American Admissions Myths Debunked – Part Five

As the rush to submit university applications intensifies, we start to hear more rumors and whispers about the process that in some cases are misleading, and in other cases simply not true.  Here we debunk several of things that we have been hearing of late…..

Myth: “My advisor said that he/she knew the admissions representative at university XXX and said he/she could put in a good word and get me in.”

Fact: No one can pick up the phone or write an email and ensure that a student will be accepted into one of the more competitive universities.  The application process is hard to understand, but all efforts are taken to ensure that students are considered on their own merit in an objective fashion.

Myth: “The university will only accept my most recent SAT score.”

Fact: Universities receive all of your SAT scores and in general will consider the highest combination or set of scores on record.  Most students take the SATs a few times and it is perfectly OK to take the test again.

Myth: “I want my child to go to an ‘Ivy League’ school like Stanford, UC Berkeley, or MIT.”

Fact: None of those schools are in the Ivy League!  The Ivy League is nothing more than an athletic conference of eight schools that play sports against each other.  All the schools are on the East Coast and have been around for a long time.  As such, they are blessed with strong financial resources and are academically excellent.  However, being a member of this club really just means that they play baseball, basketball, soccer and other sports primarily against other teams in the conference.  For the record, the eight Ivy League schools are: Dartmouth, Brown, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and University of Pennsylvania. 

Myth: “Only the Ivy League schools are good.”

Fact: No no no no!  Sure the Ivys are all good, but for engineering you may be better off at the schools that specialize in engineering.  Moreover, the Ivys are mainly large research institutions and smaller liberal arts colleges often offer a more personal undergraduate educational experience.

Myth: “I need a minimum score of XXXX on the SAT to get into that school.”

Fact: No, you don’t.  The SAT is one of many things that are considered in the application process and no school that we have heard of has a “minimum” score.  Now, you do need to score well on the SAT to get into a competitive school but a perfect score of 2,400 wouldn’t guarantee you entrance to any of them if you aren’t strong in other areas as well.  A good rule of thumb is to look at the median 50% SAT score range for the admitted students and compare that with your score.

Myth: “That school only accepts X students from Singapore per year.”

Fact: Schools can’t accept 200 students from Singapore in a given year; however, we have not heard of any formal quota system.  One problem students here face is that many excellent students apply to the same small batch of schools – effectively making it that much harder to get in.  Simply put: applying to the same schools that all your friends and classmates are applying to isn’t the best idea.

Myth: “Universities are better than Colleges.”

Fact: Colleges in America generally only award Bachelor degrees while universities generally offer post graduate degrees all the way up to a Doctorate.  Many colleges are excellent choices as the focus is on undergraduates.  Williams College was good enough for Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, after all…

Early Decision, Early Action and Rolling Admissions


As we roll around to another admissions “season” there is again the same confusion regarding the sometimes-bewildering array of different application options available to students looking to study at American universities.  Further complicating matters is the fact that the universities seem to change policies from year to year and the overall system is very much in a state of flux right now.  We will first give basic definitions of what schemes are on offer:

Early Decision:

“ED” allows students who are sure that they want to go to a specific school to apply early to a single university.  The ED deadlines vary, anywhere from November 1st to January 1st, depending on when the standard admissions deadline is.  About 6 weeks after the ED deadline, the school will inform you if you are accepted, deferred (your application put into the normal admissions pool), or rejected. If you are accepted, then the understanding is that you will withdraw any other applications that you have submitted and commit to attend the school that accepted you.  You can only apply to one school ED, not more than one!  These schools do trade names of applicants and will find out if you have applied to more than one school ED and your name will be blacklisted!  Don’t do it!  Most of the top schools, with several notable exceptions, have an ED program.  Check the school admissions websites for specifics as dates and procedure will vary.

Early Action:

“EA” is a variant of ED and works basically the same way except that it is non-binding.  That is, if you are accepted to a school that you apply to under an EA scheme then you do not have to commit to attend that school.  This means that an applicant is able to apply to multiple schools with EA plans – but of course none of those can be ED as that is binding.

Rolling Admissions:

Many schools, particularly the large public universities offer rolling admissions.  This means that they will accept applications up to a specific date and let the students know if they are accepted a few weeks after the application is received.  Rolling admissions helps to spread the work of the admissions officers over a longer time frame instead of everything happening on a specific date.

Why they do it:

ED programs have been widely expanded and many elite universities typically accept up to 40% of their students this way.  There are several reasons for this: the universities will tell you that ED helps them choose students who are really certain that they want to attend the school.  This is true, however, another key reason is that by accepting students under an ED scheme the “yield percentage” in greatly increased.  The “yield” measures what percentage of accepted students actually opt to attend that school so accepting kids under binding ED programs moves that number up a fair amount.  The yield percentage is also a core component in various university ranking tables such as the US News and World Report and a high yield can move a school up a notch or two.

