More and more international students are enrolling in colleges in the United States. This increase can be attributed to a number of reasons, including quality of education, future employment opportunities, cost, scholarships, social recognition, and opportunities for immigration. Combine this with several thousand colleges and universities to choose from, and the U.S. has options and educational opportunities for everyone.
The road to acceptance at a U.S. college or university will never be 100 percent stress-free, but there are ways to make the process easier.
Independent college advisors can help international students navigate the admissions process and offer tips on:
1. Deciding where to apply. Getting into a U.S. college is often more difficult for international students. However, a student can gain an advantage if he or she knows which schools are particularly interested in international students as a way to add diversity and cultural enrichment to their programs. Students may also prefer to be at schools with more international students. Being far from home can often feel lonely, and the presence of fellow international students to share the experience can ease “culture shock.”
2. Taking the required tests. Many universities require international students to take the TOEFL or IELTS as part of the application process. The TOFEL and IELTS test a student’s understanding of English. The minimum score requirement on each of these tests varies greatly, so be sure to check with each school’s specific policies when preparing to apply. Oftentimes, if an international student’s native language is not English, the only exceptions would be if the student studies at an English speaking high school, or if the student earned a bachelor’s degreein a particular country like the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia, or Anglophone Canada. International students may also want to look into test-optional schools that do not require the SAT or ACT as part of the admissions process. Schools that do not use these scores can be found at Fairtest.org. However, it is best to check the school’s web page for the most current information regarding test policies.
3. Building the resume with extracurricular activities. In addition to good grades, colleges like students who participate in extracurricular activities. Many international students do not have extensive resumes, so these activities can propel one international student over another in the admissions process. With these activities, a student should demonstrate to the admission committee some level of accomplishment, passion, initiative, commitment, and leadership. Activities can include drama, music, sports, dance, volunteer work, work experience or internships. Colleges prefer to see a few activities that show a student’s sincere dedication over a list of as many activities as possible.
4. Completing the application process. There are a number of elements that an international student needs to submit with an application. For one, students need to make sure colleges receive translated versions of transcripts or grades they require along with letters of recommendation. Essays are another area of the application that may cause problems for students of English as a second language. In writing the essays, international students should not try to “Americanize” or “mainstream” their applications. Schools want diversity. The goal is to stand out and not appear to be like all the other applicants.
5. Deciding where to attend. This is made more difficult because it is often impossible for students in other countries to visit all or any of the colleges being considered. Some countries have international fairs or Skype interviews so students can meet school representatives, but students should still try to visit the college prior to making their final decision.
6. Understanding financial aid. Financial aid in the form of grants, loans or need-based aid is usually not available for international students.Students should also look at each college’s financial aid services website to see if anything is available. Almost every school requires families to submit bank letters that confirm the family has enough money in the bank to pay for all four years of school. If a student does not need financial aid, they should let the college know. In many cases, international students who need financial assistance are less likely to get accepted. Students should research financial aid opportunities at EducationUSA, a service of the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education. The site offers a frequently updated list of financial aid opportunities.
7. Getting scholarships. Searching for scholarships can be a daunting process. For international students who want to study in the U.S., a good place to start looking for scholarships is a student’s own home country. Some countries provide assistance to students for international study. For example, a number of countries provide scholarships for students who do a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program, for example. Students should look into these options and research them fully. Some, but not all, of these require students to return home upon graduation. International students should also look at each college’s financial aid services website to see if there are any merit-based scholarships. A large number of colleges have merit-based scholarship programs specifically for international students. Additionally, many private companies offer scholarships to international students. A good place to start is with one of the many free search engines for scholarships. Keep in mind that students should never have to pay to find or apply for scholarships. Reputable scholarships never charge to apply.
International students who are not working with a college counselor who knows the application process and best schools for international students should be sure to contact the international affairs department of each college of interest.