Tips for International Students Applying to US Colleges this Fall

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Applying to college can be a time-consuming and stressful endeavor for anyone, but international students have more steps to take in the process to be considered for admission to US universities.

Typically, international students need to meet the same requirements for admission as US students. So, for example, if a college requires a standardized test score from the SAT or ACT, international students have to submit those scores as well as other requirements like academic transcripts and required admission essays. Because international students may have a native language other than English, they also need to demonstrate English proficiency with the TOEFL test score.

Because of these requirements, the college search for international students should start early. "My recommendation to international students interested in studying in the United States, outside of working hard to do well in their academic work, is to communicate as soon as possible and as often as needed with prospective colleges schools and their admissions offices," advises Mike Rivas, assistant director of international admissions at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Ark.

It's Not Just About Grades and Test Scores

Some international students assume that just having good grades and a high test score will secure them a spot at a US college or university, but the admissions process is more complicated than that.

"Remember that US colleges look for what a student is like as a person, not just how they perform on some tests," says Jason Smith, director of UES Admission Experts, which provides consulting services for students pursuing education in the United States and the United Kingdom. "Top colleges routinely turn down very academic students with perfect grades because these grades don't tell the whole story. Students should take the time to think about what motivates them, what they want out of life, what's important to them and what qualities they have that make them an interesting applicant."

Consider Each College's Location and Campus Feel

Oftentimes, international students only know about certain parts of the United States and don't realize how large the country is and how many colleges may have opportunities for them. For example, an international student might assume any college in New York State is in New York City. Or international students may only know about highly selective institutions like Stanford University or Harvard University and not realize that admissions is incredibly competitive and there are thousands of other universities to consider.

"Students should keep an open mind about where to apply," says Smith. "Don't just go for the big name colleges in New England: every man and his dog applies there. There are some fantastic, highly ranked colleges you've never heard of, where you'll likely be a better fit and have a higher chance of acceptance."

Of course, visiting campuses in person is usually not an option for many students who live abroad. "International students have more difficulty visiting colleges as it is, let alone during a pandemic, but fortunately there are lots of remote college fairs taking place, and most colleges will happily set up live chats with admissions officers and offer virtual tours of campus," notes Smith. "Students should start 'visiting' a range of colleges (some big, some small, some liberal arts, some large research unis) and make notes about what they liked and didn't like. This will help them narrow down their college list, and find those places where they'll be a better 'fit', increasing their chances of being accepted."

Make Connections When Possible

International students may feel a bit nervous about applying to colleges this fall in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but most institutions are operating as usual.

"At my university we are moving forward with the expectation and plan that things will settle and return to some sort of normalcy at some point, hopefully in the very near future," says Rivas. "In most cases, schools are very understanding of the challenges we all are facing and are working diligently to help mitigate them for both the students and the institutions."

John Eriksen, director of international admissions at Johnson & Wales University, says that international students can learn a lot about colleges they may be interested in right now to make a better choice about where to apply. "It is important for students to see how their prospective universities handled this current crisis," Eriksen says. "Have they provided strong support for their international and domestic students through this pandemic? I have found that universities that are more personal and supportive of their students have continued with being supportive as this virus spread. Others were slow to act and as a result, international students might have been impacted negatively, and possibly, they could still have no place to go right now," says Eriksen.

Prospective international students can also reach out to colleges they are interested in and try to communicate with the campus community to ask questions and find out if that college is the right fit for them and where they might excel.

"I think it is even more important for students to connect with current students, alumni, faculty and international admissions offices at this time and moving forward," Eriksen says. "These contacts at the university will provide answers to many questions that students have during this time. There is a lot in the news and media regarding a country's response to this pandemic; however, students need to dig deeper and ask those specifically with the university how they handled this crisis for students and families."

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