There are plenty of great reasons for moving abroad to pursue your higher education. Perhaps you're seeking an international adventure or want to study a subject that's only possible in a specific country. Maybe you just don't want to pay the ever-rising costs of American college tuition. Or perhaps you have roots in a foreign country that you want to explore.
While American students who want to attend college within the US usually must submit SAT or ACT scores, universities abroad typically have other criteria for admitting local students.
But what if you live in the US and want to apply to colleges abroad? Will any of those schools accept SAT or ACT scores from American applicants? The answer is – maybe. Not all universities outside the US accept SAT or ACT scores, but there are many that do. You simply need to go to the school's website and look at the admission requirements specifically for US students.
Trend Toward ACT/SAT Is Growing
If you aren't yet sure which schools will be on your list but already know the geographic region where you hope to study, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has a Guide to International University Admission, with admission requirements of universities around the world organized by country.
Fortunately for American high school students who hope to spend their college years abroad, there is definitely a growing trend among international universities to accept SAT or ACT scores.
“There is an increase in students interested in attending universities abroad, and more of those universities are signing up to become College Board members. Because not all American applicants have access to AP classes or an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum at their high school, universities abroad who want to enroll US students need to accept SAT or ACT scores,” explains Lindsay Addington, EdD, Director of Global Engagement at NACAC.
However, schools abroad do tend to have stricter requirements than US universities. Even if SAT or ACT scores are accepted, there is a minimum score that you must meet. If you don't score the minimum or higher, you likely won't be admitted – it's as simple as that.
In addition to SAT I scores, your SAT II (SAT Subject Test) scores are also very important to international schools. Whereas many US universities do not require SAT II scores, international universities often do. The main reason is because students in other countries apply directly to a major or field when they apply to college. This is different than the model used by US colleges, where you usually take general education or core courses for the first year or two before specializing in your major during the last two years.
For this same reason, schools abroad will want you to take higher level IB courses in high school that are relevant to your intended major – and show that you've done well in them. Colleges in the US like to see an applicant's progress over four years of high school. But schools abroad focus on the last two years – which is why enrolling in the college prep courses of a two-year IB curriculum is helpful (if this is available to you) if you're interested in applying to colleges outside the US.
In the UK and Canada, two of the most popular destinations abroad for American high school students applying to college, most universities have long accepted applications from US students and are familiar with American standardized tests like the SAT, ACT and AP exams. Most British and Canadian universities will accept the SAT or ACT but usually also require the results of several SAT Subject tests and AP exams from US applicants.
Addington points out that if you hope to gain your undergraduate degree abroad, you “kind of need to know early on, like around ninth grade, because your academic trajectory in high school will have to change since international admission requirements are so rigid. You will need to take courses for a specific field.”
Grades Will Reign
The biggest difference between admission requirements in the US and abroad is that international colleges are very grade-oriented. You won't necessarily need letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors, a well-rounded resume of extracurricular activities or even essays. Universities abroad just want to see your academic qualifications, unlike US colleges, which of course look at your grades but also want to know about your personal qualities, if you are a good cultural fit and how you will contribute to the community on campus.
Some US students who applied to international universities found that these rigid requirements actually became an advantage. “They knew upfront whether or not they were eligible for applying to a university abroad because the requirements are so clear about academic expectations and scores,” says Addington.
If you have any questions about applying to a university abroad, you can check the school's website to see if it has an admissions officer listed for your region, or perhaps a staff member based in the US. But Addington says not to expect any hand-holding: “In some countries, the amount of catering to students is a lot less. You need to be self-initiated, self-disciplined and do some digging on your own.”