Applying to college in the US consists of four elements: (1) the student's biographical and demographic information, including contact details, family educational background and high school information; (2) writing samples, such as the main essay, or personal statement, and any additional essays the college requires; (3) the extracurricular activities resume; and (4) letters of recommendation and school/curriculum information.

The first three elements of the application are completed by the applicant; the fourth is completed by school administrators. The school counsellor should send academic transcripts and a school profile to the universities to which the applicant applies, and teachers should write letters of recommendation, submitted by the counsellor.

Many students are concerned about creating an activity- or extracurricular-based resume — but they simply need to share with universities those activities in which they have participated while in high school. Applicants should include school-sponsored activities as well as outside activities, whether formal or informal. Students should consider music, dance and theatre, in addition to community service, sports and political activities. The more interesting and unusual, the better. Students should consider participating in activities for at least two, three or four years, to show dedication and consistency; if possible, students should try to obtain leadership positions in these activities.

The most difficult part of any application is the essay. To complete it, students should start early. They need to reflect upon themselves, and are often asked to describe their achievements, background, academic and extracurricular interests and possible future careers.

Admissions officers are looking for students who can articulate their interests and passions with sophisticated writing. Students should be able to convince universities to admit them — that they will be driven, contributing members to the university community for four years.

— The author, a formerassistant dean of admissions at Cornell University, is associated with Intelligent Partners, a Dubai-based educational consultancy