Applying To U.S Universities: All You Need To Know


This article is written keeping the average Pakistani High School student in mind. However most international students can benefit from it. First place of publication was here.


Applying to universities abroad for undergraduate programs can be quite exhausting. However, being a pivotal point in one’s life, all the efforts in the world are still no match for the rewards that await.

Are you studying through your FSC or A levels? Do you dream of studying in Ivy League universities such as Harvard or Yale? Then read on.

Being a Pakistani high school student, I share your perspective; most of us want to study in a prestigious International University but we also want to study without paying. As vague as it may sounds, it’s quite possible for you to study abroad with full scholarship. Sheer determination and persistence are the key ingredients towards your success.

Internationally, United States universities’ offer more scholarships than any other university world over. There are many opportunities elsewhere, but here I will primarily discuss how you can successfully get in an American university of your dreams. The application is like a big puzzle, and in order turn that beautiful picture into a reality, each piece has to fit together perfectly. Following is the list of all the important prerequisites required to create your own picture.



Standardized Tests

Unfortunately, or fortunately for some of us, the standardized tests required by American universities hold more importance than our FSC or A levels examinations. Candidates have two options; they can either opt for the American College Testing Assessment (ACT) or SAT (since 1997 the SAT does not officially stand for anything).

SAT was designed as an aptitude test – it tests your reasoning and verbal abilities, not what you’ve learned in school. The ACT on the other hand is an achievement test. It is meant to test what you have learned in school. However, this distinction between ‘aptitude’ and ‘achievement’ is dubious. The major differences is that SAT is longer and contains only Maths and English sections whereas the ACT is shorter but includes Science sections along with Maths and English.

So which standardized test should you take? Until recently, ACT was required by American colleges in the Midwest, while SAT was the test of choice for schools in the Northeast and on both coasts. Now however, most schools accept both. This increased acceptance of both exams give students a strategic advantage. ACT is a content-based test, whereas SAT tests critical thinking and problem solving skills. Depending on your particular strengths and weaknesses, you may perform significantly better on one test than the other. Regardless, it is important to not stay ambivalent. Grab one of these and make them a part of your life. Study for the test like there’s no tomorrow. They are one of the most important part of your college application.

Some Ivy League and top tier colleges ask for SAT-II Subject Test scores. They are 1 hour tests of individual subjects and normally you are required to give two of these tests. They are quite similar to your academic curriculum.

Academic school record and teacher recommendations

I’m guessing you didn’t pay much attention to your high school’s mock exams or monthly tests? As unfortunate as it may sound, if you didn’t then you are in for some disappointment. In American education system, the strictness of secondary school record is one of the most important part of a student’s academic career. As goes the general trend, Pakistani students rely more on their end of year examinations. But if you are still in the beginning of your school year or you have some tests left, you must work your way to ace them all. It sounds rather perilous, but you need to realize that this is necessary. While applying your school transcript of all the monthly or quarterly tests will need to be forwarded.

Your teacher’s recommendations’ play a major role towards your successful acceptance into an American University. If you don’t like that one teacher, that’s fine. But if you don’t like any teacher in your school, then that’s not cool. You need to make sure there is at least one teacher who can write a good recommendation for you. The teacher can be of any subject you wish to pursue a career in. It is worth mentioning that American universities trust your school more than anything else. So make sure your school knows you. If you are that quite kid sitting in the corner of the class, you’ll lose substantial credit in the recommendations department.

Personal Statement

The personal statement or personal essay is an important part of your application package. Depending on the topic you choose, the essay you write provides additional evidence of your intellectual and creative achievement. This is your chance to give the admission board an insight into your life as a person and a student. The essay is also where you can put your academic record into the context of your opportunities and obstacles. It is often stated that the personal statement is the ‘most’ important part of your college application. Don’t take it as any other essay. Take your time, ask others to review your essay and then only when you are fully satisfied, submit your essay. The 500 word essay is your chance to outshine and prove why you should be chosen instead of thousands of other potential applicants.

Extracurricular Activities
Did you sacrifice that very important lecture for a youth conference or a day out volunteering? Chances are that you are on a right track already. Multi-tasking is a vital characteristic of a successful applicant. It is significant that along with your studies you maintain a well balanced extracurricular activities calendar. Sports play a major role in this category and a lot of kids are already involved in extra activities outside their school. But American universities are curious about what you have done to make your school a better place. Did you organize a social event? Did you initiate an in-school community service project? They want to know all this so they can predict how you will make their university a better place through your actions. They predict your future based on your past. It is wise to suggest that ‘I will’ do this or ‘I want’ to. They want to know what you ‘have’ already accomplished.

Choosing the right university

Choosing the right university has never been an easy process; which course, state, campus or city-based, big or small, what are the accepted SAT scores, does it offer scholarship or not?

Questions like these are essential when you want to decide on the right university. It is advisable to apply to a U.S university during your final year of high school. It is not only because of the general trend but it also provides a safe plan; if you are rejected by U.S universities, you will have plenty of time to prepare for Pakistani universities’ entry tests. Sometimes the amount of tuition fee you are willing to pay can also affect your admission decision. So make sure to mention this if your parents are able to pay some percentage of the tuition fee.

While applying to U.S universities you can have two options, or plans you can follow:

Early Decision or Early Action:

Almost all of universities in America allow their applicants to opt for an Early Decision plan. The deadline for applying Early Decision is 1st November for most universities. Before that you need to have all your SAT or ACT tests taken along with a complete application. In this plan you can apply to one U.S university only, hence indicating that the chosen one is your first choice university. But Early Decision is binding: you must attend that university if you get in with adequate financial aid. Some universities offer Early Action. It is similar to Early Decision in all respects other than the fact that it is non-binding.

