Preparing for College

Should Bicultural Family Stay in Turkey or Move to U.S.?

Question: My children are in their sophomore and freshman years of high school. They were born in Turkey and are dual citizens (Turkish/American). We are considering a family move to the U.S. for education and employment opportunities. Since they spent all of their education (thus far) outside the U.S. will they be required to take the SAT/ACT? Should we wait until they have graduated from high school before moving or move now so they can improve their skills to get a higher score on the SAT/ACT? I would appreciate any guidance you can give us on this issue. Thank you.

Your children will be required to submit the SAT or ACT regardless of whether they live in the U.S. or abroad (except at those colleges that are test-optional for all applicants). They may be required to submit TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores, too. (If English is spoken at home or is the primary language of instruction at school for at least four years, then they can skip the TOEFL.)

There are undoubtedly many complex reasons that will determine if you move to the U.S. soon or stay in Turkey. While it is irresponsible of me to weigh in on such a major life decision with so little information, I will do so anyway, as long as you promise to take my advice with a big block of salt. If you're already nodding agreement, then here are my thoughts:

Your children will probably be much more attractive to admission officials --especially at the highly competitive colleges--if they are applying from Turkey. Unless you are planning to land in North Dakota or Wyoming or some other state that is very underrepresented in most applicant pools, then being from Turkey will be a "hook" in this process.

Even if your children improve their English (or overall academic skills) somewhat by relocating to America, I doubt that their potentially higher test scores will outweigh the pluses of geographic diversity.

Granted, many American colleges--especially the hyper-selective ones--draw applicants from around the world. Some students (and parents) put far more weight on the value of geographic diversity than is warranted. So while living in Turkey and being bicultural won't push your kids through the Ivy gates, it will help them to stand out in a crowd more than if they were dual-citizen applicants residing in the U.S.

From a college-admissions perspective, the biggest plus of moving stateside soon would be to establish residence in a state with a strong public university or public-college system. This would give your children some priority in the admissions process at these institutions and would allow you to pay in-state tuition. But if you are setting your sights primarily on private colleges, then this may not be a consideration for you.

So when determining if you should move to America now, and if your list of pros and cons seems pretty even, I would throw my vote toward remaining in Turkey until your children finish high school. But don't forget my disclaimer from above, and take my counsel with plenty of salt ... and maybe a shot of Raki, too. ;-)