top of page

Frequently Asked Question's

  • Z-Alpha Program



Q1. Why are extracurricular activities important?


Engagement outside the classroom is an important aspect of the college application process. While universities look for good grades, they are also interested in well-rounded individuals. Most college applications ask about the activities that you are involved in during your free time, as it shows traits that grades alone are not able to demonstrate. For example, what are you passionate about? Are you a leader? What you do after school, during weekends and over summers tells the college admission team a lot about the kind of person you are.


For example, if you volunteered at a local NGO, it shows your dedication to helping people. If you interned at a bank, it shows you have an interest in finance and are passionate about getting more hands-on experience. If you are part of the debate team, it demonstrates your ability to think quickly on your feet, voice your opinions and that you are well-versed in current affairs.


Q2. How can I maximise my academic year?


The school academic year can get very busy. There is a constant tug between excelling on the academic front, and delving into activities that could possibly tip acceptance to your dream college in your favour. Here are a few tips on how to maximise your high school experience:


  1. Work towards the A’s.

  2. Challenge yourself.

  3. Ace the tests.

  4. Get recognition.

  5. Take part in competitions in subjects that you love.

  6. Volunteer.

  7. Get deeper into extra curricular activities/interests.

  8. Learn new skills.

  9. Shadow people.

  10. Start thinking about your college application early.

  11. As you begin your academic year, explore the numerous options your school and community provide. If you are in the 9th or 10th grade, pick a few different activities, feed your curiosity and find your passion. If you are in the 11th or 12th grade, hone in on the activities you care about the most, assume leadership and responsibility roles, and maximise your impact.








  • Global Education Gateway


Q1. Can I apply to the US with a strong academic profile but minimal extra-curricular activities?


Yes you can apply but most US colleges value a holistic profile. Strong academics are an important element, but schools also look at activities outside of the classroom. Ideally you should build your profile in a holistic manner.


Q2. What financial aid options does my university offer?


As each university has its own policies for international students, we strongly recommend that you:


Speak to the right contact at the university – it might be the International Student Services Department or Financial Aid Office. It is important to be in contact with specific colleges of interest to determine whether each college has a sufficient pool of funds to provide aid to non-US citizens.

Regularly check the financial aid and international students’ sections of college websites for specific information about the colleges that you are interested in.

Like their page on social media (Facebook, Twitter) so that you are immediately aware of any updates or changes.

Indicate interest in receiving financial aid in the application form (if applicable) and apply by the preferred deadline if you finally decide that you need to avail of financial aid.


Q3. What is ‘need-blind’ financial aid?


A term that students often come across when exploring their various financial aid options is ‘need-blind’. This simply means that students are evaluated regardless of their ability to pay full-tuition costs or not. However, only five schools – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Amherst, and MIT are need-blind regardless of the student’s country of origin. This means that if accepted, students obtain the necessary financial aid.


Most other schools don’t employ this need-blind policy. Instead they are ‘need-aware’ or ‘need-sensitive’, meaning if you indicate the need for financial aid, your application process will be looked at with that in mind.


So when asking for need-based aid at a university, remember most universities will be taking this into account, and your ability to pay may determine your admission.


Q4. Where and how can I get funding?


Personal Funding – this is one of the most popular ways. it generally involves funding through family and relatives.



University Aid – This includes:


  1. Merit-based scholarships, which are granted on the basis of special skills, talents, or abilities. Merit-based scholarships are usually very competitive.


  1. Need-based scholarships, which are awarded based on financial need. You will be required to demonstrate need at a predetermined level to be eligible.


  1. Bank Loans – you can inquire with your banks regarding what education loans they provide and what the rate of interest is.


  1. External Agencies – There are a number of external agencies including community organizations, companies, foundations, and Government agencies that offer financial assistance to students.


  1. Work-Study – These programs allow you to work on campus and opportunities include tutoring, research assistant, a desk job in the library or administrative office.




Q4. How do I prepare for the admissions interview?


The interview is a critical final step in the application process. This is when you really have the chance to be “ecstatic” for your interviewer. The interview will be conducted by either the admissions board or an alumnus of the school, depending on the interview process of each school. The interviews can take place on campus, in select cities, via Skype or over the phone. They usually last between 30 minutes to an hour. Here are the top 6 key notes for a successful interview:


  1. Study! Prepare! Deliver!

  2. Follow the correct etiquette of conversing

  3. Read and know about yourself and your field of interests 

  4. Keep your answers crisp & to the point

  5. Exhibit genuine enthusiasm

  6. Know all details about your school and program


Q5. Why are letters of recommendation important?


