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International Applicants: How the Application Process Works in the U.S.


Previous posts in this series have included information on the American higher education system and how to research schools you are interested.
Once you have created your college list, it is time to start compiling information on the application process for each school and assessing your chances to be admitted. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of the process for an international student. Unlike the application process in other countries, the U.S. system is not exactly transparent. The American process is more holistic and not solely based on your performance on one exam or average GPA. When applying to a school here, academics are the most important aspect of your application, but other aspects of the application also play a major role.
Most colleges and universities are going to require all students to submit official academic transcripts, standardized test scores (including the SAT or ACT and the TOEFL), letters of recommendation, and essays. They are also going to ask for information on activities you have been involved in outside of the classroom. We will provide additional information on standardized tests and your academic transcripts in future posts. For now, let’s talk about the other aspects of your application.
Involvement Outside the Classroom
Colleges and universities in the U.S. are looking for “well-rounded” students. They want to see that students have not only spent all of their time studying, but have also taken the time to be involved in activities and contributed to their communities. Schools know that students who are involved are more likely to graduate, so they want to admit students who were involved in activities in high school because they assume you will be involved in activities once you arrive on a college campus. They also want to see that you have taken a leadership role, so being consistently involved in one or two activities is more important then having several activities on your resume.
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. Not all international schools have guidance counselors so it is perfectly fine to ask a teacher who has given you advice about the college process to write this letter. Your teacher recommendation should be from a teacher who can speak of your academic abilities and what kind of student you are in the classroom. Your letters should be in English and should describe your academic performance, classroom participation and contributions to your 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 U.S. 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.
Putting all of these materials together can be an overwhelming task. We can help you manage the application process to ensure that all application materials are submitted before the deadlines. We can also brainstorm essay topics and provide feedback on revisions.
Be sure to check back in tomorrow for our next installment in this series which will discuss your academic transcript and how to convert your GPA into a U.S. GPA.
Katherine Price
Educational Consultant
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