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Written by Ijaaz Jackaria, Senior Educational Consultant at Hale Education Group

Do you aspire to work at NASA, and send robots to Mars in search of extraterrestrial life? Or do you see yourself contributing to the latest development in oncology? What if a future Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is waiting for you, and you become the next John Nash, the next “Beautiful Mind?”

Ijaaz Jackaria

Opportunities like these abound in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics). It is no secret that the United States is at the forefront of discovery and innovation, and the first step for students to embark on this fascinating journey of exploration and experimentation is to secure an undergraduate education from a top US university.

While applying to American colleges is more or less a standard process, there are certain things that can demarcate those students targeting STEM fields. Students should consider the components below in order to find success in landing at top universities or the Ivy League.

Choice of High School Courses
Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics—this is the classic combination for success in the STEM field. Math and sciences classes tend to be the most difficult subjects in high school, and admissions counselors look for course rigor in a student’s application when reviewing the latter. Having a strong educational background in STEM at the high school level—demonstrated by consistently achieving high grades—is an asset when applying for the best US colleges and universities.

It is important to note that this is not a requirement set by colleges. This means that someone taking a different combination of courses can still apply for STEM majors. That being said, if someone is inclined toward Biomedical Engineering or Medicine, then taking Biology courses in high school would prove advantageous. Having a rigorous course load, a strong mathematics background, and top grades would maximize the chances of acceptance.

Standardized Testing
When it comes to standardized testing, there are a lot of options out there: SAT, ACT, AP, and SAT Subject Tests. What should one take and what is a “good” score? It depends! First, the student must take either the SAT or the ACT—there is no need to prepare for both.

But what about SAT Subject Tests? The College Board announced earlier this year that they are abolishing the subject tests; the last available for international students will be in May and June 2021. After that, no more subject tests will be offered. Even though subject tests are optional, we still recommend all STEM students aiming for a top school to take the subject tests: generally, Mathematics Level 2 and Physics. We then recommend Chemistry, Biology, and a foreign language. A good aim for a score would be one of at least 750 (out of a possible 800) per subject.

For AP exams, it is recommended around 8 APs across different subjects, but only for students in an American school curriculum. For someone, say, in the IB curriculum, AP exams in a different subject demonstrate more varied academic interest.

Extracurricular Activities
Another determining factor in college admissions is the activity profile of applicants. Students need to display a passion for the STEM field through their extracurricular activities. Whether it is through participating in national robotics competitions, founding an astronomy club at school, or conducting scholarship or research through a pre-college summer program, they all shape the applicant’s profile and prepare them for college.

What’s more, students need to explore STEM subjects beyond their academic curriculum. It is advisable that they keep in touch with the latest developments by perusing academic journals, watching documentaries, or reading books authored by luminaries in the field.

The Advantages of Studying STEM in the US
Generally, international students in any majors holding an F1 visa can apply for the Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to work in the US for 1 year. Students majoring in STEM fields, however, also have the option of extending their OPT for an additional 2 years. This grants them 3 years of work experience. So, in addition to an all-rounded education, students in STEM fields can reap the benefits of furthering professional potential in the US.

You now have all the ingredients to embark on a STEM voyage to the US—so many opportunities at your doorstep!

Ijaaz holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from The University of Chicago, where he was awarded full financial aid. He has previously interned in China and India, guiding over one hundred students through the US college application process. During his college years, Ijaaz also worked with the Office of College Admissions at UChicago and as the Director of Operations of Maroon Tutor Match, a student-run tutoring program serving over 400 students in Chicago.

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