By Scott, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
All too often when I get to the critical question of why a student is interested in a particular school, international students tell me they like an American university because “it looks like what I’ve always imagined university to be.” Sure, being as far away from home as possible and feeling like you’re living on a college movie set can be a great plus. But if you’re an international student thinking of applying to university in the U.S., there’s more to consider than the adventure of it all.
I can’t stress enough the importance of research and fit when building a balanced college list. This is especially critical for students who live outside of the U.S. and have not had much experience living and studying in the states. TV, movies, social media, and glossy university pamphlets can present a wholly different experience than what students actually live day-to-day at U.S. universities.
It’s important for international students to consider all aspects of the U.S. university experience outside of what they imagine it will be like, because, after all, you want to be sure it’s worth going so far away for university.
Key Questions for International Students
1. Do you understand the application process itself?
While universities in many countries admit primarily on the basis of grades and test scores, American universities consider several additional factors, such as essays and demonstrated interest, when evaluating applications. U.S. universities use a “holistic” approach when deciding which students to admit in order to build a well-rounded class. While they are important components of applications to U.S. universities, perfect SAT or ACT scores and grades are not enough to guarantee admission. International students need to do thorough research on the process to be sure they’re putting their best foot forward and giving U.S. universities all they need to know.
2. Have your experiences contributed to a profile that will be appealing to U.S. universities?
As I said above, American universities are interested in much more than your academic skills. They’re looking to build future leaders who give back to their communities in many ways. So, especially if you have a few years before applying, you should be thinking about how you can make an impact on your community through avenues like civic engagement, community service, athletics, arts, or whatever your interests are. Evaluate your extracurricular activities and how they align with your interests, where you can make more of a mark during your time in school, and how those interests will translate into engagement on campus at a U.S. university.
3. Where do you see yourself living after?
Although you don’t want to apply because of name recognition, you may need to consider the value of your degree back home — both in terms of the school and the marketability of your particular degree. Do you plan to stay in the U.S. after graduating university? If so, how do graduates with your particular degree fare in the U.S. job market? If you plan to return to your home country after completing your studies, will your degree hold weight when searching for a job at home? These are all important questions to consider and can go a long way toward informing your university choices both at home and abroad.
4. What am I looking forward to most about going to university in the U.S.?
Whether the image in your mind is something more like Animal House or Scream Queens, if your image of American universities is more informed by media than experience, you should try to visit or at least do a lot of online research to better understand the experience. Visiting campus will not only show you are very interested in attending if admitted, it will also give you a more genuine idea of what life at a U.S. university will be like should you gain admission. American universities are many and diverse, and you owe it to yourself to have an accurate picture of the experience and to understand whether that experience really is a fit for your goals.
5. Will the holiday schedule allow you to go home?
It may seem like a less important question, but a year away from home can feel like forever. You should look into all aspects of the experience, including just how far you’re going to feel from home while away. If you’re from a big city, will living in a smaller, rural town be too much of a change for you? If you’re unable to travel home during holiday breaks, how will you spend your time in the U.S. when class is out of session? It’s not uncommon for students to feel homesick so far away from home, so consider how often you will be able to go back and how well you will adjust to the new environment.
6. What else are American universities looking for in international applicants?
Like most countries’ universities, American institutions have a commitment to admitting applicants from their country, so the bar is often raised for international students. Every university wants to admit students who will be happy and add to the community. That means being sure you’re applying to a school that’s a good fit for you is even more important. Do you understand their teaching philosophy (e.g., core curricula vs open curricula)? Are you politically neutral but applying to a university with a reputation for its activist students? In the end not only will applying to schools that are a fit for you ensure a good experience, it will also increase your chances of being admitted to your top choices.
Whether you live in the US or you’re reading this from 10,000 miles away, you owe it to yourself to choose the school that’s going to be the best fit for you.
Especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with American universities, you need to ask yourself more questions about the differences between the American experience and what you’d have at home and whether those differences are really what you want. You want to have the best four years possible, and a little research can go a long way towards making that happen.
At IvyWise we have helped students from over 59 countries navigate the U.S. university admissions process. For more information on our college counseling services and how we can help international students gain admission to their best fit U.S. universities, contact us today.