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What International Students Should Look for in Colleges

By Tasha, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

When international students think about applying to college in the US, they may be surprised to find that there are over 3,000 four-year colleges and universities to which they can apply. When building their college list for U.S.-based college admissions, international students should be considering many factors, including the size of a school’s international student population and what they want to do after university.

International Student Need to Build Balanced College Lists

Growing up outside of the US, it is likely that you have only heard about some of the most famous American colleges and universities. American college admissions can be very competitive, however, especially when it comes to schools with international name recognition.

To be successful in the admissions process, international students must prioritize building a balanced college list that includes target, reach, and likely schools. This is why it’s so crucial that international students learn about a wide range of institutions – rather than just the name brands they’re most familiar with.

As a former international admissions counselor, I witnessed, firsthand, many excellent and qualified international students apply to the same universities, vying for the same highly-competitive spots. While it’s important to apply to schools with international student services and programs, it’s also important to build a diverse and balanced college list.

Look into International Student Programs

International student populations range in size across different American universities. For example, Boston University and the University of Southern California, where I worked in international admissions, have large and robust international student communities. That said, many other colleges with smaller international student populations may also have strong and expanded programs to support international students.

As an international student, you should consider how important an international community is to you. If you want to prioritize being surrounded by many other international students, you might want to consider researching top schools for international students. Some avenues of research should include:

  • Institute of International Education Open Doors data: The Institute for International Education, a research and partnerships organization that works to facilitate international education, publishes an annual report called Open Doors. International students can do research by reading Open Doors data, including the “Leading Institutions” section of the report, which shows the top institutions that international students are attending. You might be surprised to see a number of schools on that list that you may have never heard of!
  • Look for the international student and international admissions websites: Most universities have an international student office that is sometimes associated with immigration processing or with their office of admissions. Reach out and ask if you can speak to either a staff member or a current international student about support for international students on campus.
  • Ask the university to speak to a current international student: Some universities have international student ambassador programs connecting current international students with prospective international students. This is a great way to make a personal connection and learn more about how you might fit in as an international student. Sometimes, you may even get the chance to speak to a current student from your country or a current student majoring in your area of interest. Take advantage of any opportunity to connect with current international students to learn about their experiences on campus.

Questions to Ask as an International Student

What do you want to study?

Without a doubt, one of the most crucial factors you should be considering when deciding where to go to college is what you want to study. Students should prioritize academic offerings and interests above most other factors. Make sure that your balanced college list only includes schools that meet your academic goals and interests.

What do you want to do after college?

As an international student, you will have some choices to make after you graduate. Most students will get the chance to stay and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. However, many students return to their home countries or begin their professional lives in another country altogether.

When building your balanced college list, it is a good idea to consider where you want to be after college. Some colleges and universities may provide more opportunities for career advancement in the U.S., while others may have better academic and career programs geared toward international contexts. These are important topics to research before applying to college.

Thousands of universities want to build diverse student populations and part of this is welcoming more international students to their campuses. Ultimately, as an international student, you have many exciting options.

At IvyWise, we work with students in over 59 different countries – helping them identify and apply to the best-fit colleges for them. Our team of expert counselors has extensive experience guiding international students through the US university admissions process, and we can help you reach your personal and academic goals through our comprehensive college counseling services. Contact us today for more information!


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