Marc Zawel and Stephen Friedfeld, the founders of EqualApp, are in the UAE this week to advise students on how to optimise their applications for Ivy League universities like Harvard (pictured). Image Credit: Supplied

Any international university worth its salt will aim for a diverse student body to offer a broader education experience and ensure students learn in a global setting, which will later benefit their careers.

"As universities look to increase their diversity and admit students from around the world, they will certainly want to have increased representation from regions like the Middle East and UAE," said Marc Zawel and Stephen Friedfeld, who are the founders of student counselling company, EqualApp.

Interestingly, applications from the Middle East are low, they say. "At one Ivy League university last year, for example, there were approximately 2,600 international applications, but only 3 per cent were from the Middle East."

Zawel and Friedfeld are in the UAE this week to offer students and families counselling, support and guidance on the admissions process. This includes academic advice, college listings, admission strategies, essay writing, interviewing and financial support.

Prior to founding EqualApp, Friedfeld was an assistant dean of admissions at Cornell University and an associate dean at Princeton University.

Selective colleges

Zawel is the author of Untangling the Ivy League, which aims to help students get into highly selective colleges. He has chaired the US admissions advisory board and evaluated application essays at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Zawel and Friedfeld say Ivy League institutions are not targeting Emiratis specifically, but would like to increase numbers for this demographic and will look favourably on these applicants during the admissions process.

They pointed out that Emiratis should work hard to improve their standardised test scores as competition is tough from other international applicants.

"If students attend an American or IB high school, they will likely have a curriculum that teaches more to the SAT tests. If students attend a national school, then their curriculum might not teach to the SAT, in which case students will need to study outside of school for these tests."

Extracurricular activities and experiences will also enhance one's application. Those attending an American model school in the UAE enjoy an advantage. But for those who do not, "it would be in the best interest of the students to seek extracurricular activities outside of school on their own", said the duo.

Arab students should also pay attention to their proficiency in the English language as they are typically weak in this area, Zawel and Friedfeld said.

Students can improve their applications by increasing preparation for standardised tests and demonstrating English proficiency through the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) as well as their college essays.

Although financial aid is US government-backed and reserved for US citizens "colleges like Harvard, Princeton and Yale do not distinguish between US and international students when providing financial aid; however, most universities have no or limited aid for international students", they said.

Students are advised to check an institution's financial aid policies when applying.

— To get in touch with EqualApp this week, send an e-mail to equalapp@intelligentgulf.com.