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6 Tips for International Students Applying to U.S. Colleges

As in international student, maybe you’re dreaming and wondering if you could ever come to the USA for your college? The answer is Yes!

Last year, 800,000 students from all over the globe came to the USA for college – but it’s not easy and you’re going to need some help along the way before you get your student visa and show up for classes.

For any student who speaks English as a first language the process for getting into college in USA is tough, but for students who speak English as a second language you’re going to have to work even harder.

Even the most determined, organized, and emotionally and mentally prepared overseas students have a difficult road ahead – but almost a million came here just last year – you can do it!

This article talks about some of the things you need to know that will help you prepare for conquering the challenges you will be facing as an international student, including:

• How are you evaluated as a student?

• Do higher international student numbers mean more admissions?

• Are college international student percentages up, or down?

• You’re competing on a global scale

• Every college has unique admission requirements

• Can you be competitive enough?

How Are You Evaluated Compared to American Students?

There are three things that matter the most to college admission boards for international students applying to US colleges.

1) Extracurricular activities.

What you do outside of college, what we call extracurricular activities, matter more than you may think. College admissions boards look for well-balanced students and excellent grades are not enough on their own.

Find ways to highlight anything you’ve done outside of your classes, from working part time, to volunteering anywhere for any cause, to learning to play an instrument to juggling track and being on the badminton team.

2) SAT scores matter too.

As an international student, universities here are going to have a difficult time interpreting what your high school transcripts mean as far as curriculum is concerned. This is how the SAT has evolved into a required test everyone must do well on to be considered for college.

The good news is that there is a movement in the USA these days where more colleges are not requiring SAT scores for their admission. The original mission of the SAT was to identify intellectual talent regardless of race, color, creed, money, or geography, and it will give talent room to blossom. But the data available today indicates the SAT no longer serves as an equalizer and some refer to it as “a wealth test”.

For now, most colleges are still using the SAT to evaluate your academic potential and past knowledge acquired, so do everything possible to get the highest score you can.

3) English language tests still matter.

It’s still critical that you do well on the TOEFL or IELTS exams. As an international student your English-speaking abilities are analyzed closely because your communication skills affect how much you participate in class and are able to keep up with your workload.

Universities want every indication that you are an advanced English speaker and these test are crucial to displaying these skills.

International Student Populations Can Be Misleading

Yes. Unfortunately for you, you need to be prepared to just accept that you can’t simply look at the percentage of international students at a certain school and figure out your odds of getting accepted.

Did you know that most colleges have limits on their international student population, usually capped at around 10%? Rarely will colleges admit to quotas like this, but it’s clear these numbers don’t vary much year to year. Looking at colleges that have a 20% overall admissions rate for international students indicates the rate for overseas students will be closer to 5%.

And this smaller percentage doesn’t go into details like you are competing with other international students from over 80 countries, along with your home country. The numbers show that a college may get 300 applications from India, for example, and accept only 2 or 3!

Your way around this is to look at the list of schools to which all international students apply, and pick the less popular colleges because they will not receive as many applications from your competition.

Rural schools and schools that are not located in the Northeast section of the USA get fewer applications - this will increase your admission success.

It’s a Great Time to be an International Student

Recent numbers show the overall amount of international students coming to the USA for college is increasing every year and this increase is expected to triple in the coming decade.

To attract even more overseas students, colleges are expanding their international programs; especially for STEM field students and full-pay students.

You can take advantage of increasing opportunities for international students by highlighting in your admission applications what you will bring to the college campus academically, culturally, and socially.

Another thing to consider when taking advantage of the positive tide of international students is to use financial aid as a selection tool. If you are going to need financial aid, don’t bother wasting your time on colleges that don’t offer financial aid to international students. Check first before you fall in love with a school that won’t offer you any financial aid and ignore them completely.

You're Competing on a Global Scale

Remember that you are competing with a large number of other international students for a small percentage of available seats.

Think about these when you complete your application:

• If you don’t need financial aid – congratulations! And be sure to let your college know you do not need any financial aid because it’s more difficult to get accepted if you need financial assistance as an international student.

• Highlight what makes you different than the other students at your high school, or college if you are applying for graduate work, and explain clearly why you are passionate about coming to America for your college education.

• Emphasize your background and your diversity as much as possible. Colleges pride themselves as being places of learning and your perspectives as an overseas student are attractive to the admissions board.

• Practice both the ACT and SAT. You should know after this practice which test is right for you. And don’t be surprised if you do better on the ACT, many international students do.

• If you are looking for a liberal arts education, curriculum that provides general knowledge and develops your intellectual abilities, explain your understanding of what this type of education means in America. You should know how it is different than the more professionally oriented college curriculum offered at colleges in your home country.

• The name of the college is not as important as you think. A prestigious school with a stellar reputation is just that, until you do your research and get beneath the flashy brochures and website and get a real feeling for the overall education environment.

• If you can, gousavisacenter suggests visiting every school you are applying to, at least go online and take a virtual tour of the campus. Does it feel comfortable enough that you can spend the next four years of your life there? What about six to eight years for your graduate work?

Every College Has Unique Requirements

Everything in America tends to be unique and different, whether you are picking out a car or a cell phone or groceries or selecting a college for your education – every experience is going to be a little different and everybody and everything likes to stand out and be considered an improvement here.

One of the main differences in higher education in the USA is that our education system is not centralized like it is in many countries. Admission requirements for colleges vary greatly from one college to the next in the USA.

Your academic background will be looked at differently by every university so it will be helpful to understand these different viewpoints. For example, there are three prevailing grading systems; the 4.0 scale, the % system, and the letter grade methods. Which system are your #1, #2, and #3 college choices using?

A Last Word on Being Competitive

To increase your chances of being admitted to the college of your choice, gousavisacenter recommends completing a program of study that qualifies you for admission to colleges in your home country as a foundation of your experience and knowledge.

If you take the toughest classes you can handle, especially in the areas you are passionate about, colleges in the USA will understand what you have accomplished no matter how they evaluate your academic experience. They will reward you for stretching your abilities and pushing yourself.

And keep in mind that as an international student, you have to navigate admission requirements along with those for national students, including proof of your proficiency in English.

Be as prepared as possible and get help with your progress every step of the way. Almost 1 million international students selected a college, picked a degree, took the required tests, wrote the essays, tracked down their recommendations and got accepted to a college in the USA – just last year!

For international students, many college graduates come to realize that the process of getting into college is actually more difficult and exhausting than getting through college and earning a degree.

You can do it too. Write me here at if you have noticed any other interesting trends with college admission processes for international students. Good luck and don’t give up.

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