Top Tips for Successful U.S. College Applications for International Students

Top Tips for Successful U.S. College Applications for International Students

The process of applying to colleges in the U.S. can be challenging if you are an international student. Low acceptance rates make it all the more important for your application to stand out. Here is all the information that you need to know in order to give yourself the best chance to be accepted to your college of choice:

Give Yourself Time to Plan

The application process can seem tedious at first, as you will need to do a lot of research on each college you are considering. If you start early, you can avoid a lot of stress and maintain a positive attitude throughout.

Make Three Separate Lists of Colleges

  • The first list is for your dream colleges. These are the top-ranking colleges that you would ideally like to attend, but are extremely competitive, and your acceptance is not guaranteed.
  • The second list is for colleges that also rank highly, but are not as competitive. These should be the colleges where you feel confident about your acceptance.
  • The third list is for colleges ranked a little below your target range that will act as your safety net.

It is smart to have at least three colleges on each list.

Do Not Apply to a College Just Based on Name Recognition

A college is much more than its name. You need to feel comfortable there and have plenty of opportunities to enhance your experience. Find the best colleges for your chosen program, and consider the quality of the faculty and infrastructure. Also, learn more about life on campus, and the clubs you can join at different colleges.

Go Through the Application Forms Meticulously

After you have compiled your lists, get your application forms from each college’s website. There are often application fees; however, you can research how you might be able to waive these fees.

Understand How Standardized Testing Works

If you are applying for undergraduate school, gather all of the available information about the SAT and the ACT. Read about both tests and sit for the one you in which you feel you could excel.

If you are applying for graduate school, you need to know everything about either the GRE or GMAT. The GRE is a part of the admission process for a wide range of graduate school programs, while the GMAT is used mostly for business schools.

The next step is to start preparing for your chosen test. To be in the top 1 percentile, you will need a 1550-1600 composite score on the SAT, a 34 or higher on the ACT, 330 or higher on the GRE, and 760 or higher on the GMAT.

Standardized tests are just a part of the college admissions criteria. You need to take them seriously but at the same time, not overestimate their importance. If you do not receive your desired score on the first try, you do have the option of taking these tests more than once.

Take an English Proficiency Test

You will most likely need to also take an English proficiency test for admission. This test will likely be either the TOEFL or IELTS. Find out the minimum score requirement for each college you are applying to. These tests are to ensure that you will be able to understand and excel in your classes without language assistance.

You can work on your English language fluency by using it in everyday conversations, or by watching American movies or television shows. You can take extra classes to prepare, and you have the option of taking these tests more than once.

Show Growth through Your Transcripts

You will need to maintain good grades as well as show continuous improvement in your academics to be accepted to top U.S. colleges and universities. Your accomplishments and progress will need to be documented and compiled in a professional manner to present to colleges you are applying to.

Start by getting your transcripts translated by an official credential service if your school’s grading system is different from the U.S. grading system. Even if the college you are applying to gives the option to use an unofficial translator, you should always opt for an official credential service.

Stand Out with a Great Admissions Essay

Your admission essays convey who you are to the college admissions committee. If you come from a culture where test scores are the only accepted measure of a student’s merit, understand that U.S. colleges do not work this way.

Your essays need to be personal, so don’t shy away from mentioning how emotionally invested you are in your choice of program. Your main essay needs to tell your story, what you want to achieve in life, and why. You should come across as a person who has direction and passion. Instead of listing ten activities that you participated in, focus on the two or three that you are most passionate about. Then, you will be able to write about how all the other activities complement those.

Don’t list activities like MUNs and Parliamentary Debates separately. Dedicate a single paragraph to how these activities help you express your opinions on important issues. Write about all of your leadership roles in one paragraph, and describe how you use your skills to make the world a better place.

Supplementary Essays Are Your Friends

If baking is your passion, write about how it gives you space to experiment, and describe how observing the same ingredients creating something new each time fascinates you. Write about the hours you’ve spent teaching your younger siblings, and elaborate on how much it has taught you about the way the human brain stores information. If you love anime or video games, write about how your passion has helped you learn to build and appreciate a community.

You don’t have to be a top athlete or a teenage entrepreneur. Simply write about the things you love to do, why you do them, and how the skills they’ve taught you will apply to the academic program you’re interested in.

A Well-Written Extracurricular Essay Can Do Wonders

Write about one or two activities that interest you because of your willingness to explore and take on new challenges. These activities don’t have to have anything in common with your main passions or the degree you want to pursue.

Write about activities that helped strengthen your principles and taught you life lessons that you hold onto to this day. Focus on your ethics and values to show that you have a strong character.

Get Your Essays Edited or Proofread by a Native English Speaker

As a non-native English speaker, what you try to convey might get lost in translation. If you try to sound smart by using overly technical language, your essays can become confusing and might end up not making any sense.

If you are not able to get in touch with a native English speaker, get your essays proofread by someone who is very fluent in the language, or you can contact a professional.

Don’t Participate in Activities Just For the College Application

If you start doing activities just for the sake of adding accomplishments to your college application, it might have an adverse effect on the way you are presenting yourself. These activities won’t feel rewarding to you if you do not enjoy them, and moreover, if you get rejected despite centering your life on your college application, you could feel depleted.

Focus on the activities that bring joy and fulfillment into your life. You will present a better application if you have a few activities that you are passionate about, rather than a long list of accomplishments that mean nothing to you.

Get Well-Drafted Letters of Recommendation

Get your letters of recommendation written by professors or teachers you have a close academic relationship with. It is okay if they don’t teach the subject you are planning to major in. These professors will have a lot more to say about your personality than a professor who teaches a course you want to major in, but barely knows you.

Your letters of recommendation can also come from people that you have worked with and for. Employers will be able to write about your character and how devoted you are to completing tasks.

Take AP Courses If You Have the Option

If you are applying for an undergraduate course, taking advanced placement (AP) classes or other college-level classes can boost your application and give you credits to use toward your college degree.

Create Your Own Opportunities

Are you interested in robotics but don’t have a club dedicated to it at your school? Find professors interested in helping you start a club. This will show leadership skills, resourcefulness, and a passion to make things happen.

Find out what you are passionate about and look around for opportunities. Making the most of limited resources can go a long way in impressing a college admissions board.

Learn about the Grants, Scholarships, and Loans You Can Apply For

Even if you’re accepted to the college of your dreams, you’ll still have to find a way to pay for it. Do exhaustive research to find out if you qualify for any scholarships or grants. The advantage of scholarships and grants is that you do not need to pay them back. Numerous colleges, endowments, and trusts have scholarship and grant opportunities available to international students. Various startups have also started raising money to assist international students.

For example, Leverage Edu, an AI-enabled marketplace that helps students with higher education and career guidance, has raised $6.5 million to help Indian students pay to attend top colleges around the world.

Another option to help pay for college is through international student loans, or FAFSA. The important thing is to do your research. This way, when you do get accepted, you’ll have a clear picture of the available options to help finance your education.

Stay Positive

The process of applying to college in the U.S. as an international student can be stressful and exhausting. It’s important that you have a support network in place to help you stay positive throughout the process. This network can be your friends and family, your classmates, or your teachers and professors. If you’re unable to find the moral support you need locally, use internet forums and social media to find others who are going through the same process. Your support network can help answer questions, and give you the boost you need if the process gets difficult.

Remember that you’re not alone, and college is only one of many the many milestones on your journey.

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