Applying to the US – How to Use your Summer Holidays!

More advice from

Use your summer vacations for more interesting adventures than lying on the beach with your cousins, especially the summers after 2nde and 1ere. It is better to pursue one or two activities in depth than a lot of activities superficially. Do not be cynical about volunteering. You will be amazed by how much it brings you.

Think long and hard about how you spend your time outside of the classroom. Babysitting? Cooking? Toying with cars? Watching movies? See if you have less obvious activities and use them in your application to give a fair representation of who you really are.

Writing Essays for US Universities

Kathy Compagnon gives the following advice:

ESSAYS –This will surely be one of the most challenging writing tasks you have ever encountered, and it can make a big difference in the success of your application. It is not the same exercise as the Personal Statement for a UCAS form or a lettre de motivation in tone or style. These schools are not simply looking for the brightest students; they want interesting minds, and to sense that your creativity, passion and curiosity are going to take you far in your intellectual journey and add a lot to the dynamics of the classroom and the school community.

This is the place for you to shine. Do not be shy. Do be honestly yourself. Remember that your foreignness is a plus, provided that you know why it makes you special. Remember also that you do not have to have had brilliant and extraordinary moments in your life to be interesting. The event itself can be banal; what makes it distinctive is how you think about it, understand it, and use it to reveal your compelling self.

The Common Application asks for a short essay (150 words): “Please briefly elaborate on one of our activities (extracurricular, personal activities, or work experience).”

The main essay is longer, about 500 words, and on a topic of your choice or one of the following:

– Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

– Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

– Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

– Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

– A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.”

Mull over all of these topics. Think. Talk with your parents and friends. Realise that the focus is you. Write. Put it aside. Come back to it later. Rewrite – a lot, until you are completely satisfied. Let other people read it. WRITE A FIRST DRAFT DURING SUMMER VACATION BEFORE TERMINALE. You will sorely regret not making the effort.

Individual schools will also ask you to write an essay explaining why that specific school is the right choice for you. Work hard on your answer. If you can’t visit the school, study its website and talk to alumni if you know any.

Read the article on essay writing, “Writing the Essay: Sound Advice from an Expert” by Parke Muth from the University of Virginia, which you can find at: Excellent advice.

SAT 1 – What is it? Advice from Kathy Compagnon

The SAT I is a multiple choice general skills math, English language and writing exam administered by The College Board and given seven times during the school year. The tests are graded on a scale of 800 each; a score of 700+ is desirable; 650-700 should be acceptable depending on the other elements of your dossier. Practice does make perfect.

You can register for the SAT I on line at While you may take the test as many times as you wish, most people stop at three, and you should plan three opportunities, starting in Premiere, into your overall scheme. Traditionally, the university admissions committees retained only your highest scores from each exam, but received all scores nonetheless; there is a new option, Score Choice, whereby you would send only one complete score, but the jury is still out on which universities will accept that option.

You do need to prepare this exam; lycee students are not accustomed to the multiple-choice format, math vocabulary needs to be acquired, and speed and accuracy are essential. You should use the summer vacation to practice, and take the exam in October of 1ere. Practice books are available from Kaplan, The College Board or Amazon. There are also many prep programs you can find on line. Some people opt for private tutors; group study and consistent individual practice are also effective. Figure out what works for you. If you do opt for tutoring, make sure it is effective!


(Taken from « US Universities – A Guide », by Kathy Compagnon at

TOEFL and SAT Requirements for the US

Kathy Compagnon, at, a US counsellor based in France who has helped many Florimont students apply successfully to top US universities, writes the following:

TOEFL – Or Test of English as a Foreign Language, is basically a grammar and usage test, administered by ETS (Educational Testing Services) and you can sign up on line at Officially, most schools require that applicants whose native language and language of tuition is NOT English pass this exam. However, most will accept SAT I verbal scores of 600+ or 650+, depending on the school, in lieu.

IELTS is also acceptable. Scores should be at the high end. Check with each school.

If you have very low SAT scores, work to get top marks on the TOEFL as many schools will use it in place of or at least to calm the effects of low SATs in reading and writing (you have no excuse in math!).

IELTS in 1ère

If you are planning to apply to a UK or US university and need IELTS, you should  now identify a test date in Geneva (see Ielts) as well as a preparation day in Bern the week before.  Plan out when and how often you are going to take advantage of the 30 hour online course they give you when you register.  Obviously, you need to register to do this.  All this information is at – absolutely invaluable!