Applying to US Colleges as an International Student

By IvyWise on Thursday, October 18, 2012

International Students Applying to US Schools

Tips for International Students Applying to US Universities

High school students across the US 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 US 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 US, what do you need to do to ensure you maximize your chance of admission?


Do your homework! There are so many great universities in the US 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 US 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 US colleges require standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT, even for international applicants. The SAT Reasoning Test has three sections, math, critical reading and writing, and is scored in a range from 600 to 2400, and 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.

Other helpful tips:

  • 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 explain why you have a desire to study in America.
  • Looking for a liberal arts education? Demonstrate an understanding of what that type of education means in America. It can differ from more vertical, professionally oriented college curriculum that may be offered at the universities in your home country.
  • Don’t need financial aid? Tell the college! It’s much more difficult for international students who need financial assistance to get accepted.

These tips, along with IvyWise’s International Student Guide, will help keep you on track to attending your best-fit US university!

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