The U.S. admissions process is complex and likely to keep you on your toes for weeks. Most Romanian students we have worked with find it challenging, instrumental to personal growth, and hugely rewarding in so many respects.
Components of the application package
• The application form
• The Common Application
• Academic records/official transcripts (“foaie matricolă”)
• Letters of recommendation
• Application essay/personal statement
• Extracurricular activities and supplementary materials
• Application fee
Deadlines and submission of documents
• What to do if you’re on the waitlist
1. The application form
• Your application form will be neat and clear. Unless the university specifically asks you to complete the form by hand, you will type in your information, in most cases online;
• Make sure you fit your application in the space provided and only use additional pages when necessary;
• Keep your personal information consistent and always write your name in the same order on all documents;
• Avoid abbreviations: it is better to write the names and addresses of your schools, examinations, and awards in full;
• Always provide information about your education or employment experiences in a logical order that is either chronological or reverse chronological, as required or as best showcases your experience. We suggest the reverse chronological order, that is, starting from the present and moving backwards, as universities are more interested in what you have been doing over the past 1-2 years.
Your application form will include:
1. Personal information including contact info and your family’s educational history;
2. Standardized test scores;
3. Academic ranking and honors;
4. Extracurricular activities;
5. Work experience (if any);
6. Directions for the future (not binding, may change)
The Common App is used by over 450 American universities. It allows you to save time by completing information and essays that you can submit to multiple universities. However, bear in mind that approximately two thirds of universities ask for supplemental information and/or essays.
Access www.commonapp.org for full information on the Common Application.
2. Academic records/official transcripts (“foaie matricolă”)
Transcripts include the list of classes that you took in high school (also called secondary school in the U.S.), when they were taken, and the grades you received in each class.
First off, it is important to keep in mind that “official” has different connotations in the U.S. and Romania. In the U.S., an official academic document is issued by the school and bears the school seal and the principal’s signature. Such a document can be released by the institution in multiple copies. In Romania, most official documents can only be issued one time.
Then how to submit official transcripts to several U.S. universities? There are solutions to this dilemma: English translations of your transcripts issued by the school, translation certifications provided by an EducationUSA center like the Fulbright Educational Advising Center/FEAC, even certified translations done by a translations office.
U.S. colleges sometimes provide special forms on which school authorities are asked to list your grades and to rank you in relation to other students in your class. If such forms are not provided, your school will still be expected to issue official documents that provide this kind of information on letterhead paper, with the school stamp that you can then mail to your universities. Looks difficult? We at the Fulbright Educational Advising Center can help.
It is a good idea to also include in the application a brief description of the Romanian grading system and a profile of your high school. What better way to contextualize your school record?
If the admissions office requests an explanation of the grading and class ranking system or descriptions of classes you took or subjects you studied, this information should be provided by an official of your school, if possible – by your school counselor or, if you don’t have one, your principal or class mentor (“diriginte”).
If you are applying in the fall-winter of grade 12, like most students, you will send your transcripts from grades 9-11 to begin with, then follow up with the grades from 12th grade (senior year in the U.S. system). If you are already a high school graduate, send your full transcripts and a copy of your Baccalaureate or other school leaving exam diploma as well. As a rule, do not send original documents; explain that you are only issued one copy of the document and suggest alternatives.
3. Official score reports for the standardized tests: TOEFL and SAT
When you register to take the SAT and the TOEFL, it helps to have an idea of the universities you will be applying to, so that you can direct there the four free score reports included in the registration fee. For an additional fee, you can order additional score reports, if you are applying to more than four schools. Your test scores will be mailed to the universities of your choice by the organizations administering the test.
However, when you submit an application, you may like to include a photocopy of your test score reports, if possible. The admissions office can more easily match the official scores with your application, and, in some instances, they may begin processing your application with only the photocopy in hand. However, the final admissions decision will generally be made only after the official score report becomes available.
4. Letters of recommendation
You will usually be asked for two or three recommendations. These may come from the head or principal of your school, your school counselor, or any teachers who know you well, in or outside school (personal tutor/”meditator”, for example). For a balanced application, remember to also get a recommendation from someone you’ve worked with outside of school.
Your recommenders should be able to write about your work and your personality. If you know the subject in which you plan to major, have your teacher in that class write a recommendation. Encourage your recommenders to include some anecdotes to make their point. Anecdotes are short stories about key moments/projects that define your relationship with the recommender. Their purpose is to show, not tell, the university your defining characteristics that the recommender deems relevant for your college application. The more insights they can offer, the greater the impact of their recommendation. Recommendations that are poorly written, negative, or late will reflect on your judgment in picking referees, so choose with care.
