written by
Zoë Edington

International students applying to U.S. colleges: How to get started

Admissions Tips 5 min read
International students applying to U.S. colleges: How to get started
Photographer: Jason Yuen | Source: Unsplash

Although it's doing so at a slower rate than in previous years, the percentage of international students moving to the United States (U.S.) for higher education is increasing, about 5%. The Institute of International Education states that reasons for students choosing to attend a school in the U.S. may vary, but often include the quality higher education system, welcoming culture, and open labor market.

While attending an American college or university may be the goal for many, there are a few factors that can make the application process a bit more complicated for international applicants than for those who are from the U.S. These complications almost always result in international applicants needing to take extra steps to make sure that they meet the standards necessary to apply to American schools.

To best support international mentees - and hopefully college bound students - here are some requirements, tips, and reminders to increase the chances of being accepted.

Typical additional requirements for international students

1. Proof of your English language skills

The first step you should take when thinking about seriously applying to a school in the U.S. is your English level. Unless you're a citizen of a country in which the main spoken language is English (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand), then you'll probably have to take a standardized test that proves your proficiency in the language. These tests are usually the TOEFL and IELTS, which international applicants will have to take in addition to the SAT.

2. Verification of your academic transcripts

While some American institutions will already have prior knowledge of how grades are calculated in your home country, there's a chance that some of the schools you apply to will require you prove that your secondary education matches that of a domestic student. These steps may include sending your documents to a credential evaluator, and/or translating them into English yourself (if they're not already).

3. Student Visa

Another big factor to consider is your student visa. Typically, only students who have already been admitted will need to obtain a student visa; however, it's worth having a plan far in advance since the process can be time-consuming and schools need to verify that you have a visa before offering a financial aid package.

Don’t Forget
Photographer: Marten Bjork | Source: Unsplash

Tips to help your transition to the U.S. education system

1. Familiarize yourself with the range of schools & universities

It's no secret that there are various kinds of higher education available in the U.S. - trade schools, community colleges, online schools, and more - but I'd say that the most common colleges that international students apply to are liberal arts colleges and research universities. While the application process is fairly similar for both types of institutions, the curriculum and overall experience may vary depending on which one you attend.

Liberal arts colleges tend to have a smaller student body and have more emphasis on the liberal arts and sciences. These colleges may have more general education requirements that are outside of your major so that you gain a broader education by the time you graduate.

Whereas research universities have a focus on research (the name gives it away!), so it's common for students to participate in opportunities led by professors on campus. Depending on your academic goals for both college and post-college, you should look into the types of schools to find out which environment is best for you.

2. Tour a few campuses

This tip is recommended for all students since you can better imagine yourself as a student on campus by walking around the campus. While it may be difficult for international students to fly to the U.S. and then cross state lines to visit colleges, it may be worth visiting your top school or two and then spending some time in the broader area to gain a better understanding of what your life could be like. If visiting the country before admittance is not an option, many schools have virtual tours and admissions blogs on their websites that virtually offer all campus information to students.

3. Look into summer programs

If it's more worth it for you to spend a month or two in the country taking classes than spending a couple of days touring campuses, a pre-college summer program at your dream school may be right for you. These programs are designed for high school students to gain experience in an area of interest and have first-hand knowledge of the academic expectations in college. For international students, these programs would also be a window into what to expect if you attend an American college.

4. Research your financial aid options

As mentioned earlier, schools will usually only offer a financial aid after you provide proof of obtaining a student visa. However, you should make sure that you take extra time to compare your financial aid packages and look into various scholarships since schools may offer less money to international students, something that's especially unfortunate given international students often face higher costs than domestic students.

One last friendly reminder...

As you can probably tell throughout this, the number one reminder I have for international applicants is to set aside extra time for the American college application process. With more steps to factor in with this process, there's more room for unforeseen issues to occur - documents being lost, miscommunication between schools and applicants, forgotten deadlines, and more. If you start the process now by beginning to research and form your list of schools, then you'll be better prepared for any problems that may arise, and hopefully be able to finish sooner so that you can enjoy your time before moving to the U.S. Best of luck!

And, we've got 75+ mentors from top universities - including some who first came to the U.S. when applying and getting accepted to their dream schools. Chat with one for free here and let us help you in the process ahead.

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