter and affidavit of support along with their applications. Make sure that your bank letter clearly indicates your savings account number and the exact amount in your account. Most universities do not accept bank letters stating, “He has the capability to pay” and “He is solvent”. Make sure that your bank manager signs the letter and stamps the bank seal on all the bank letters.


The financial affidavit of support should state that your sponsor (the person whose name appears on the bank letter) is willing to fund your entire education. The financial affidavit must be either notarized or attested by a Special Executive Officer (SEO). If the university has its own affidavit format, then you must send it along with your applications. Keep in mind that most universities do not require you to use government stamp papers and hence a simple letterhead of the sponsor will be sufficient.


Sending a bank letter does not in any way affect your chances of getting a graduate assistantship. The admission process at most graduate US universities is such that the university admissions office retains the financial documents and the department never sees the student’s financial status. Hence if you are to going to be awarded an assistantship, it will be regardless of the financial documents that you send with your application.


US universities cannot issue an I-20 (document required to obtain a student visa) without financial documents from the student and hence it is a requirement to send financial documents along with your application.


Transcripts – Since there is considerable difference in the Indian and other education systems, a transcript is required to explain these differences. A transcript ideally has the number of hours per week the student has studied, the weeks per year, the marks obtained and so on. In addition, the transcript explains the grading system (first class, second class and so on) that Indian universities use. Transcripts should be sent along with mark sheets and if you have graduated, your degree should be sent as well. Transcripts must be sealed in envelopes and the respective college must stamp the flap of the envelope.


Recommendation Letters - “While we can make careful evaluations with required recommendations, we are happy to read helpful letters from people directly familiar with applicants' lives outside the classroom. Such letters are not necessary, however, and it is generally advisable to submit no more than two or three” (Harvard). Recommendation letters are letters from your teachers, employers, project guides and so on, stating your strengths and areas in your life where you may need improvement. Chose your recommenders carefully and make sure that your recommenders know of any extenuating life circumstances that you may have had. Poor grades in a semester, illnesses affecting your studies, merit awards, projects done, can all be mentioned in recommendation letters. Keep in mind that a good recommendation letter does not necessarily increase your chances of admission but a recommendation letter stating your only your weaknesses, may be the cause of rejection of your application. Like transcripts, the recommendation letters also should be sealed and your recommender should sign across the flap of the envelope.


Besides the above documents, you should also send copies of any standardized tests you have taken. Make sure that your official scores and reported directly from ETS to the schools you are applying to. Finally, send your applications by a reliable courier service (Many counselors offer discounts of over 50% on couriers sent by DHL, FEDEX and so on).


Your application reflects your commitment to attend a particular institution and hence prepare your application with great care and pay attention to the minutest of details. Since you most likely will not have the chance to interview with admission officers, make sure your application tells the admission committee all about you, your life and what’s important to you.

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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