Recommendation forms may ask a list of questions or just one general question. Since recommendations carry a fair amount of weight in the admissions process, let your recommenders know about your plans and where you would like to study well ahead of the application date and keep them in the loop during the admissions process. Allow plenty of time for your referees to write their recommendations.
A recommendation form may include a waiver where you can relinquish your right to see what is written about you. If this option is offered, most admissions officers prefer that you waive your right as they usually look upon waived recommendations as providing more honest and reliable info.
If your recommendations must be sent directly by your referees via regular mail and not e-mail, it is common courtesy to give them stamped, addressed envelopes. Remind them to sign the sealed flap of the envelope before mailing. An alternative is to ask the university for permission to include your recommenders’ sealed envelopes in the one you are sending your transcripts, fee waivers etc. in. In this way, your application will arrive as one single unit and you will also save on postage.
5. Application essay/personal statement
Many schools ask applicants to submit a written personal statement or essay as part of the admissions process. While every element of the application file counts towards your admissions success, the essay is the only element you have full control of and can therefore polish to perfection.
When university admissions officers read this part of the application, they look for additional information suggesting how you could enrich the campus. They also check if their school can meet your needs. The personal statement gives universities a chance to get a personal glimpse of you, an insight that is not available from the grades and numbers that make up so much of the application.
In general, essay questions either require a specific response or are open-ended. Colleges look for certain qualities in their student body and tailor their essay questions accordingly. Essay prompts range from “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.” (Common Application) to “So where is Waldo, really?” (University of Chicago, 2012-13 academic year).
Application essays also allow admissions officers to assess your writing skills, academic ability, organizational skills, purpose in applying to a U.S. institution, and your reasons for your chosen field of study, if applicable. This is especially important if you are applying for a program like engineering or one that requires specific skills such as architecture, design, art.
Admissions officers look for strong writing skills, as well as for a demonstration of intellectual curiosity and maturity. Write the essay well enough in advance so that you have time to put it aside for a few days and then read it again to see if you are still happy with it and you find it still represents you. Invest time and energy in editing your essay: this tells admissions officers that you are a good writer and a mature student, that you care about communicating with the university, and that you are willing to take the time to prepare it well.
Some general tips
• Answer the question asked;
• Focus on a specific incident or event you remember well (concentrate on the specific rather than the general) — details are important;
• Consider explaining anything unusual that has influenced your school or home life;
• Get others to proofread your essays for grammatical and spelling errors.
FEAC tip for smart students: Use the Advising Center’s free essay evaluation service by sending us your top essay along with full details on the essay prompt (topic, length); and on your application background (your grades and test scores, universities you’re applying to, and deadlines). You’ll get our feedback within two weeks.
• Write the essay (or any other part of your application) the night before it is due;
• Lie, embellish or distract;
• Choose a particular topic merely to look good;
• Say what you think the college wants to hear;
• Turn down the college’s invitation to write more about yourself: the essay should be about you, not any 12th grader in your city, and in your personal voice, too.
Make sure that your essay is a true representation of you and your abilities. Write an essay that is genuine and honest: admissions officers read hundreds of essays each year and can easily pick out fake essays or those written by teachers or parents. The essay is your opportunity to tell the college why they should accept you over other students and what unique contribution to the campus culture you can make: use it as such!
6. Extracurricular activities and supplementary materials
Everything you do outside of school matters in the application process, be it extra academic preparation for competitions, sports or creative pursuits like acting in a theater group or writing for the school newspaper. Summer jobs, volunteering, and community work also count as extracurriculars.
Just like the application as a whole should focus on reflecting your depth, rather than just your breadth, the passion and energy you invest in your extracurriculars are far more relevant than the number of activities you engage in. Some students lock on to the perfect activity early on and pursue it for a number of years; some try out many different extracurriculars before they find the one(s) that fit them best. Remember, the most important aspects here are your commitment and the leadership, teamwork, and other skills you acquire through these activities, as well as how well you showcase them in the application.
