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How to Apply to University in the United States
Note: it's even easier to apply to universities in Europe, but more difficult to get a scholarship. Many schools require fewer standardized exams than the US, and have similar written applications.
Get started early
You should start looking at schools
before you finish your third year.
If your college offers an online sign-up, you can probably sign up right now off the college admissions website. This will make sure that you can get an interview.
You can begin taking your exams as early as September.
You must take the exams and apply to university before January of your fourth year.
These deadlines are very strict, and international mail is very slow!! Many schools will allow you to apply online, but you should still submit your forms at least a week before the deadline to make sure they get processed correctly.
The US might seem very far away, but plenty of Ghanaians get accepted and make their way to foreign universities. The application involves a lot of writing and talking to your professors and taking silly fill-in-the-bubble tests, but it's not as bad as it seems.
While it will cost a lot of money to travel and live in the US, most international students can get financial assistance after they get accepted to school— so if you're an excellent student and you do interesting things outside the classroom, you shouldn't worry too much about the money.
If you don't get accepted, don't give up! There are a lot of universities in the world, and there's always next year...
Find the right school
There are many different universities in the US. Americans often use the word “college,” which means the same thing as “university.” A “technical institute” is a school like KNUST, where you will study more maths, engineering, and science. A “liberal arts college” is a school like Accra University, where some students study the sciences and others focus on the humanities subjects (history, politics, arts, etc). Neither type is better than the other, but they attract very different students.
Most of the schools (including technical institutes) offer courses in many subjects, like physics, chemistry, electrical/computer science, business, mechanical engineering, medicine, literature, art, writing, or history. You will choose a focus for your classes (your “major”), but only around half of your classes are related to your particular major. You don't usually go to college to study automotive or catering or fashion all by itself— instead, you go to college to get a broad education. So even mechanical students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have to read books and learn about history. Since you will need to do a lot of writing and researching,
you must be good at English!
In fact, one of the required exams tests your knowledge of reading and writing in English.
It is very hard to get into the “top” schools; on average, less than one in ten international students get accepted to these schools every year. If you really want to study abroad,
you should apply to at least three or four schools
, and maybe even six or seven!
To find the right school, you should collect a list of names of colleges and then go to each school's website to do more research. You can find this website by typing the college's name into the Google search bar, and probably clicking on the first or second link. Look around the website! If you see an email address for an admissions counsellor, don't be afraid to email them with any questions. Note that larger and more famous schools accept more international students, and can afford more financial aid.
To see the top schools in the US, you can go to this website:
Fees and Expenses:
It will cost you around 150GH to apply to university and take all of the exams. If this will be a problem, consider asking your secondary school for financial assistance.
It also costs a lot to attend a university in the US, since you'll also need to pay for plane tickets, food, living expenses, etc. But isn't something you should worry about yet! Many students from Ghana don't have to pay for anything more than their plane tickets. If you get accepted to a university, that school will probably pay for most of your expenses once you will out a form.
After you get in, you must arrange to fill out a financial aid form
before the deadline. For more information, visit the “financial aid” section of your college's website. Once you get into college, that college will want to get you on their campus— no matter the cost!
You will need a “student visa” to enter the US, but don't worry about citizenship yet! If you get accepted to a college, that school will absolutely help you get into the country. But
if you or your family has ever had legal problems or issues with the police, then you should contact the US Embassy immediately
to ask about your possibility for a student visa. You can find the phone number online.
The US Embassy is in Accra:
No. 19 Fifth Link Road
Open: Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 12 noon
How to Apply:
If you want to get into a university in the US,
you need to sell yourself
. These universities aren't only looking for good students and good athletes and people who go to church regularly,
they are looking for people will make their school a better place
. If you're reading this paper, you're already the type of student who goes out of your way to look for opportunities— so you are exactly the applicant they're looking for!
Your main job is to prove to the admissions staff that you are the right student for their university
. Remember that the people who will read your application are just as human as you are, and they really want to get to know you better. This means you must be very honest in everything you say, and talk about all the wonderful things that you've done.
Each school has its own application to fill out. You can find all of these applications online, and most of the forms can also be submitted over the internet. There are four things you will have to do to apply: exams, written application, teacher recommendations, and grade submission. Two more things are optional, but recommended if you can: interview and supplemental materials.
You will need to take three exams before you can apply to the US.
The first is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). In order for the TOEFL iBT to measure how well you
read, listen, speak and write in English
, and how well you use these skills together, you’ll be asked to integrate these skills for the test. For example, you may read a passage or listen to a lecture, and then write or speak about what you learned.
