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How to help your students win places at an American university
Katharine Harrington, VP of Admissions and Planning at the University of Southern California discusses the different opportunities on offer and some key points to remember about applications.
Economic globalisation continues
to spread worldwide and looks to
be a reality future generations will embrace and expand upon. The implication for secondary school age students considering their futures is a simple one: do whatever you can to train for a global career.
For some, this can mean studying
a foreign language or taking a semester abroad. Others still will prefer to explore the opportunities that universities outside of their own countries can offer.
The US continues to be an attractive destination, given the many quality options available across the country as well as the lack of language barriers for students coming from English-speaking countries.
US universities offer something
else as well, especially for students originating in the UK: a very different educational model that focuses not just on depth – but
also breadth - over a four-
year undergraduate degree. US universities require students to
take a variety of subjects beyond those connected to their majors, as opposed to the linear model more typical in the UK. At a university like the University of Southern California (USC), almost as many minors are offered as majors. Students therefore have the opportunity to explore broadly across several  elds of knowledge. This broad foundation of knowledge allows students to bring “multiple ways of knowing” to the challenges that await them after university.
For US universities, the application process differs greatly, so it can be dif cult for students, parents and teachers to know what admissions counsellors are looking for. The best advice for students: be authentic. Contrary to popular belief,
universities are not solely looking for students who have perfect grades and a plethora of extracurricular interests; they are also interested
in students who have something unique to offer.
Compared to the UK, many American universities employ a more ‘subjective’ selection process. What this means in practice is that schools will often look beyond grades
and achievements (though those remain important) and examine the whole person. With each college a student applies to, there is plenty of opportunity to let their personality shine through. USC, in particular, looks for ambitious and talented individuals who bring enthusiasm and energy; they want students whose  rst choice is USC. We are looking for candidates that want to be a part of the university and will be successful once they arrive here. This requires an exploration of not only academics but character.
Finances are another important consideration. It’s no secret that US universities are more expensive than universities in the UK and typically, do not offer needs-based  nancial aid to international students. However merit-based scholarships and athletic scholarships are available at USC and other colleges, so it is certainly worthwhile to explore this in more detail ahead of applying.
There are a few tips my team and I typically share with teachers and school advisers who are guiding students through the application process:
• Ensure students carefully research the university they are applying for; each US university has unique attributes and it is important to showcase to each college what it is that makes them uniquely attractive from the student’s perspective – and vice versa.
• Qualitative portions of the application (i.e. personal statements) should focus as much on the person as on grades and extracurricular activities; US universities will be looking for both.
• Ensure the application shows broad interests, as students will be expected to take on a variety of subjects outside of their majors.
• Teacher recommendations, while academic in nature, should also provide insight into the student, and those special qualities that make them a good  t with the university they are applying for.
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 Katharine Harrington, VP of Admissions and Planning at the University of Southern California. USC opened a new international of ce in central London last month (February). It is USC’s ninth international satellite of ce and will act as the University’s headquarters for the UK and Europe and will work to attract top talent from the UK and across the continent.
Independent Schools Magazine 35

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