US Universities: How and when to apply?

Based on numerous posts I see and messages I get regarding this topic, it can be assumed that applying to the US universities can be daunting at times for a lot of students, especially in terms of the ‘when do I apply’.

I write this to provide my opinion on things one should be considering when comparing between Undergrad/Postgrad or before HSC/after HSC application to US universities. The opinions/advice mentioned here are based on what I have seen and experienced so far and in no way, claim to be the absolute truth.

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  • Should I apply for undergraduate programs or postgraduate?

The answer to this question can be provided considering various angles:

Opportunities: 

Opportunities are somewhat similar when it comes to the US if we talk about enrollment chances. However, in terms of education, undergraduate opportunities in the US offer more areas of exploration aka as a liberal education (you might never have taken any Economics classes before, but many US universities will allow you to explore Economics/even major in it regardless).

In Postgraduate programs (Master’s/Ph.D.), you have already specialized in one field and it is very difficult to explore different fields (suppose between Biology and Economics), though it still is possible to explore within the field in your Master’s (exploring different types of Biological Sciences).

So, if you are kind of unsure about which subject you want to choose, or if you are sure but want to explore other subjects for fun or if you feel that it will be a great experience to explore other subjects in order to discover your true passion through comparative analysis, applying for an undergrad program is the better alternative.

Funding/Financial Aid:

In undergrad, apart from the top universities, numerous US universities offer full-ride scholarships/financial aid. The same can be said for Ph.D. opportunities (although the opportunities are different in a sense since you will be working under a Professor on a particular project and won’t necessarily be taking courses in the University during Ph.D.).

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However, it’s very difficult to obtain financial aid/scholarships for Master’s in my opinion and the requirements are higher comparatively. So, Undergrad/Ph.D. offer similar financial benefits.

Requirements:

The focus on academics/CGPA/Standardized test scores/English Proficiency is always there. However, undergrad programs also comparatively emphasize Extra-Curricular Activities (ECAs) more, ECAs meaning significant activities you were involved in throughout grades 9-12, regardless of their relevance to your desired major.

But in terms of postgrad requirements, more emphasis is given to your academic publications, research work, and job experience.

So, if you apply for undergrad, your passionate ventures outside the classroom (which might be irrelevant to your academic goals) will be considered with high priority and in many cases, will secure your admission. The same can’t be said for postgrad.

So, considering all angles, Undergrad is the better option.

  • Is a US undergrad experience in non-top universities worth it?

– YES. Definitely. If you have your financial sides covered (through scholarships/sponsors/a ‘not too stressful’ part-time job), then it definitely is. The opportunities here are countless regardless of the university you go to.

Yes, I agree top universities offer more opportunities, but in the long run, it definitely comes down to you and how you choose to use the ones you have. I have seen countless students from mid-tier universities accomplishing amazing things, even before they graduated.

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I guess a similar logic can be applied to students pursuing undergrad here in BD and in the long run, it definitely is up to you. However, even mid-tier universities offer a lot more opportunities (in terms of research in Science Fields and the opportunity to directly work with/under Faculty who are the leading authority worldwide in their fields) compared to the top Bangladeshi universities and one should consider keeping that in account.

  • If I decide to apply for undergrad programs, should I apply after HSC or before it?
  • If after, will the Gap Year affect my chances?

– In my opinion, definitely before your HSCs. You might be thinking that the stress after HSC will be less and you will have more time to invest in your application, then I will strongly disagree with you.

If your goal was applying abroad all along, why not try that will all you’ve got?

The stress after your HSCs will increase manifold. Trust me, I know because I experienced it when I studied for the National Medical Exam, DU IBA exam and my SATs concurrently. The admission session will most likely be the most stressful period of your academic life so far.

Most people I know who decided to apply after their HSCs gave up, because of the academic stress/ family pressure/ they got into a good Bangladeshi university. I am not saying that it is wrong to opt for a good university in the country, it is absolutely right if that was your goal.

But if your goal was applying abroad all along, why not try that will all you’ve got? If you think that you will still keep on trying even after you get into a good BD university, think twice.

Most people I know just gave up because they were just too tired and exhausted after the admission session and didn’t have the energy to apply abroad, and it is possible the same might happen to you.

And many people gave up because they couldn’t handle the dual stress. Although the dual-stress is manageable, and I know a few people who did manage it successfully, just don’t be too sure that you are invulnerable to that stress.

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So, in terms of stress, applying before your HSCs is the right way to go. However, if you feel like you have a weak application and you want to strengthen it after the HSCs and you are worried that taking a GAP YEAR will reduce your chances, trust me, it won’t.

The Universities don’t care that you took a gap year as long as you did something productive during that time. So, if you want to strengthen your application, go for it and apply after your HSCs but do consider the warnings mentioned above before making that crucial decision.

And finally,  

  • I did my Bachelors in Bangladesh. Are my chances of getting into a top postgraduate program over?

– NO. I know a lot of people who have finished their undergrad at a University in Bangladesh and are currently enrolled in Top Postgrad Programs (Harvard, MIT, Oxford etc) with full financial funding.

The name of the university that you attended for your undergraduate program is NOT USED as a metric for measuring your achievements by Postgraduate Admission Committees. In case you are wondering why very few people get into top Postgrad programs from Bangladeshi universities, it’s not usually because of the university but because of the quality of the application.

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Yes, crafting a strong application is considerably easier with the opportunities available in top undergraduate universities abroad, and it’s tougher here. But if you still manage to craft one here, I can assure you that your chances of getting into a top Postgrad program are similar to a person applying from a top undergraduate university elsewhere.

Overall, the decision of when to apply is very subjective and differs from person to person. The sole purpose of this article was to enlighten you on questions that might appear when you are in the middle of making that decision. Hope this helped and always feel free to reach out!


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Author
Seeam Shahid Noor

Seeam Shahid Noor

Seeam Shahid Noor is a freshman currently studying at Harvard University. He spends his leisure playing futsal, cricket or dreaming about the plate of Biriyani he can eat once he returns to Bangladesh for a vacation.
You can reach him at seeamnoor@college.harvard.edu
Seeam Shahid Noor

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