5 Tips for International Students Applying to College in the U.S.


Over a million foreign students are currently studying in the U.S. If you want to be one of them, consider the following tips to make the process easier. Melissa Daniels has been teaching at International Schools in the Middle East and tutoring international students in test preparation and college admissions for more than 15 years. She has the inside track on how to make sure you find – and are admitted to! –the right school in the U.S.

 Research Your Schools & Know Your Deadlines

 During your junior year of high school, narrow down which schools you want to apply to. There are many factors to consider: would you like a big university or a small, intimate college? In the center of a city or a small town? Do you know what you would like to study and are there schools with more focused programs in this area? On-site visits are quite helpful but are typically harder for an international student. Use websites and your school counselor to help you with this search or consider hiring a college admissions consultant to help you find the perfect school for you. Many students apply to 5-10 schools, perhaps a few more, some of which will be ‘just right’ schools, some ‘safety’ schools – with a high likelihood of getting in – and a couple ‘reach’ schools, or schools that will be a challenge to gain entry.

Once you have your short list of schools, familiarize yourself with their application deadlines. Most schools offer an early decision deadline in November, which means if you get accepted you are committed to going to that school.  There may also be an early action deadline, which simply allows you to apply early and hear back early.  Regular deadlines are typically in January and February, while some schools even offer later Spring deadlines.

Start to complete applications at least two months in advance of any deadlines. This will allow you to polish your essays and assure that all items of your application are submitted. You’ll also want to make sure any standardized test scores will reach your college by the time your applications are due.


Understand the Holistic Approach in the U.S.

Your grades and test scores are not the only thing considered when applying to U.S. colleges and universities. While those items are important, admissions reviewers will also look at your personal essay or other supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, the class schedule you chose, jobs, internships, and more.  This approach helps reviewers gain a picture of who you are as a whole and what you may add to the school’s environment. As an international student, you might have cultural or language experiences you want to highlight. A professional college consultant can help you perfect your essay and make sure you have all aspects of your applications covered.


Take the Right Tests

To apply to a university or college in the U.S., you will need to take one of the standardized tests, the SAT or ACT.  Start planning for this with a test date in the Spring of your junior year in case you want to retake the test in the fall of your Senior year. Be sure to register early as there are fewer international testing dates than in the U.S. and international test centers can fill up quickly, leaving you few options. See the International SAT Test Dates calendar.

If English is not your first language or you are from a country where English is not the official language, you may be required to take one of the English language proficiency standardized tests, the IELTS or the TOEFL. Some schools will allow an exemption from this if you get a certain score on your SAT Reading and Writing section, so check the requirements for each school where you want to apply.

Check out Why It’s Important to Know What’s On the SAT for more information and tips for getting your best score on these standardized tests.  

Master the Common Application

The Common Application is used by over 500 U.S. schools. This is a free service that allows you to send the same application to numerous schools instead of completing separate applications for each. Do everything you can within the Common Application to stand out individually. Use the essay to help admissions officers learn something about you they can’t learn anywhere else in the application, such as life challenges you’ve overcome, what makes you tick individually, what ignites your passions, or how you see your future.

Mastering the Common Application will also make it easy to transfer the information you’ve curated to other applications if there are schools that don’t take the Common Application.

Hire An Expert College Admissions Consultant

You want to end up at a school that is a perfect fit for you, but applying to college on the other side of the world can be daunting and overwhelming. Consider hiring someone to guide you through each step of this process. As an international student, a college admissions consultant will help you better understand the U.S. process, narrow down school choices, give you insider trips for applying, fine-tune your essays, and maximize your chances of admission. Get started today earning your place at the U.S. school of your dreams.  Find out more about hiring an expert college admission consultant.