Your letters of recommendation can reveal a number of things about you to the admissions team, including your academic strengths, areas of interest, personal qualities and community service. They offer insights that indicate who you are and whether you are a right fit for the college that is reading them.


Q6. Why are essays important?


The admissions committees at top schools are looking for an impressive and multi-dimensional applicant who will be able to maximise what he/she gains from and contributes to the school. Through the application, you need to showcase that you have gathered informed opinions on a wide range of subjects, in addition to those within your area of immediate interest, and that you are comfortable wearing several different hats.


Essays provide you with the opportunity to bring out different dimensions of your personality – this not only includes your community involvement or success in a hobby such as art or dance, but also for example, what world events have disturbed you, which world leaders have inspired you, or what you feel is the greatest invention of all time. Schools can learn a lot about you from the way in which you choose your essay topics as well as the way that you answer each question.


Q7. What are the TOEFL and IELTS?


The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are two popular choices of English proficiency tests, and are accepted by most universities. Most colleges require international students to have completed one, with the grade requirements and preference (if any) clearly stated on the website, as part of the admissions process. Some colleges may waive this requirement if certain prerequisites are met.


Both evaluate how well you can combine your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

The TOEFL is a 4 hour-long test, whereas the IELTS is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

One of the main differences is the speaking part of the test. For IELTS, you are required to take the exam face to face with an IELTS examiner. For TOEFL, the speaking test consists of six questions which you answer into a microphone. These are recorded and sent to an examiner to mark.

The scoring systems are also different. IELTS rates you between 0 and 9, with halfway points in between. TOEFL provides a more numerical SAT-style grade, totaling your scores from all areas.

Test results are valid for 2 years and you can retake the exam as many times as you like.

It is important that you check the university website before taking your English proficiency exam, not only to see if there is an exam preference or a minimal score requirement, but also if you are eligible for a waiver.


Q8. When should I take the SAT or ACT?


It is strongly recommended that you take your chosen exams as early as possible, ideally in the 11th grade. This not only gives you a good indication of potential colleges on your radar, but also allows you to then focus your time and resources on other aspects of the intensive college preparation process. Also, should you need to retake any of the tests, you are not rushed at the last minute.


Q9. What does ‘test-flexible’ and ‘test-optional’ mean?


An increasing number of colleges in the US are becoming ‘test-flexible’, or ‘test-optional’, or completely opting out of asking students for their SAT or ACT scores. For example:


One university on its website states it is ‘test-flexible’, which means instead of the SAT or ACT, you can submit other results such as 3 separate SAT subject tests.

Another university admissions process is ‘test-optional’, which means you can withhold your results if you feel they take away from your application strength.

A third university states that it does not require standardized tests scores at all. Instead, they are evaluating other aspects of the candidate’s profile when making their admission decisions.

However, unless you are sure your college selection includes only test-flexible or test-optional institutions, we recommend you take the SAT or ACT to prevent limiting your choices.


Q10. What is the SAT?


The SAT or the Scholastic Aptitude Test is a globally recognized college admissions test that consists of two subject area tests – Math and Evidence-Based Writing and Reading. Each will be scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points. The essay is optional and will not be factored into your overall SAT score. The essay scores will be shown separately on the report. The exam will have 154 questions and is 3 hours long (plus 50 minutes if you are taking the essay).


You can retake the exam as many times as you like, however in general we have found scores do not significantly change after 3 attempts.


Q11. Should I take the SAT or ACT?


Before making the decision on which exam to take, it is strongly recommended that you browse through the study books of both, take a diagnostic test, and see which one is better for you. You may be naturally drawn to one test over the other. From an admissions standpoint, most universities accept both the SAT and the ACT. So your primary criterion for selection should be where you think you can score higher.


Q12. When should I take the SAT or ACT?


It is strongly recommended that you take your chosen exams as early as possible, ideally in the 11th grade. This not only gives you a good indication of potential colleges on your radar, but also allows you to then focus your time and resources on other aspects of the intensive college preparation process. Also, should you need to retake any of the tests, you are not rushed at the last minute.


Q13. What are the SAT II Subject Tests?


There are a number of colleges that require the SAT II (also known as SAT Subject Tests), in addition to the ACT or SAT. These tests are hour-long and content-based, and they allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas in which you excel. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics and Science.


You will want to take the tests that are required or recommended by the colleges that you’re interested in. For example, if you wish to study engineering, then Math may be required. Also consider subjects that you excel in or may want to major in, to showcase your strengths and interests.


The score for subject tests range from 200 to 800, and yes, you can retake them. Colleges will usually look at your best score.

As you navigate the college search process, make sure you check your university or college website to first identify if (a) Subject Tests are required, (b) how many are required, and (c) if any particular subject is stipulated.


