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Challenges in the Application Process

Once you have narrowed down your list of schools, you need to begin the application process.  International students are often required to submit more application materials than their domestic counterparts.  In addition, the application fees for international students are usually higher, since your application has more materials for the admission office to process.

Test of English Proficiency

One of the most important requirements is your score on an exam that shows your proficiency in English.  Colleges and universities often require the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System).  Many schools will require a minimum score on one of these exams for admission.  It is important to research which exams are required at the schools that interest you and sign up for the appropriate exam as soon as possible.  In several countries, these exams are offered infrequently, so exam dates often fill up quickly.  It is also important to take either the TOEFL or IELTS early in case you need to retake the exam to improve your score.

Additional Exams

In addition to the TOEFL or the IELTS exams an SAT or an ACT score will more than likely be required for admission.  The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that focus commonly taught subjects, such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science.  Both exams are not offered in every country, however if you do have a choice in which exam to take, be sure to read our information on the difference between the two exams.  As for the TOEFL and IELTS, the SAT and ACT can be offered infrequently and exam dates do fill up quickly, so it is important for you to determine appropriate test dates as soon as possible.  When evaluating your application, some colleges and universities will often use your TOEFL score or your IELTS score instead of the score you receive on the Critical Reading section of the SAT or the English and/or Reading sections of the ACT.  It is important to discuss the standardized test reviewing policies with an admission representative from the institutions to which you will apply.

Academic Transcripts

Your academic transcripts are the most important piece of your application.  Since you are more than likely attending a school that has different curriculum requirements and grading procedures than what is offered in the U.S., it is essential that you make sure colleges and universities are able to understand your transcript.  If your secondary school does not send transcripts in English, then you must have them officially translated.  You should also make sure your secondary school sends information on the curriculum you are completing, as well as an explanation of grading procedures.  Finally, you should follow up with the institutions to which you are applying, in order to determine if they have any questions regarding your grades or courses.  Many colleges and universities in the U.S. will be able to decipher your transcript and curriculum, especially if you are enrolled in a common program such as the International Baccalaureate program or the Advanced Level General Certificate of Education (A-Levels).

Most colleges and universities will require you to submit a mid-year report of your academic performance in your final year of secondary school.  This progress report lets the admission officers know how you are doing in your current classes.  Often international secondary schools post only end of term exam grades and do not have official grades for the courses you are currently taking.  It is important that you work with your current teachers to provide some type of information on your current academic work.  It does not necessarily need to be a letter grade, but can also be a comment about your performance.  If this requirement proves to be a concern for you, contact the college admission office to discuss alternatives.

Letters of Recommendation

Another application requirement that may cause difficulties for international students is the letter of recommendation.  Most schools require you to submit a letter of recommendation from a teacher and one from a guidance counselor.  Your letters should be in English and should describe your academic performance, classroom participation and contributions to school and community.

Essays and Personal Statements

At most selective colleges and universities—and at many other less selective schools—applicants are required to submit essays as a part of their application. You can approach your college essays in a variety of ways.  However, it is important to make sure your essay is grammatically correct.  Admission officers know that it is difficult enough to write the perfect college essay, especially if it is not in your first language.  However, you will be asked to do a lot more if you become a student at a U.S. college or university, so it is essential that your essay does not make an admission officer question your English ability.

The essay requirement is another reason so many international students turn to experts to help them prepare for admission to US universities.  Some international students are tempted to let agents or others write the essays for them.  This is a mistake.  If an essay is perceived to be too perfect, you may be rejected.  Your essay must be in your own voice and express who you are as a person.  We are able to help you find just the right balance as you prepare this very important component of your application.

Communication with University Officials

Colleges and universities generally are happy to communicate with prospective applicants.  So if you have questions or concerns, you should contact the admissions office prior to submitting your application.  If you are worried about this communication, we can help you decide what you need to say and how best to say it.

You want to avoid sending emails that have not been carefully edited.  Again, don’t give admissions officers a reason to question your English ability.  Make sure all of the correspondence you send to a school is coherent.   That email you spent two minutes typing out just might end up in your admission file.  Make sure every piece of correspondence is the best reflection of you as a student.

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