How to Stand Out When Applying to US Universities
By Dr. Kat Cohen, IvyWise CEO & Founder
Applying to US universities as an international applicant can be a daunting process, especially since admission rates for international students at top US universities can be significantly lower than those for US students. According to the most recent Open Doors report, there are over 90,000 students from the Middle East studying in the US. Applicants from all over the world are competing for spots at the top universities in the US, and with limited spots, the process is extremely selective.
At IvyWise we work with students from over 40 different countries to walk them through how to apply to college in the USA for international students. Our team of former deans and directors of admission have direct experience reading applications, especially those from international students, so we know what it takes to stand out as an international applicant in the US admissions process. Here are some tips to help you stand out when applying to US universities.
Understand How the US Admissions Process Works
While many countries around the world rely solely on academics, test scores, and course of study when admitting students to their universities, the US admissions process is more complicated.
In addition to the “hard factors,” (test scores, grades, etc.), US institutions also take into consideration “soft factors,” (essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and demonstrated interest). This evaluation of quantitative and qualitative data is known as “holistic review,” and it’s how most US institutions evaluate applicants for admission.
While it’s important to have great grades, test scores, and an area of focus when applying to US universities, neglecting the other considerations like recommendations and extracurricular activities can hurt an applicant’s chances of admission. US admissions officers want to get a full picture of an applicant inside and outside of the classroom, so participate in activities which interest you, develop relationships with instructors, and work on writing a great college essay.
Make an Impact in Your Activities
For many international applicants, extracurricular activities are not a priority. Academic performance can often outweigh extracurricular endeavors, but as I mentioned above those “soft factors,” like activities, are just as important! One of the best ways to stand out when applying to college, especially as an international applicant, is to show how you’ve made an impact with your interests outside of the classroom. It’s not enough to do something in order to add it to your resume. Students should strive to positively influence or change the things they’re involved with. This is something colleges, especially highly selective ones, are looking for.
One of the best ways to make an impact is to take on a leadership role in a club or other activity that you’re involved with. Don’t want to be club president? You can still be a leader without having a title. Taking initiative, like offering up a solution to a common problem in your activity, is an example of leadership and impact. Making a long-term commitment to your activities, like participating all throughout secondary school, rather than just once, also demonstrates impact and leadership.
Take the Best-Fit Test for You
When it comes to US college entrance exams, many international students tend to immediately gravitate toward the SAT as it’s the test they’re probably most familiar with. However, I advise my students to take a diagnostic of both the SAT and ACT in order to determine which exam is the best-fit for their abilities. All US universities that accept the SAT also accept the ACT, and one test is not valued more than another. This ensures that students are preparing for the exam that they have the best chance of performing well on, increasing their chances of admission at their top-choice US universities. s
Put Together a Stellar Application
More than 800 colleges and universities in the US accept the Common Application, a standardized online application which allows students to apply to multiple colleges using one set of information, and usually a school-specific supplement.
The Common Application allows students to list their extracurricular activities, input information about their background, and submit teacher recommendations directly through the online application. It’s a one stop-shop for college applications, but it still requires a lot of attention in order to maximize your changes of admission.
The key to submitting a stellar application lies in the details. When filling out the activities section, be specific. Let colleges know if you held any leadership positions, how many hours a week you devoted to your activities, and which were the most important to you.
When it comes to the essay, use the space to reveal something about you that can’t be found anywhere else in the application. For example, if you list the International Business Club as one of your activities, don’t write about it in your essay. Instead, let the admissions office get to know you as a person by writing about something that reveals a slice of your life or your personality.
Applying to US universities as an international applicant can be a complicated process, but by understanding how the US admissions process works, making an impact in your activities, taking the right tests, and putting together a stellar application, you can stand out in this highly competitive process!
Originally published for EdArabia