A strong plethora of standardized test scores is essential for almost every applicant to Harvard surpass the gatekeeper for greater consideration amongst an increasingly competitive applicant pool. Unfortunately, the United States education system tailors students towards standardized testing such as the SAT and ACT, while foreign examination systems such as A-Levels and International Baccalaureate place a heavier focus on more considered long-form answers with minimal multiple choice. Many internationals go into the standardized testing process with the partially true perspective that it is beneath the material they would typically be studying in their junior and senior year. However, they forget that the multiple choice and the unyielding time constraint can lead to many students becoming unstuck by its obscure formatting. Start preparing for test taking as early as possible and do not underestimate its exponential learning curve.
Diversity VS. Narrow Academic Focus:
The International Baccalaureate and GCSE, A-Level system follow an intellectual funnel when it comes to academics. This is because these systems are tailored towards the European research model where students must decide their major or academic focus when they apply and before they actually enrol. This early focus on academic specialization can potentially hurt applicants when applying to US liberal arts colleges that still expect a wide focus throughout high school. To leverage this weakness students can utilize the strong knowledge they have already gained from subjects they studied earlier in high school to their SAT Subject Tests. In this case, there is no utility in applying as a Social Science major with strong A-Level scores in this field yet taking social science Subject Tests. This is a redundant strategy when the university can already see your strong command in this field, instead leverage GCSE knowledge in Mathematics, STEM or Foreign Languages to demonstrate a diverse command of various academic fields.
The US education system places significantly more weight on outside activities and college admissions is no exception. Nearly every student on Harvard’s campus is heavily invested in activities beside class and their admissions committee wants to ensure that admits continue this trend. For some international students, it may be too late to start building a strong portfolio of outside achievements and it is therefore imperative to stress the need to start early. Demonstrating intellectual curiosity through international writing and research competitions can be an excellent way to distinguish yourself from the crowded international field. In some cases it may be better to take a gap year to have time to follow through on accomplishments from senior year before applying, rather than submitting a subpar application and being rejected.