IvyWise Resources

4 College App Tips for International Students

By Scott, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

There are many good reasons to attend university in the U.S. One of the major features that tends to draw international students is the relative flexibility of the U.S. university system. For the student who wants to explore their interests before declaring a major or the student who wants to craft a unique or multidisciplinary concentration, the U.S. system could be a great fit. It is also a fantastic option for international students who want to earn a degree abroad.

So, if you are one of these students, here are a few things you need to know about American colleges and universities and the application process at such institutions.

Brand Name Is Not Everything

Many international students feel it is only worth attending university in the U.S. if they are admitted to an institution whose name is recognized in their country. However, it is crucial to remember this does not guarantee that you will have a valuable experience at that university if you are admitted. It is important to consider what makes a university special and whether those experiences align with what you are looking for. When you picture yourself at university, how do you imagine that experience? Does this top-name university have what you are hoping for?

Being a ‘popular’ or ‘well-known’ university also does not mean that the institution has good programs in every area. For example, you may want to study business as an undergraduate. However, you may be surprised to learn not all U.S. universities even offer it as an undergraduate major.

You may also be surprised to discover that while a university may “rank” overall in the top 10, not all of its majors rank as highly. So, in order to be sure you will have the experience you are really looking for, you need to do your research about the universities on your college list.

Research Is Key

Are You Developing a Competitive Transcript?

In a sense, the application process starts at the beginning of high school. You need to start doing research as early as possible to understand what U.S. universities are looking for. The earlier you start considering this, the better. For example, concentrations like computer science or engineering often expect students to have completed high levels of maths, accelerating beyond the standard pacing of their high school curriculum.

To be competitive in these areas, you will need to plan early to be sure you meet the requirements. You may need to double up in a given year or take summer courses to do this. A lot of curricula in many countries are rigid, meaning that if you want to accelerate, you will need to have a conversation with your teachers/administration or even take courses outside of school.

What Kind of Community Are You Hoping to Find?

U.S. universities pride themselves on creating both great learning experiences and dynamic communities. So, while they are primarily considering your academic achievements, they also want to know that you are both the type of student and community member that will add to the experience they are trying to build.

You also want to be sure that you are going to enjoy your time while at university. Consider how an institution builds community and whether that represents the type of community you want to be a part of. Are you a big sports fan and want to build community while cheering on your team? Do you love intellectual gatherings where ideas are exchanged and tested? Maybe you are looking to join like-minded peers in service through a fraternity or sorority?

Every campus will have its own approach to community, presenting different social settings and opportunities accordingly. You owe it to yourself to have a solid understanding of the universities you are looking at and whether they sound like good fits for your personality. So, throw “rankings” out the window and give real thought to whether you will grow in the ways you hope to on any given campus.

What Type of Opportunities Are You Hoping to Pursue?

Think about your learning style and that university’s teaching style. Do you enjoy group work? Do you prefer writing papers over exams? Do you need hands-on opportunities to make concepts come alive? Asking yourself questions like these is a great starting point. Then, as you research a university, check out their classes and how they are taught. You want to be sure they have opportunities that align with what you are looking for.

Pay Attention to Your Activity List

Extracurricular activities are not as prevalent in many countries outside of the U.S., so you might find yourself needing to pursue activities outside of school. This will require creativity, planning, and lots of initiative, and it matters because you have to show a track record of genuine interest.

Although you will not have to finalize your major in your first year, universities are still trying to achieve balance. That is, they cannot have a class year of all humanities majors. So, they want a sense of how certain you are about the major you select in your application, and a track record of coursework and activities that align with this concentration is the best guide they have as to how genuine it is.

Have a Test Prep Plan

Standardized testing is best prepared for early, especially if English is not your first or main language. The SAT and ACT can be stressful, but preparation can make a significant difference in alleviating this stress and achieving high scores. You should take a diagnostic test to decide between the SAT or ACT and create a test prep plan at least a year before you plan to take them. Additionally, make sure that you are aware of the testing policies of each university on your college list. While a school may boast that it is test-optional, that does not mean that it is test-blind. An impressive SAT or ACT score could be what makes the difference in being admitted or not.

Navigating the U.S. college admissions journey as an international student can be challenging. However, careful research into the process and how it differs from applying to a university in your home country can help you better understand its complexities. It can also give you a clear roadmap of what you need to do to get into a university where you will thrive and be happy.

If you are an international student with plans to attend university in the U.S. and want additional guidance on how to navigate the U.S. college admissions process, download our U.S. Admissions Guide for International Students! Our counselors are admissions experts who have worked with students in over 59 countries and can help you reach your personal and academic goals in the U.S. and beyond. Contact us today for more information on how we work with international students and how to get started with an Initial Consultation.

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