Applying to US colleges is time-consuming – when you have to spend half of your high school years building your application, heart-pounding – each time you receive your TOEFL or SAT results, or even heart-breaking – also when you receive your standardized test scores. Under the pressure of having to master all thirteen subjects at schools and the graduation exam, when it comes to Vietnamese students applying for colleges in America, we live off coffee or alternations of caffeine and live under the encouragements, slash, threats from our parents and professors. We stress on the importance of achieving a “decent” SAT score, which in this case, decent means 2100 or above. High school students struggle to find a perfect story with dramatic scenes and mind-blowing plot twists for their personal statement to impress admission officers. Oh and don’t forget about extra-curricular activities, they have to participate in a ton, to embellish their CVs of course.
Are these really what applying to US colleges about? Cramming days and nights for a high SAT score, joining a bunch of clubs during senior year for a long, impressive CV?

IvyPrep had a conversation with Reon Sines-Sheaff, the Director of International Admisison at The College of Wooster earlier to help point out some misunderstandings Vietnamese students and parents have of this worn-out process.


  1. Without a SAT score above 2100, you can’t get into good colleges.

This is the most common statement that has been passed around during the application progress. Students freak out with their current scores of 2090; parents urge their children to attend as many SAT classes as possible. However, according to Reon, “SAT scores are just part of the puzzle”. SAT scores, indeed, are important. But they are not the single element to get you into top US colleges. Reon says, when looking at students’ applications, she often searched for their GPAs, which “gave her the idea of their day to day work”, rather than their SAT scores, which only reflected “one single test day”.

Beside SAT scores, there are many more features that would give you the key to winning the favor of admission officers. The College of Wooster, as well as many other colleges in the US, also looks for students’ essays, recommendation letters, CVs… to decide if they the applications are qualified


  1. A good personal statement is the one that has the most incredible story

Not really. A good personal statement is the one that has the most ordinary story but still reflects on the student’s unique personality.

“Have I read dramatic stories? Yes, and they were certainly fun to read and presented great snapshots of the applicants. However, just because a student hasn’t had to overcome a huge dramatic challenge in their lives doesn’t make them any less interesting! I have enjoyed reading essays about a student who passionately loved cooking and used her essay to craft a visual of her success in bringing family together through her cooking creations. I’ve read humorous essays about confusion between British and American English, tied together at the end with a lesson about cultural sensitivity” – said Reon when being asked about this problem. She emphasizes that what admission officers looked for in essays is a student’s personality – “humor, grace, leadership, determination – any of these traits would make a good essay”.

Other than having a good reflection on students’ personality, essays should be polished and free from grammatical errors, typos and spelling mistakes.


  1. An impressive CV is a long CV with as many activities as possible.

The number of high school seniors participating in more than 3 or 4 clubs at the same time is unimaginably high After all, their CVs matter the most. What’s more tempting than having a prominent position in an organization to include in the resume? 5 prominent positions in 5 different organizations.

Quantity over quality. Reon stresses that admission officers would know if a student had “padded” his or her resume. Activities that show consistency and leadership would be more appreciated. It is better for students to be active have one activity of joining a club for all three years in high school than to plan three single different events their senior year.

“Try to be as truthful as possible” – said Reon, “or actually join another activity before you add it to your resume”.

Since experiences are more valuable than just a title.


  1. All application materials must be handed in before the deadlines.

Except for SAT scores.

Applicants at The College of Wooster or at others US colleges can turn their SAT scores in after submitting their application before the deadline. Reon advised students to try to “get as much done as possible by that date”. However, the college’s decision would be delayed if the scores are received after the deadline.


Special thanks to Reon Sines-Sheaff, the Director of International Admisison at The College of Wooster for helping us with this article.

Vũ Tường Vy

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