Q14. What is the ACT?


The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, Mathematics, Reading and Science. The ACT with writing includes the four subject area tests plus a 40-minute writing test. Each subject area is given a scaled score between 1 and 36. Those area scores are then averaged into your composite score, which also ranges between 1 and 36.


ACT Exam Pattern


The exam will have 215 multiple-choice questions and testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (add 40 minutes if you are taking the ACT with writing).


Q15. How Many Times Can I Take the ACT?


You can retake the exam as many times as, in general, however in general we have found scores do not significantly change after 3 attempts.


Q16. What are standardised tests?


Standardised tests are an important aspect of the application process. Formats primarily include the SAT or ACT, and SAT Subject Tests. Most 4-year colleges will ask that you take these tests, as it allows institutions to compare students from different high schools across the globe and make admissions decisions.


Many colleges post the average scores of their admitted students on their website. It is important to remember that while the scores will allow you to identify colleges that are within your range, this is not the only indicator for college selection. A college may be the right fit for you, even if the average score is higher or lower than yours.


The standardised test scores may also help you qualify for scholarships. Some colleges and educational organisations award scholarship money to students based, in part, on SAT scores.


Q17. How do I submit my grades?


International applicants must provide official copies of academic records from all secondary or senior secondary schools, pre-university programs, and colleges and universities attended.


Have all academic records sent directly from the schools (whenever possible).

Submit all academic records in your native language, accompanied by an English translation, if the native language is not English.


Send external examination results or predicted results. Examples: predicted IB results, Indian board exam results, GCSE/IGCSE results, A-levels, Australian ATAR, etc.

Submit any additional documents as requested by the Office of Admission.


Some universities may ask that you have your grades assessed by professional credential evaluators and will generally state their preferred evaluation service provider. Remember to check the university website for any specific instructions or details.


Q18. Why do grades matter?


Regardless of which Board exam you are taking – IB, iGCSE, A-Levels, Indian Boards – grades do matter, and are a very important aspect of the application. The different types of grades universities require are:


Transcripts – Most colleges will require students to submit a transcript – a document listing your academic qualifications and grades – for the last four years of school. So remember, everything from 9th grade onwards counts!


School Report – most college applications will also include a supplemental form called the Secondary School Report. It is generally completed by one of the counsellors at your school and is also known as the counsellor recommendation.


Midyear & Final Reports – Colleges require a Final Report from your school. This is another application form that you will give to your school and they will complete and send directly to the college. The form requests your final grades in the 12th, as they were unavailable during application time. A college may also require a Mid-Year Report if you had still not taken your mid-semester exams in the 12th grade when sending your transcripts.


Q19. What is the acceptance process?


When the letters and emails from colleges start pouring in, there are three potential outcomes:


You are Accepted – Congratulations. Once all your acceptance letters are in, review the offers carefully and take your time in deciding the best fit. Most colleges will give you until May 1st to make your decision.


You are Rejected – don’t be disheartened. Wait for all the colleges to reply before you start thinking of worst-case scenarios. If you are not accepted anywhere, you will need to reevaluate your situation and prepare better for the upcoming one.


Waitlisted - Some students may discover that they have been waitlisted, meaning neither accepted nor rejected. The waitlist is the college’s safety net, meaning that if a number of accepted students do not attend, then the college can fill those spots with these students.


Q20.What are Ivy League universities?


Ivy League universities are a subset of eight private U.S. universities that enjoy a reputation for providing excellent education, and attracting top students.


The Universities are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.


Q21. How do I find the right school for me?


You need to look at a number of factors. Don’t base your decision on rankings alone, this is only one point of reference. Some factors may play a larger role than others, so prioritise what’s important to you. Some examples of factors include:


  1. Facilities

  2. Location

  3. Size

  4. Campus or City University

  5. Cost

  6. Employment Opportunities


Make sure you can answer these questions: Why do I want to go to THIS University? Does it meet not only my academic needs, but also my personal strengths and preferences? Your college experience lays the foundation for your future, so it’s imperative you find an environment where you can thrive.


Q22. How many schools should I apply to?


Even though there is no limit to the number of colleges that you can apply to, it is strongly recommended that through effective college selection, you narrow down your choices and apply to about 8-12 Universities. Furthermore, you should make sure that you have a range that includes Reach, Target and Safety Schools.


  • A Reach School is one where your profile and credentials may fall below the school’s range for the average freshman.


  • A Target or Match School is one in which your credentials and profile fall well within the school’s range for the average freshman.


  • A Safety School includes any university where your credentials and profile fall above the school’s range for the average freshman.

bottom of page