Regular Decision:
The deadline for Regular Decision plan is 1st January. You can apply to as many as twenty U.S Universities via the Common App. If you are rejected in Early Decision, then you can still apply to other universities (except the university that rejected you) through Regular Decision. I would advise you should take full advantage of both plans.

It is often said that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect application’. Everyone has different characteristic traits. Therefore your application is reviewed overall and it does not depend on one factor alone.  I hope all this information will aid you in your application process. Good luck!


Stanford Engineering Everywhere – Learn Computer Programming in a Month


Over the last few years, many universities started following the trend of offering online courses for free. Whether it is a mere ethical act to aid prospering students or a latent profit scheme, we know that these courses are extremely helpful and worth lauding.

Among the courses offered by the likes of top tier universities such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford, I felt that Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere (SEE) Program stood out. SEE program offers online access to full courses in the school’s engineering program – including classes in computer science and artificial intelligence. Courses include lecture videos, reading lists, handouts, quizzes, tests, and even a social network for fellow online students.

With a strong leaning towards computers, I wanted to learn programming. Mind you I am one of those who don’t know the ABC of computer languages.

I tried books, videos, I even bought the official “Java for Dummies” book, but I was not even near understanding how this whole programming works. Luckily, just when I was on the verge of giving up, I was introduced to Professor Mehran’s Computer Methodology course at SEE.

The purpose of this course is to not only introduce newbies like myself to computer terms and methods but, it’s also an extensive course on JAVA. As Professor Mehran himself states, “The prerequisites to this class is that you should be able to identify if a computer is on or off”. That’s it. No geeky stuff , no pre-lecture code memorization.

The Iranian-American Professor who teaches this class is quite a character himself. From Star Wars references to handing out candies to his students, he’ll make even the most boring topics seem enjoyable and humorous. Taking you step by step, these video lectures are totally worth a try. A full course contains around 30 one hour lectures including assignments and handouts. Getting free education from one of the best universities in the world? It doesn’t get any better than this.

Other courses I would highly recommend are iPhone Application Programming, and Introduction to Robotics.

Hate Alarm Clocks?


A couple months ago I stumbled upon an excerpt from the daily diaries of blogger Seth Simonds who shared his experience of a succesfull sleep hack.


Under forced circumstances (which involved a new house and low cash), Seth had to sleep on a wooden bed without any sort of bedding; just the bare naked surface of the cold wooden plank and a blanket. The bed was unwelcoming and uncomfortable for a hedonist like Seth which led him getting out of bed early in the morning. The next day instead of buying a mattress, Seth actually kept this routine and after a few weeks mastered the ability of waking right on time without an alarm clock every morning.

As per request of Seth to his followers, I also started sleeping without any bedding and soon after few days a change was seen. Now it did not help me wake up without an alarm clock every single morning, but surprisingly it drastically reduced the early morning back pain I had to go through previously. It enabled me to sleep anywhere (yes even on the cold,concrete floor) whenever I am out traveling and the adrenaline of trying something new was quite something. 65 days in and I’m still bedding-sober.

Doesn't seem so welcoming. Does it?

Taken from the original Seth Simonds blog, here are the instructions to someone who would like to try this small experiment. Do give it a try, who knows you might be the next Chuck Norris of Sleep Hacks!

Step 1: Treat your bed like a recharging station.

Get rid of the temptation to treat your bed like anything other than a recharging station. You won’t need books by your bed. You won’t need fancy pillows. Your bed is a place to help you get from wake to wake in as little time as possible with optimum rest.

Step 2: Get rid of your bedding

If you’re really, really tough you can just fold all your bedding up and put it in another room. Chances are good that you’ll give up and drag you bedding back in the middle of the night if you can though. I recommend giving your bedding to a local homeless shelter or, if it’s really ratty, throwing it out.

Step 3: Try it for at least 7 days

One night won’t work. You need to give yourself time to get used to this lean way of sleeping. If you wake up at midnight and feel cold, don’t grab a blanket. Throw on a sweatshirt instead. Most of us live in climate controlled housing so there’s really no excuse for all the bedding we tend to heap on ourselves.

The 60 Second Experiment


Ever felt like amusing the person sitting right next to you or wanting to tell them something they won’t believe but then actually physically proving it to them right that second?  Well now you can.


It’s simple. Just follow the instructions to this anti-common sense experiment/trick that will leave give you one of those “I can can do something awesome” feeling. I founded this and other upcoming experiments through research and they take only 60 seconds to perform(including the time required to gather the material).

Making Tea in a Plastic Bag:

Imagine that you’re stuck on a Nazi Island with nothing else then a plastic bag, some logs of wood, a matchstick and the contents of some good quality Lipton Tea. What to do? Make some tea and calm yourself down.

You’re stupid. How the heck we’re supposed to make tea without any container?

That’s where I come in handy. Following are the materials required for the experiment:

1. An average size Polythene/Plastic Bag. Thinner the better.





2. Tap Water





3. A Kitchen Stove





Fill the plastic bag with the water from the tap. Turn on the stove. Heat the plastic bag containing the water. After awhile you will observe the water will start heating up and eventually start boiling. (Caution: Make sure the heat is touching only the water containing part of the plastic bag, or else you will fail miserably and make a fool out of yourself).

So what Irfan. Whats the freaking big deal about this? Its just water boiling up!

Ok ok you are right. It is water boling up but the amazing thing about this is that even though its a known fact that platic bags deteriorate extremely quickly when exposed to fire, this charisma of a plastic bag doesn’t.

Hope you try the experiment at least once. Stay tuned for the simple science behind this one(which I am sure you smart people would have guessed so please feel free to post in the comments section) and for some more even better tricks to amaze your amigos.