US universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and others, dominate global university rankings and are some of the richest, most powerful and impactful institutions around the world. Each year, more and more European students are granted admissions to these schools and Atlas aims to augment this trend even further. Moreover, many of the best US universities offer generous need-based scholarships, that often go beyond simply covering the student’s tuition, but also room and board, travel and personal expenses.
However, to be granted acceptance into one of these schools, the student has to overcome many challenges. The application is very different from what’s commonplace back in Europe. To begin with, most students are expected to take not only IELTS/TOEFL tests, but also the SAT/ACT. It’s also very important to get the CommonApp Essay and all the Supplementary Essays right – they’re a big factor in assessing the student and whether they’re a good fit for a particular school. On top of these, each applicant also has to worry about predicted grades, teacher references, extracurricular achievements, interviews and countless other things. Atlas is here to help its students navigate this challenging process and make it educational.
The best US universities look for students who excel academically, are curious, responsible, mature and well-rounded. Whether it's debating or bee-keeping, students are expected to be passionate about an activity or a cause, or a few, and have something tangible to demonstrate in their application once the time comes. As a result, it's best to start preparing as early as possible: joining or founding extracurricular clubs, volunteering, undertaking work shadowing or internship experiences.
Unlike in the UK and many other European countries, in the US the student can apply to any number of universities. However, it's important to choose a reasonable number. In our experience, choosing between 8 to 12 is optimal, and allows the applicant to have a range of options, hedging one's bets, while still being able to focus on perfecting the application for each individual school. It's also important to choose wisely - different campuses have vastly different cultures, some universities will be more welcoming of international students and offer better financial aid packages. Atlas mentors will help the student get to know each university better and make these decisions in a strategic, informed manner.
The student's SAT/ACT score and their performance on other standardized tests will play a big role in the assessment of their application - and this is especially true for international applicants. These tests predominately focus on one's time and stress management skills, English reading and writing, as well as quantitative abilities. For most of them, a student can retake the test many times and only the top score gets submitted, which is why it's good to plan for at least a few tries. Atlas mentors believe the material to do well on these exams is easily accessible online and in book form, and there is little value to be added through a taught course. Hence, we guide students to the best resources, give concise advice on the prep and are here to answer questions if they come up.
The CommonApp Essay and all the Supplementary Essays are, in our experience, the most important part of the application. Many competing students have top grades, extracurricular achievements, etc., but the essays prove the ultimate differentiating factor by allowing each student to tell their unique tale. The most successful essays are often very creative and incredibly well-written. Atlas mentors help the students refine their writing skills and produce real works-of-art.
Most US universities ask for two teacher recommendations. These should be elaborate and speak extremely highly of the student. Therefore, it's important to identify the right people to write them and assist them in this journey by providing examples, as well as the student's CV, that sheds more light on each activity the student is involved in.
The CommonApp, teacher recommendations, standardized test scores and other documents need to be submitted by the beginning of January at the latest. However, students should aim to give early applications a shot, since they offer slightly better chances of getting accepted.
US universities are some of the richest institutions around the globe (Yale and Harvard are each about as affluent as some medium-sized countries) and are generous in supporting students in need. Many international students receive full or partial scholarships, and can graduate debt-free! However, navigating the CSS Profile (the main form to apply for financial aid in US schools) and English financial lingo can be difficult. Luckily, Atlas has your back!
US universities send out offers before many European students have the chance to complete their final exams (that's why predicted grades are so important!) and graduate high school. These offers are effectively unconditional. Nonetheless, if the student's final performance drops way below (20% +) the expectations set by the predicted grades and other application materials, the student may be placed on academic probation or the offer might be revoked. Hence, it's important not to catch a case of "senioritis" and finish strong!
Once the student has been admitted, the university will sponsor the student's F-1 (for undergraduate students) visa. The process of then getting a visa at a local embassy is less daunting than it might first appear.
Getting admitted to a top university is only the beginning of a long journey. There are many challenges to come and, in some cases, if the client requests, Atlas mentors continue to work with the student to help them better prepare for upcoming classes, integrate with the community and not get lost in a sea of opportunities.
Atlas mentors, having themselves applied and studied in most of the top universities in the US, can offer new perspectives and insights in choosing the right schools. We take the quality of the desired academic department, campus culture, financial aid prospects and many other factors into account when finalizing a list tailored to the individual student's needs.
Atlas mentors provide each student with the advice and resources needed to independently prepare for the SAT. Upon request, Atlas also provides SAT tutoring services in small groups and individual sessions, delivered by top 1% of test scorers worldwide.
Atlas mentors are chosen, in part, based on their exceptional academic and creative writing abilities, manifested in excellent test scores, performance in university-level courses and publications in various journals. They are then trained to successfully teach these skills to others. Hence, they are trusted advisors in crafting CommonApp essays and preparing for the SAT/ACT writing component - here mentors provide feedback and comments to help the student gradually improve.
Some universities offer the chance to have an interview with a member of the admissions office or alumni. These interviews are an opportunity to make a good impression and come to better understand the school by asking its representative insightful, well-informed questions. Practicing the most common questions and perfecting one's own interviewing skills with an Atlas mentor can definitely help demystify the process and provide the student with the confidence needed to nail the actual interview.
In addition to the student’s own test scores, essays and performance during the interviews, their teacher recommendations will be an important part of the overall evaluation. In our experience, and this is especially true for international applicants, not all teachers have the necessary writing skills or knowledge of what is expected of them, to write an outstanding letter. Atlas mentors will work with the student and their teachers to ensure that reference letters only add to the strength of the application.
Atlas mentors help students and their parents prepare their financial aid applications and secure the best possible financial aid package.
In every aforementioned step and any additional help that might be needed, Atlas mentors will bring the latest insights and research from various publications, as well as conversations with direct contacts in university admissions offices, to the table, and ensure that the application will be well-received.
The US university package will not only help the student choose the right university programs and greatly enhance the student’s application, but will also improve the student’s critical thinking skills, and their ability to better present themselves in spoken and written English.
The student will be first matched with a mentor who best fits their profile. The student will then coordinate meeting times with the mentor and proceed with the consultations via Zoom or some other video conferencing platform of choice.
Before and after certain lessons, the students will receive handouts summarizing and expanding on the discussions during the lesson. They will help the students recall and build on what they have learned once the course has concluded.
Students and their parents will be able to contact the mentor teaching the course, as well as the wider Atlas team, at any point. The course materials, as well as any other communication relating to the course, will also be conveyed over email.
No two Atlas packages are the same - we tailor all our offers to meet the needs of each individual student, making sure that the student is provided with the right amount of help and not asked to pay for additional services they consider unnecessary in their particular case. Hence, we give our clients the chance to indicate which parts of the application process they need help with and provide a price quote for that package.