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!


Film Adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist to Open Venice Film Festival 2012


This article first appeared here.




The world premiere of the international political thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist will launch the 69th Venice Film Festival come August 29th. The film is based on the best-selling novel by renowned Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid. It is about a young Pakistani man who chances corporate success on Wall Street, but becomes embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the call of his family’s homeland. The feature film faces heavy competition from many other promising films at the festival. It stars Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Meesha Shafi, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Martin Donovan, Om Puri, and Shabana Azmi. The film is directed by Mira Nair.

The novel became an international best-seller. It reached number four on the New York Times Best Seller list. BBC Radio 4 began broadcasting an abridged version on 22 August 2011, read by British actor Riz Ahmed who also plays the protagonist in the film, Changez. Judging by the synopsis of the film provided by the Venice Film Festival, the film introduces some significant changes from the novel; such as the introduction of many new characters, and identification of some characters which were latent or implied in the novel itself.

“The festival’s opening night will feature a film that provides much food for thought. It is a choice that intends to highlight the growing role of female creativity in all spheres of culture and contemporary society,” said Alberto Barbera who was one of the jury members at the Cannes Film Festival in 1939 and the head in this year’s Venice Film Festival. This is Mira Nair’s fifth visit to the Venice Film Festival. She won the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion for Monsoon Wedding in 2001. The 69th Venice Film Festival runs from August 29 till September 8.




With a dynamic cast of Pakistani, American, British, and Indian actors in lead roles, the film is surely of the most anticipated piece being featured in this year’s Venice Film Festival. The Venice Film Festival is the oldest international film festival in the world. Courtesy of the Venice Film Festival, following is the complete synopsis of The Reluctant Fundamentalist:

“Student demonstrations are raging in Lahore, as young Pakistani professor Changez Khan and a journalist, Bobby Lincoln, share a cup of tea and conversation.  Princeton-educated Changez tells Lincoln of his past as a brilliant business analyst on Wall Street. He talks of the glittering future that lay before him and the beautiful and sophisticated Erica whom he was set to share that future with.

But then 9/11 changes everything. Attitudes shift dramatically – his very name and face rendering him suspect.  Returning to his homeland and the family to whom he is very close, he takes up a post as lecturer at the local university, a hotbed of radicalism and the new militant academia.

The collegial pretense of the meeting in a Lahore teahouse, between Lincoln and Changez, slowly gives way to why the unlikely pair has gathered on a summer day — another professor has been kidnapped by extremists, and the clock is ticking toward a deadline for his execution. Changez’s family is being harassed and is in real danger. Bobby is there to listen, with an agenda of his own.  As it is revealed that Lincoln is in the lions’ den with the CIA, we also learn that he has a personal stake in the immediate crisis at hand. Taking us through the culturally rich and beguiling worlds of New York, Lahore and Istanbul The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an exploration of prejudice and the phenomenon of globalization that is both exhilarating and deeply unsettling.”