There are a number of issues that face international students applying to colleges in the United States.
The first issue is deciding where to apply. Generally, admission to colleges in the United States is more difficult for international students than for students in the United States. Thus, when looking at the average test scores and grades published by the colleges, you should expect that your grades and test scores will need to be above the average for any school you are considering. At the same time, many colleges are seeking international students to help diversify the college experience. This is true not only of the most selective colleges but of many less selective colleges as well. In investigating colleges, look to see how many international students they currently have on campus and where those students are from. If you happen to be from a country that does not send a large number of students to that college, you may have an advantage in the admission process because you provide diversity.
Deciding where to apply for international students is also made more difficult because it is often impossible to visit all or any of the colleges you are considering. Actually setting foot on a campus while the college is in session often provides the best indication of whether the environment or “feel” of the college is one where you would be happy spending four years of life. Therefore, international students need to be as thorough as possible in investigating not only the college itself but also the surrounding area. Consider such issues as the location of the nearest airport and the transportation options from the airport to the college.
The second issue international students must consider are the tests required by colleges as part of the application process. Virtually all colleges will require international students to take the TOEFL examination, to test your understanding of English, as well as the SAT or ACT exam. Finding a place that provides SAT or ACT testing oversees can be difficult. Although most of the colleges that are the best known to international students require the SAT or ACT exam, there are a number of excellent colleges that no longer require one of these tests. If you are having trouble finding a test site, or if you are just not a strong test taker, you might want to consider one of the colleges that don’t require the SAT or ACT. A list of test optional colleges can be found at the Fairtest web site.
The third potential issue for international students is the application process itself. Mail from many countries to the United States can be slow and expensive particularly if you are applying to a number of colleges. The advent of online applications has been a benefit for all students including those from countries outside the United States. Now with an online application students don’t have to worry about slow and inconsistent mailings to make sure that their application arrives in a timely manner. Most of the most selective colleges use the common application which also eases the process of applying to more than one college.
Another application issue is the transcript or grades taken and grades received that is required by all colleges. Many international schools do not use standardized forms for transcripts and have grading scales that colleges in the United States might not be familiar with. If your school is one that does not regularly send students to colleges in the United States, you should check with those colleges to which you are applying to ask if they have questions about the transcript. If they do, you can have someone in your school send a supplemental document clarifying the questions the college has.
Recommendations are another area of the application that may cause problems for international students. Teachers in foreign countries may not be familiar with the letters of recommendation often required by colleges in the United States. If the teachers you are asking for recommendations aren’t familiar with college admission recommendations you should refer them to one of the web sites that discuss what makes a good teacher recommendation.
The fourth issue facing international students is how to pay for any college to which they might be accepted. Although most international students have to pay for most of their education in the United States, this topic has so many issues that it is covered separately on this web site.
Of course these are not all of the issues facing international students, but if you can keep each of these issues in your mind while choosing and applying to colleges in the United States, you will have a much easier time.