College Application Advice for New Student from Brazil

Question: Hi, I'm from Brazil but will be moving to the US in september.(legally) I will be starting senior year there and was wondering what would change in the admission process for a college. I would be taking the SATs just like any other student. I was wondering how they will evaluate my GPA given the fact that i would only have attended senior year in the US.

High schools have different policies when it comes to transcripts for transfer students. Sometimes school officials will attempt to convert past grades to the same system that their own high school uses and thus they create a new, combined transcript for the student as well as a new GPA. But, commonly, the transfer student will have two transcripts instead ... the one compiled at the initial school and then another one from the new school. So even if you won't be arriving in the US until the fall, you can contact your US high school now to ask how they will proceed. (At most—but not all US high schools—the guidance office will be staffed through the summer, but you are more likely to get the information you need if you act promptly.)

Given that you will not enroll until grade 12 and that you're coming from a foreign country, my best guess is that officials at your US school will not try to merge your old and new transcripts and your old and new GPA. So, when you apply to colleges, you will submit two transcripts ... one from Brazil and one from the US. If your Brazilian transcript is in Portuguese, you will probably have to also submit an “official translation." You can find authorized translators by looking online. However, it's likely that an English-language version of your Brazil transcript has already been sent to your US high school ... or will be by September. If so, you won't have to obtain another translation for colleges.

Even if English was the primary language of instruction at your school in Brazil, so that no translation is required, you should still make sure that each of the colleges you apply to receives a school profile that provides an explanation of the grading system there, the course offerings, course requirements, etc. If you attended an American or international school, then the grading system may be familiar to US admission officials. But, if not, it's up to you or your parents to make sure that the US college folks can interpret your transcript from Brazil. You can also use the “Additional Information" section of your college applications to provide any other details that you think the admission committees should know about your old school, its grading system, its level of rigor, its median grades, etc.

One problem that high school transfer students sometimes face—whether they've transferred from another American high school or from outside the US—is that the new high school creates a new GPA that doesn't really tell the whole story. For instance, if your school in Brazil had no official “honors," “AP," “Accelerated" classes (etc.), but EVERY class was considered to be advanced, then your new American high school transcript might not reflect this. Your GPA may be calculated as if all of your classes were “regular" or “college prep" rather than honors classes. So this will make your new GPA appear lower than it really should. If your new school ranks you as well, this conversion process could really drag down your rank. So if you run into this sort of issue, be sure to use “Additional Information" to clarify it.

While the majority of college applicants have attended the same high school for four—or at least three—years, admission officials do understand that not every candidate will have done so. Thus they realize that transcripts that come from more than one school may not be as straightforward or easy to evaluate as a single transcript will be. Most admission officials will go the extra mile to make sure they understand the different educational or grading systems that their applicants have experienced.

Here are a couple of other considerations that may be important for you as you make your big move:

-If you are not a US citizen but you plan to apply for financial aid, be aware that it is extremely challenging for non-citizens to receive aid, and admission standards at your target colleges will be far higher for you than they would for a domestic applicant seeking aid. If, however, you are a Permanent Resident of the US (green-card holder) you will receive the same treatment that US citizens receive.

-College admission officials are always on the lookout for “diversity," and this means not only racial or ethnic diversity. They also seek students who can bring different backgrounds and experiences with them to campus. So when it's time to write your college essays, try to pick topics that highlight the fact that you lived in Brazil and probably have ties to a culture that will be unfamiliar to most of your classmates. When international students (or even US students who have grown up abroad) write essays that sound like those submitted by their US-raised peers (“The Big Orchestra Recital," “What I've Learned from Competitive Swimming"), they miss out on a golden opportunity to stand out in a crowd.

Changing high schools in grade 12 can be daunting for most students, but the challenges multiply when you're arriving from a different country and culture. But, if you are like many US teenagers, you might be very ready to expand your horizons, and this could be a welcome and exciting opportunity. Best wishes on the big move ahead.