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It's the time to apply!
Studyabroad

It's a long and arduous process that should ideally begin a year or more before you want to leave for college. If it is fall 2005 (August-September) you are aiming for, this is the time to get cracking.

Choose your discipline

If you are a graduate, the options would be clear. Engineering or bioscience students ' who comprise the majority ' would find it difficult to make a switch. Liberal arts students have a wider choice within the social sciences. But it is advisable to stick to your discipline. Otherwise, it could be difficult to explain why you are joining the course.

Select the university

The next step would be zeroing in on universities of choice. This takes time as the US has more than 1500 universities. Narrowing down even a 100 could be troublesome. 'Do some research at the USEFI library and on the Internet. Also do a self-assessment. Be realistic about your academic potential and finances,' says Sevanti Narayan, education counsellor at USEFI, Calcutta.

Education agent Shekhar Niyogi of Education Unlimited says, 'Try and gauge the quality of your department and funding possibilities. Check whether Asian students have been receiving financial assistance. Ask yourself if you want to stay on and work or return. Do some research on the colleges, teaching methods, faculty, number of international students and so on,' he says .

For postgraduate and doctoral students, you must get in touch with the faculty. After all, your research area must match theirs. Start sending as many pre-applications as possible (to at least 35-40 colleges). However, the number of your final applications shouldn't exceed 10.

Statement of purpose (SOP)

Once you have downloaded the application forms, get down to the actual process of applying. This is where your statement of purpose (SOP) comes in. An integral part of the application package, your SOP must contain a brief description of your family, academic goals and strengths and weaknesses. Also mention what you expect to contribute, your long-term academic and professional goals.

The SOP is the nucleus of your application package so it must be unambiguous and show that you have done the necessary research on the university and your chosen course. It has to state the reason why you are opting to study in the US and in the particular university. You should try to make your SOP perfect but do write it yourself.

Most universities have behaviourial scientists who can detect whether it has actually been written by the applicant.

Recommendations

You must get one of your teachers to write this for you. But it must not be a character certificate. Rather, it should dwell on your analytical and communication skills and your academic ability. The recommendation should be informative and cater to what the university is looking for.

For instance, if it's Michigan State University, a line or two about your sporting achievements, if you have any, can make a difference. In case you are applying for an MBA and have got professional experience, get your supervisor or boss to write it. Applicants have the choice of either keeping it confidential or having a look at it before it is sent to the university.

Essays

These are short questions given in the application forms that need to be answered in 200-250 words. They could be related either to academics or your personal life. The higher the ranking of the university, the trickier the questions. Generally, business schools have more questions.

Scholarships

Any course in the US will cost upwards of $6,000 per year. Add to that your living expenses. Very few can manage without some kind of financial assistance or scholarship ' partial or full. Some universities have a separate form for scholarship application while others assume you are applying for one. But it is always merit-based, not need-based.

The tests

Along with your application, keep preparing for and taking the qualifying exams. Undergraduate students must clear the TOEFL and SAT and PG applicants have to sit for TOEFL and either the GRE (for all disciplines except management) or the GMAT (for management).

Some universities even ask for SAT II scores. 'Ideally, all tests should be taken by December if you intend joining a course next September. SAT should be taken while you are in Class XI for after that students get too busy with their board exams. Also, for SAT you hardly need to prepare for the questions are of Cass IX and X standard,' says Niyogi.

You can even take the tests after your application has been sent but stick to the December deadline. Most universities have their deadlines in January. But don't worry if you miss it by a few days. The last dates could be flexible and many universities have rolling admissions as well.

Visa interview

Once you have received an offer letter from your university, it may not yet be time to rejoice for there's one last hurdle to cross ' the visa interview. Make sure you have all your academic records with you when you face the visa officer.

You must be able to dispel any doubt in his mind about your intention of going to the US. Your finances should be covered, at least for the first year. The sources of finance have got to be appropriate and you would have a better chance of landing a visa if you can show some tangible asset in your home country. A house, a business or inherited property would make it easy for you to convince the officer that you are going to return.

Don't take anything for granted for good scores may not be enough. Your application as a whole counts, which means the SOP and the essay are just as important. The entire process may take up to six weeks.

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