Preparing for College

For International Applicants

If you live outside of the United States and will be applying to colleges in America, there is a terrific resource that can help your college process.  Admissions Without Borders offers "Expert Opinions on Studying in the U.S.A."

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The blog is written by Sally Rubenstone, Senior Advisor and Contributing Writer for Hobsons' USA Education Guides site. Here's some of her background:


Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: from the first time the "C" word comes up at the dinner table, until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm-room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges; and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post,  USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People, and Seventeen.

Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds, and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills, and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens, and Tel Aviv. Since joining forces with College Confidential in 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college-admissions maze.

Although Sally has been dispensing advice to anxious families for more than two decades, she only became a first-time mom herself 12 years ago, at the ripe old age of 45. Now, as her son heads off to middle school, she hopes that she can give the same guidance and comfort to others that she will soon need herself.

What does a typical Sally post look like? Here's one of her latest:

Report from the Trenches: A Current International Applicant Discusses His Admissions Process

“Janez” is a high school senior in Slovenia, a small country in Eastern Europe. (Janez isn’t his real name but it’s a common one in his country.) He lived in the United States when he was little (because of his father’s job) and went to kindergarten in Virginia for about a year. He says that, ever since, he’s wanted to come back. His English is excellent although, other than that, he has never attended a school where English was the primary language of instruction. “We do learn English in Slovenian schools,” he told me, “from 4th grade until we go off to college. (In Slovenia we have our own language that only we speak, and we realize that we have to learn at least one foreign language if we want to communicate with others).”

Below, you’ll see Janez’s answers to an “Admissions Without Borders” questionnaire. This is the second in a series of blogs featuring current international applicants. If you, too, are in the midst of applying to U.S. colleges as an international student and would like to respond to these questions, please let us know in the “Comments” section.

-Name: “Janez”

-Current Country: Slovenia

-Have you lived in any other country? If yes, where and for about how long?

Yes, I lived in the United States for four years when I was a child.

-What were your SAT (or ACT) test results? TOEFL results?

SAT Math: 760

SAT Critical Reading: 680

SAT Writing: 570 (I retook the SAT in November, hoping to raise this score.)***

SAT II Chemistry: 770

SAT II Physics: 790

SAT II Math: 700

TOEFL: Internet Based Test and got 108 (out of 120)

***UPDATE from Janez***

“I just found out my November SAT scores today; My math didn’t change (760), I improved my CR by 10 points (to 690), but most importantly, I raised the Writing score to 710!”

-Why do you want to attend college in the United States?

Firstly, I’ve always been an adventurous type of person and I’ve always wanted to live abroad for a few years. But more importantly, U.S. Universities offer a broader curriculum than European ones. A lot of things interest me and I want to take a lot of different classes before I declare my major.

-Prospective Major:

I haven’t decided on a major yet, but I’m interested in economics, so that’s something I may major in. But I’m also interested in chemistry, and I plan to take a few courses in college. Maybe I’ll discover I like it even more than economics.

-Prospective Career Goal:

None yet

-To what colleges did you apply or do you plan to apply? Why did you select these schools?

I applied Early Decision to Brown University. I figured that Brown would be the best fit with their open curriculum, since I’m interested in a lot of different things. Other colleges that are high on my list are Cornell University and the University of Chicago, if I get rejected from Brown. One of my main interests is economics, and both schools have a great economics department. But I’m also very interested in science, and of course, both schools have great science departments, too. (My father, who is an electro engineer actually told me that some of the most talented electro engineers and physicists that he met while in the U.S. went to Cornell.) Also, both have beautiful campuses!

I think that Brown is a good match, but I also know that there are a lot of other great schools in the US and so even though I hope Brown will accept me, I won’t be heart-broken if they don’t

-How did you first hear about the colleges on your list? (Particularly the lesser-known ones, if any)

I actually can’t remember when exactly when I first heard of U of C and Cornell, but I know that I had heard of them or read about them before I started my college search process.

– Are you asking for financial aid? If yes, do you need a lot of aid or a little?

No, I am lucky enough not to need financial aid.

-What aspect of the college admissions process have you found to be the most confusing or frustrating?

Where to start? Okay, I’m just kidding. Probably the most frustrating part is not being able to compare yourself to anyone. If you’re in the U.S. you see the people that graduated before you and see where they got accepted and then you can compare yourself to them and get a general feeling about how realistic you chances are of getting into a particular college. The only thing I can help myself with in assessing how good my chances are at a particular college is comparing my SAT score to the 25 – 75th percentile SAT scores of those who got accepted.

-Has anyone in particular been helping you with your US college selection and application process (e.g., school official, parent, private college counselor, even a Web site, etc.)?

My parents have been very supportive, although they didn’t study in the US, so they can’t really give me a lot of first hand advice. Also, CollegeConfidential.com is a site with a lot of useful information.

– What advice would you give to another international high school student who is considering applying to college in the U.S.?

Start early! I started planning and preparing for my application process the summer after sophomore year. There’s quite a lot to do, but if you start early and distribute the workload over a long period of time, it’s very bearable.

– What were your admission results?

I don’t have any yet.

Posted in Study in the US

Here are some of Sally's latest posts:

If you have a question about international admissions, you may contact Sally at sally@collegeconfidential.com.

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Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.