Some supplementary materials that have helped Romanian students we have worked with to contextualize their applications were:
• A high school profile, which will provide background information about your school (history of participation in different competitions and Olympiads, competitiveness, etc.);
• A resume (curriculum vitae): given the limited space on the application form, a resume gives you the possibility to highlight your accomplishments in school and outside it, such as contests, prizes, voluntary work, etc.;
• Details on extracurricular activities, which will show the way you spend your time outside school; select the significant ones that fit in well with the rest of your application.
7. Application fee
While there are universities that do not charge an application fee, especially if you are applying online, others charge a non-refundable application fee that covers the cost of processing your application. This fee is commonly paid by debit or credit card. Application fees usually run from $30 to $100. Check the school's application form, website, or catalog for the current cost.
FEAC tip for smart students: Does paying the application fees place a financial burden on you and your family? Before paying hundreds of dollars’ worth, check each college’s website or contact them to learn about their fee waiver policies for international students. If you get a fee waiver, you won’t need to pay the application fee, so the extra research is well worth it. Some colleges require a waiver request from your counselor, some from you or a parent.
8. Financial aid application
Depending on the specific policies of the universities you are applying to, you will send in your application for financial support either before, after, or at the same time as your application file. Make sure you check the deadlines thoroughly – being aware of the deadlines and the submission method will give you time to fill in forms and write additional essays, where applicable, so that you can apply for scholarships and other forms of funding in a timely manner.
This is especially important at schools with a rolling admissions system that review applications for admissions and financial aid on a first come, first served basis. In contrast, universities with a fixed admissions deadline review applications all at once, after the application period closes.
My first contact with the Fulbright Educational Advising Center/FEAC was in October 2011. I was in the 11th grade and volunteering at the Romanian Intl University Fair. There, I had the chance to speak to one of the FEAC advisers and find out about all that FEAC has to offer to an aspiring student.
I started visiting the center, and discovered that the advisers were not only knowledgeable and able to help me through each phase of the U.S. application process, but also supportive and patient enough to respond to my hundred questions.
During the group and individual advising sessions I found out all I needed to know about the Common Application, financial aid, and everything else relevant to my endeavors. The workshops and video sessions showed me what a successful application looks like and taught me what to emphasize in my application (my personality, my skills) and what to avoid (cliches, generalities).
Moreover, at the Fulbright Educational Advising Center I had free access to SAT and TOEFL books and software that were extremely useful in my preparation for these exams.
All in all, I consider that my first meeting with a FEAC adviser in October 2011 was a stroke of good fortune for me. I say this because FEAC gave me not only crucial help with my application, but was also there for me as a "friend" – one that stands by you and encourages you over a long period of time, without showing any signs of fatigue.
Iulia Tamas, Yale University, CT, class of 2016
Regular deadlines usually fall between December and February.
Early deadlines are usually in November.
If you choose to apply Early Decision, you can submit your application to only one institution which is your no. 1 educational option. If admitted, you are expected to confirm that you will attend that institution. The issue this raises is that it does not allow you to compare financial offers from several universities.
Rolling admissions means that a university will admit and reject candidates until the freshman class is filled. So increase your chances of admission by applying early!
Generally, all the application documents need to be at the university by the date specified as deadline. A postmarked deadline means "data postei"!
Some of the components of the application package can be submitted online, such as the application form and fee, essay, while others need to be mailed (official transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.) since they need to bear an official signature and stamp. You can also submit your application in the good old traditional way, by mailing it “cu confirmare de primire”.
Make sure your application is well organized. Each application component will go into its own envelope; then you will put all the pieces in one big envelope that you will mail to the universities. Check with the universities if they prefer documents to arrive separately - for instance, letters of recommendation to be sent by the referees.
You need to plan well so that all documents reach the university on time. We recommend that you mail your application package by registered mail (recomandata cu confirmare de primire).
Registered mail is safe but somewhat slower, so don't wait until the very last minute. If the deadline is pressing, you may need to send your application by courier. Keep in touch with the colleges to make sure that your application documents have arrived. Make photocopies of all materials you send just in case the university requests them again.