To take some practice exams and see where you can take the exam, look at the website:
. This exam is offered in Accra and Cape Coast— the website will give you more information.
You also need to take two SAT Subject Tests, but you can take these both together. These are 90-minute written exams that focus on one particular subject. You must choose which subjects to take—
different schools require different subjects
. To apply for a technical school, you will need to take one test in math and the other in science. For a liberal arts school, the subjects do not matter as much. For more information, see the website:
You will need to write several short essays about yourself, as well as give the college some information about your family and daily life. First, there is some biological information about your house and your family. You might need your parents or guardians to fill out this part.
You might have one short essay (around 100 words) and one long essay (over 250 words, but probably less than 1500). Or, you could have a number of small essays (100-250 words each). You will need to discuss specific topics in your essay. You can be very creative in these essays and tell a whole story, but make sure you answer the essay question!! One application says, “this personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself.”
While writing these essays, you must be very truthful and personal— the essays are important because they are the best way for the university to get to know you better. The college admissions director from MIT says: “Remember that this is not a writing test. These are the places in the application where we look for your voice - who you are, what drives you, what's important to you, what makes you tick. Be honest, be open, be real - this is your opportunity to connect with us.”
Here are some sample essay topics for a longer essay (over 250 words):
Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
Tell us about a time you used your creativity. This could be something you made, a project that you led, an idea that you came up with, or pretty much anything else.
Another big part of the written application is the “extracurricular” or “outside of school” activities part. This is important because colleges like to see a diverse mix of students. Even if you don't have very many activities,
don't leave this section blank
!! You should have at least two, and no more than seven— but this will depend on your college.
Colleges want to see that you are involved in your community. If you never leave your house, then colleges will be afraid that you will never leave your dormitory, and they will worry that you won't add anything to their campus. But if you explain that you have so many chores to do at home that you don't have any time to go out, then the college will know that you're a very hard worker.
If you have worked at any jobs during secondary school, you have to mention those. If you play football regularly, you should talk about that. If you're in your church brigade, mention that. If you take care of your little brother for five hours a day, talk about that. If you have to spend hours every week pounding fufu, you should mention that too. If you are in any activities or clubs at school that aren't part of your regular classes, definitely talk about those.
The application will say something like:
Please list your principal extracurricular, community, volunteer and family activities and hobbies in the order of their interest to you. Include specific events and/or major accomplishments such as musical instrument played, football tournaments won, etc.
You will need three teacher recommendations. Two of these must be from people who have taught you in senior secondary school. Find teachers who will say something good about you, and who know you both in and out of the classroom.
You will also need a recommendation form from your secondary school counsellor or another school official. These forms can probably be faxed, emailed, or mailed to the US altogether by the school. But you do not get to read what your teachers say about you!
You must submit all your grades and test scores to the university. You must both fill these out on the application form and have your secondary school send an official copy of your grades.
While you will need good grades to get accepted, this is not the only important part of your application. Your teacher recommendations are equally important. Your extracurricular activities and personal essays are only a little less important, because many colleges will choose a student who is somewhat smart and very interesting over a student who is just very smart.
If you got very bad grades in a class, or if you have been punished for something, this is where you can talk about it. Maybe you got malaria, or your parent was sick, or you missed an exam for some reason. If you have a very good reason, it's much better to explain it than to let a college think you weren't working very hard!
This is also where you can include more information about your outside activities! Most college will let you do send in extra materials. It's much better to
the university how creative you are, instead of just talking about it. For example: if you built a water pump, you should snap some photos and send the design blueprints to the college as part of your application. If you're a good singer, record yourself singing your favourite song and send that. If you paint or draw, snap some pictures of your artwork and send those. If you like to write stories, send them your best story. Don't overwhelm them with too much material, but if you're creative then you should share it!
Most schools like to have someone interview you so the college can get a better sense of you in person. This is not required and
you will need to set up the interview by yourself
, but it's a very good idea!! A good interview means a lot to the university you're applying to, and it will also help you to learn about the college.
Graduates of the college, called Educational Counsellors, around the world volunteer to interview students who apply to their old college. Once you sign up online, you will receive your interviewer's name and contact information via your online college account. Please note that there may be no interviewer in your area, in which case the school will cancel your interview and this isn't a problem for you. The deadline to contact your Educational Counsellor to schedule an interview is probably early December.
As we said earlier, don't get too worried. The most important thing about the application is for the college to get a sense of who you are: your everyday life, your sense of humour, your hard work in class, and all your hopes and dreams for the future. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there.
Trust in yourself, and good luck!!
US National Association for College Admission Counselling:
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