The first challenge is to select the colleges to which you would like to apply. You should consider what type of educational environment is the best fit for you. Will you be more successful at a smaller school that offers more personal attention? Or is it more important to you to attend a larger school that may have more students from your home country? Is one of your goals to learn English and to meet more Americans? Are you interested in being near a city? Or do you want to attend a school that is in a more rural area? Is weather a concern for you or are you open to experience a new climate (maybe see snow for the first time!)? In addition, colleges and universities in the US value the extracurricular talents of their applicants, so you will want to consider your interest outside of school, and whether a particular institution offers that activity.
For more information about choosing the right college or university for you, please refer to the following pages:
Researching the Possibilities
One of the hardest parts about being an international applicant is that you often cannot visit the schools that interest you. It is important to do as much remote research on the schools as possible. You should look at the schools’ web pages and see if they offer virtual tours. Contact the schools and ask to speak to a student representative so you can get the student perspective about the institution. Read the on the admission websites, and investigate other videos. When evaluating academic departments, read the biographies of the faculty and read the descriptions of the major and the individual courses offered in the department. Some colleges and universities do send admission representatives overseas. If you have the chance to meet with an admission representative in your home country, it is a great opportunity to ask specific questions about the institution and admission procedures.
To help you in your research, you might want to consult our resources page, where you can find useful websites to help you get started.
Evaluating Your Prospects
Another challenge for an international student—or any student, for that matter—is to realistically assess one’s chances for admission. Unlike higher education systems in other countries, the American admissions process is very confusing and not entirely transparent. In most other countries, university entrance may depend solely on examination results or secondary school performance. In those countries, it is possible to research the average grades and test scores that are generally required for admission: these are available on many books and websites, and often the colleges themselves will provide information of the grades and scores they generally will admit.
However, in the United States, admissions evaluations are more holistic and subjective. While you may find average test scores and grade point averages for various universities, these averages may or may not correlate with your own chances of admission. Secondary school performance and examinations are important, of course. But many intangible factors may play a role in whether or not you are admitted, including your activities outside of school. For example, are you involved in sports? Music? Service to your community? Have you been employed? Are you the first in your family to attend university? All of these factors, and many more, can and will enter into the decision whether to admit you or not. This is why so many international students seek guidance from experts: a realistic assessment of one’s chances is very, very difficult, given the complexity of the admissions process.