FAQs on US University Applications

Name: Wong Keng Hoe
University: University of Chicago
Course: Economics


Keng Hoe graduated from Dunman High in 2008, and is currently studying economics at the University of Chicago under a police scholarship.

Universities to apply to:

1. What universities do I apply to? How many schools should I apply to?

Ans: Do first figure out the type of course you wish to take before applying to a school-online searches will also reveal much about the school culture and contact alumni who are currently attending the school. This should give you a good sense of whether the school will be a good fit for you. Some factors to consider include reputation of faculty, placement of alumni, student satisfaction, diversity of school, etc.  If money is not a concern, apply to as many schools as you wish to. I applied to four schools as I wanted to spend time writing application essays for specific schools.

2. Should I apply to more financial-aid schools?

Ans: One point to note is that ‘need-blind’ schools tend to attract more applicants, and especially for top schools where you’re really looking at an acceptance rate from 5-15%. So if you’re not adamant about attending only one school, then other top tier schools such as Cornell, Berkeley, Michigan, Northwestern, etc. might be options as well. These schools may not necessarily be need blind but all the top schools offer heavy financial aid if you’re accepted. That said, financial aid for international students is usually very limited, as colleges (receiving funding from governments) do have to justify offering aid to international students over locals. Getting into the schools I despite the ‘handicap of applying for financial aid’ might actually be easier than getting into Harvard, so that’s something you might want to consider. Of course, time is short, and if you really only have time for one good application, then take your pick!


1.  What is considered a good SAT score? How should I go about preparing for the SATs?

Ans: A good score would be one above 2150, preferably above 2200. The SATs are only one component of your application; the others being your recommendations and transcripts. That said, it is also a component in which you have the most amount of control over, depending on how you study for it. Do purchase a few SAT practise books and run through the practise test in its entirety at least once before the actual exam. There are also 1000 and 3000 word lists that you can run through.

U.S. Recommendation Letters:

1. Typically when do we ask out teachers to help us write recommendation letters/evaluation forms?

Ans: You can start asking your teachers in August/Sept after you get a rough idea of your prelim results, and where you want to head to. At this juncture, do politely inform them that you will need their assistance to write the letters after your A levels in November/ December.

2. What happens if the teacher mails his/her recommendation to the USA University before we mail our application?

Ans: The teacher recommendations are relatively fast to complete after your A levels, but your personal application on the Common-App takes a bit of time. Do not worry though, once you make a common app account and print the evaluation forms from that account (there is a personal registered number on the bottom of your these letters), all is fine. The letters might reach the college later, but they’ll keep it all in a file under your name. They will look through your entire file once all the documents arrive and it is completed. You might also want to submit your personal Common App form online, and indicate that the teacher letters will arrive separately by mail.

3. How do your teachers send their recommendations? Online through the CommonApp? Because are they supposed to keep their comments confidential, or did you manage to see their comments?

Ans: The teachers I asked for recommendations were Mdm Leong Foong Lin, Ms Pauline Ann Tan, Mr Poon Fook Weng, and Mr Siva. I used paper applications, though things might have changed. So I gave them envelopes and printed the documents out for them, and an instruction sheet with deadlines on mailing, etc. I sent them a text when the deadline was approaching. A general guideline is to make the life of your teacher easier, especially since he/she has plenty of homework to grade, plenty of CCAs to manage. Writing recommendations can be a chore, and you want your teacher to focus his/her letter of recommendation on you instead of worrying about stamps, filling in your name etc. So, put the necessary stamps on the envelope for your teacher, write in the address, fill in all the forms for your teacher except the part of the recommendation, and give them blank paper. Your teacher will place the forms into the envelope and mail them once she/he is done. Needless to say, the recommendations are strictly confidential, this is an integrity issue, and you will not see their comments.


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