6 Facts International Applicants Should Know About US Colleges


US colleges and universities have been welcoming international students for decades, but the competition for admission is increasingly fierce, especially for the top-tier institutions. Check out six special considerations that international students and their families should consider when applying to US colleges.

1. A Visa to Enter the US Is Required

International students not only need to gain acceptance to a university, but they also need permission to enter the United States for the purpose of academic study. See Study USA for more information about the process of obtaining a visa. For general information on studying in the United States, check out these stats from the government.

2. English Language Proficiency Is Essential

International students must demonstrate an acceptable level of English language proficiency to be admitted to a US degree program, and they must usually submit TOEFL scores with their applications. If a student does not have a TOEFL score that is as high as it needs to be, there are some programs that offer academic courses that can improve English proficiency that are short-term Intensive English Programs (IEP). Students can study using these programs and then apply to universities once their scores improve. Like domestic students, they also must submit other standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT, if the institutions they are applying to require it for admission consideration.

3. There Are Many Institutions in the United States — Not Just "Elite" Schools

To maximize admission odds, international students should look beyond just the most well-known institutions.

"US colleges limit the number of international students admitted each year -- therefore, international students should consider pursuing schools that are not common household names, schools that are located in rural areas, and schools outside of the Northeastern United States," says Joanna Cain, president and founder of Global Academic Consultants. "International students should apply to 10 to 20 US colleges to increase chances of admission. The student's school list should include reach schools, match schools and safety schools, and not all "brand name" reach schools."

4. Each College Has Different Admission Criteria

In many countries, higher education is controlled by a central government, so many institutions are essentially the same -- but that's not the case in the US.

"International students need to understand that education is not centralized in the United States; therefore, the admissions requirements among institutions vary significantly," explains Cain. "The student should be familiar with the differences and ensure that they are submitting applications that meet the schools' requirements."

5. Colleges Care About International Diversity

Many colleges welcome international students and would like them to contribute their cultural backgrounds to the culture on campus. International students should understand that US colleges want applications to reflect how students plan to contribute academically, culturally and socially to the school, Cain says.

"For instance, if a student from Nigeria applies to a private liberal arts college that does not have a Nigerian club on campus, the student could mention in their application that they would like to start a club or initiative to educate other students about the Nigerian culture," Cain said.

6. International Students Don't Qualify for Federal Aid, But Scholarships Are Possible

International students can be considered for certain scholarships offered by individual colleges as well as businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations, such as Rotary International, UNESCO and MasterCard.

The good news is that many colleges plan to increase scholarships to international students. In the 2019 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Officials, conducted by Gallup, 51 percent of respondents said that they plan increase scholarships to international students.

Beyond just the cost to the attend a college, international students and their families should not forget that there are additional costs and should plan for them accordingly.

"International students should consider the broader financial picture, rather than focusing on tuition rates alone, when considering the cost of attending an international institution. The student should factor in living expenses, travel costs, health insurance needs and medical services as costs related to attending college in a different country," advises Cain.