Before you begin planning your application, please keep in mind that every student is different in terms of the time it takes to apply – some are very energetic and can balance out a full school schedule with the application, some prefer to have more time to polish everything to perfection. Generally, however, it is wise to allow 12-18 months for the admissions process, as follows:
March - August:
• Visit our Educational Advising Center if you are in the area or access our website for extensive information on U.S. higher education and the admissions process. Attend our group advising sessions or our online training programs and webinars;
• Consider your personal criteria for selecting U.S. universities (quality of the program, financial aid, location, etc.). Choose a reasonable number of universities that meet your requirements. Some people start with 15-20 universities, some with more. Investigate their admission requirements and deadlines;
• It may be useful to establish contact with your selected universities, especially those with lower applicant numbers (for example, small liberal arts colleges), where the staff will have more time to communicate with you. Send them a brief e-mail with a meaningful question that shows you have researched their website and that you need some personalized information. Include brief details of your study objectives, training and experience, clearly stating that you will need financial aid. Show whatever is exceptional about you. Do not underestimate your extracurricular achievements, be they sports, activities built on your special talents or community work. It's a good opportunity to ask questions, clarify issues, but only after you have carefully read all the information on the university website;
• Learn about the standardized tests you need to take, about the registration procedure and deadlines. You may like to take the tests in the summer of the 11th grade so that you can re-sit them in the fall, in case you are not satisfied with your scores. Most universities set their fall admissions deadlines between December and early February, with school starting in August-September. Plan well!
• Prepare for the required standardized tests. The Fulbright Educational Advising Center/(FEAC offers free access to test preparation materials. If you live outside Bucharest, you will find useful online resources on our site under Testing & Test Prep
September - November:
• To give yourself the best chance of being admitted and funded, make a realistic assessment of the admissions standards at the universities you are interested in. Do the same for your own qualifications. How well do they match? You have better chances of admissions with funding if you are above the average applicants. That is why the freshman profile at the schools you want to apply to is so useful. More on the FEAC website in the Undergraduate admissions section;
• Work on the application package. Admissions officers spend a lot of time on the essays and letters of recommendation. When they review an application, they also look at the applicant's extracurricular activities, community service, leadership skills, and special talents. Admissions officers try to determine if you are a fit for their institution. A good match spells success!
December - February:
• Regular application deadlines for most universities: time to submit your applications!
• Follow the university recommended procedure for sending in your application: does the university use an all-online application system, prefer most of the elements online and your transcripts and/or recommendation letters through the post, or require you to mail your complete application file?
• If you need to mail documents to the universities, allow time for delivery. Make sure you send your package by registered mail or even a courier service, if the timing is tight.
March - May:
• Universities announce their admissions decisions. Some schools send their financial aid offers together with the acceptance letter, some notify you of the available funding later;
• You decide which university to attend, notify them of your decision, then complete and return any official university forms that are sent to you;
• Write to the other schools that admitted you and thank them for admissions and financial aid. Inform them of your decision to enroll elsewhere;
• Make housing arrangements (apply for on-campus housing etc.);
• Acquire as much pre-departure information as you can. Use the university website extensively. It will pay off!
June - August:
• Apply for the F1 visa after you receive the I20 form from your university. Do not forget to pay the SEVIS fee!
• Make travel arrangements;
• Contact the university International Student Office with details of your arrival plan;
• Obtain a copy of your medical record, regular prescriptions, etc.;
• Plan to arrive on time for the university orientation session;
• Attend the Pre-Departure Orientation organized by the Fulbright Commission to facilitate your academic and cultural adjustment in the U.S. It is a full-day event usually held in mid-July that combines sessions and presentations with networking opportunities and fun. Contact the Fulbright Educational Advising Center at FEAC@fulbright.ro for details.
What to Do While You Are on the Waitlist
If you were placed on a waiting list, do not despair! This most likely means that while you have some very strong credentials, you were not considered to be as competitive as those being offered admission. Poza 3.17
The good news is that there is still a chance you will be admitted. Whatever you do, do not assume you are going to be denied. Stay calm, confident and patient and you could get more encouraging news down the road.
To improve your chances, make sure you follow instructions on how to remain on the waitlist and be professional and positive in your communication with the university. If you were placed on a waitlist for your first choice university, a good idea is to send them an email confirming that you will attend, should you be accepted. Universities may select students that they know are likely to come and will decide quickly to attend their institution if accepted. If you have any brief updates (academics, extracurriculars, etc.), you could email these as well. As before, keep your emails to the university brief and to the point.
Securing admissions and funding from a U.S. school is no small success. It is a springboard to your bright future and career prospects. As such, the process takes a lot of perseverance, introspection, resourcefulness, and good management. Admissions is not easy, but there is inspiring evidence that it can be completed successfully – almost 500 Romanian students are currently studying in the U.S. at undergraduate level. Most of them have got admission and funding by going through the stages above. Good luck to you, too!
My fulbright experience
Students at the advising center