When to apply:

What this basically means is that if you are really sure that you want to attend a specific school, your chances of getting in are slightly higher if you apply early (either ED or EA).  If you are not positive that you want to attend a specific school then keep your options open and apply EA (but not ED) to schools and then get ready to apply in the normal round of admissions as well.


The world of EA/ED was rocked slightly just a few weeks ago when a university in Boston named Harvard decided to drop all of its early action programs next year and just have one deadline (January 1st) for admissions.  The argument – a quite valid one in our view – is that the early programs puts affluent students at an advantage as they are better able to get an application in early, as well as sitting the SAT earlier, preparing for  it, etc.  Whether or not other elite universities follow Harvard’s lead is unclear and we will continue to monitor the situation and faithfully report on the issue in subsequent editions of Study in America.

Do I need to take the SAT: Reasoning Test, SAT: Subject Test and TOEFL?

The SAT: Reasoning Test is required for admission into nearly every school in the United States as well as some of the universities in Singapore.  If a school says that they do not require the SAT: Reasoning Test then you should investigate further – does the school not require the test because of valid reservations about its efficacy or because they will accept just anyone?

The SAT: Reasoning Test should be taken a couple times at the least and the universities receive a report with all of your scores, with most taking the highest Math and highest Verbal scores, even if these were achieved on different test dates.  It is not irregular for American students to take the SAT: Reasoning Test three or four times.  Singaporean students should take the test at least twice by the time they sit their ‘A’ levels.  Obviously, it is best to avoid taking the SAT when you are burdened with a major load of other academic commitments.

The SAT: Subject Tests are one-hour long tests on individual subjects.  While the SAT: Reasoning Test is broad-based, the SAT: Subject Test are specialized.  Most of the top schools in the United States require students to have up to three SAT: Subject test results in addition to the SAT: Reasoning Test.  These tests can be taken on the same dates as the SAT: Reasoning Test and up to three subject tests can be taken on one sitting.  However, you cannot take both on the same test date so be sure to plan accordingly.

Top schools ask applicants to take the Math 1C or 2C and one to two of any of the other tests – which normally would include at least one of the sciences (Biology, Chemistry or Physics).  The science tests are easier than ‘O’ levels, so fear not.

Some students are tempted to take both the Math 1C and Math 2C tests.  The Math 2C test is harder than the Math 1C and you should just take one or the other depending on your strength in Math.

Others are tempted to take the Mandarin SAT Subject test as they have studied it as a mother tongue.  Don’t do this!  It will have the undesired effect of making you look lazy.

Testtakers Singapore runs preparation programs for the SAT: Reasoning Test and conducts individual tutoring for the English Literature and Math tests.

The TOEFL shouldn’t be required for Singaporean students as English is the medium of instruction.  However, it isn’t a bad idea to take it just to get it out of the way (some schools are ignorant of the Singaporean education system).  The TOEFL is intended for non-native English speakers and should be a simple test for most people.  The TOEFL can be taken year-around as it is a computer-based test.

Application Timetable

If you are considering applying to American universities, you are probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the many dates and deadlines on your mental calendar.  How can you keep everything straight?  We’ve developed this timeline to help keep you on track.  Please note that this timeline applies only to JC2 students hoping to enroll in September.  If you are an ‘O’ level student, or if you hope to enroll in January, please talk to an advisor about your particular timeline:

July/August - Do research about American universities:  talk to your old school mates who are back in Singapore for their summer holidays, visit websites, drop by the USEIC library, schedule an appointment with an advisor, write to universities asking to be put on their mailing list.
August - If you aren’t scoring over a 1400 on the SAT, enroll in a prep course.

- Download applications from universities you are considering.

- Narrow your choices to five to seven universities.

August/September - Attend talks in your junior college by visiting university representatives.
September - Register for the SAT.  Determine if you will need to take the SAT: Subject Tests, and register if necessary.
October - Ask your teachers if they would be willing to write letters of recommendation for you.  Give them the forms with envelopes addressed to you or directly to the university admissions office. If sent to you, do not open the envelopes!
Early November - Early Decision deadlines for many universities.
November - Application window for all University of California schools (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, UC-San Diego, etc.).
December - Finish your application essays.  Make copies of everything, and post your applications.
January - Regular Decision deadlines.
February - Apply for financial aid, if necessary.
March - ‘A’ level results released.  Fax them immediately to the universities and send certified copy via post.
Late March - Admission notification from the universities.
April - Universities may hold receptions for admitted students and their parents in Singapore.
May - Reply date.  You may commit to only one university.  Write to the others to decline their offer of admission.
May/June - Your university will send you an I-20 form, a legal document with which you can apply for your student visa.