How to Apply to a U.S. College as an International Student

Thursday, October 18, 2012

College students develop their language learning outside of class

High school students across the U.S. aren’t the only ones trying to navigate the often-confusing college application process; students across the WORLD are, too. And many are thinking about coming to the U.S. for their higher education

Almost 5% of students at U.S. universities are international, and that number is sure to keep growing. The international students college admissions application process can be a little more intensive, and a bit more challenging than it is for American students.

So if you’re an international student looking to attend college in the U.S., what do you need to do to ensure you maximize your chance of admission and how do you stand out from other applicants?

Why Study in the U.S.?

The United States of America hosts the most international students in the world. Why are so many students applying to international universities, particularly in the U.S.? Many international students are drawn to American colleges because they provide a top-notch education, a unique curriculum, and abundant career opportunities post-graduation.

College Admissions for International Students: How to Go to College In Another Country

The American college application process is holistic and there are a few considerations to keep in mind, including:

Application Timeline

It’s important to understand the application timeline inside and out before you begin your college admissions journey. Generally, there are three different types of application processes: rolling, regular, and early. Exact timelines will vary from school to school but most students will apply during their senior year of high school and receive admissions decisions several months later. Early applications generally are due in November, with regular submission dates in December or January.

Standardized Tests

Many American colleges have moved to test-optional admissions policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, most colleges will still look favorably upon students who submit a strong SAT or ACT score. If you choose to take a standardized exam, make sure to take several practice tests and give yourself lots of time to prepare.

Language Requirements

Most American colleges require students to take an English as a second language exam, such as the TOEFL or IELTS. Score minimums vary from college to college but if you are a strong English speaker, it’s generally a good idea to take one of these exams early in your high school career so you can check it off of your college to-do list quickly.

Getting a Student Visa

In addition to applying to college, international students will need to navigate the visa application process. Once you gain admission to an American college, you will enroll in a system called the Students and Exchange Visitor Information System. You will be sent one of two forms, depending which type of visa you are eligible for. Make sure to follow these directions carefully and call the admissions office with any questions.

Do I need to get my transcript evaluated?

Depending on where you are applying to college and the high school you are coming from, you may also need to get your transcript evaluated and translated by a third-party organization. Make sure to seek out an organization that is a member of either the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services or the Association of International Credential Evaluators, Inc.

6 Tips for International Students Applying to U.S. Colleges


Do your homework! There are so many great universities in the U.S. that you may have never heard of that could be a great fit for you. Don’t base your search on name recognition alone. Take a virtual, online tour of the schools that interest you, and even plan an in-person visit if you can.

Many U.S. colleges also offer international families and student resources online, and on-campus, including an office for International Student Services or International Student Affairs. These offices do everything from sponsoring events for international students to socialize, to providing guidance on issues such as immigration, visas, and health insurance.

Let Colleges Know You Want to Attend!

Visiting, contacting international student offices for information, and engaging with prospective schools on social media also shows your demonstrated interest as an international applicant. Your level of demonstrated interest is considered during the admissions process and can help your chances of getting in. Colleges want to students who are interested in them and really want to attend their school!

Take Standardized Tests

Most U.S. colleges require standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT, even for international applicants. The SAT has two sections — math, and reading and writing — and is scored in a range from 400 to 1,600 points. The ACT tests students in four sections: English, math, science, and reading and is scored on a scale of 1-36.

Both the SAT and ACT are offered internationally, and can be taken as many times as you need, although at IvyWise we advise students not to take them more than three times.  Visit College Board and the ACT sites for more information on testing dates and locations near you.

However, there are a good number of colleges and universities that do NOT require standardized test scores like the SAT and ACT.  These schools are called test-optional and rather than requiring those scores to gauge college preparedness, they place greater weight on other criteria like class rank and grade point average.

If English is not your first language, some schools might also require international students to take the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language. This will test your proficiency and help colleges gauge how you will perform in classes that are taught in English.

Emphasize Your Diverse Background

Colleges like the perspective multinational or multicultural students bring to the classroom. Highlight what makes you different from other students at your school and articulate how you stand out from other applicants. Don’t forget to explain why you have a desire to study in America!

Tell Colleges if You Don’t Need Financial Aid

Don’t need financial aid? Tell the college! It’s much more difficult for international students who need financial assistance to get accepted.

Now that you know these valuable tips, check out IvyWise’s Guide for International Students to know what decisions you need to make if you want to attend your best-fit U.S. university.


Related Topics

Choosing a College, College Admissions Trends, College Application Tips, College Prep, International Students
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