Here’s What International Students Need to Keep in Mind When Applying to US Universities
The US admissions process is very different from other systems around the world, and for international students, especially those from China, it’s important to understand how US admissions works and what to keep in mind when applying.
According to the most recent Open Doors report, students from China make up over 33% of international students studying in the US – the largest international group. Chinese students have been coming to university in the US at an increasing rate every year, however, just because there are more Chinese students doesn’t mean it’s any easier for them to gain admission to top US universities. International admission rates are notoriously low – especially at the most well-known US universities. In order to stand out and gain admission when applying to US universities, international students need to keep a few things in mind.
Don’t Just Apply to “Name-Brand” US Universities
One of the biggest mistakes that international students make when applying to university in the US is applying to only well-known schools that are highly-competitive, making it hard to gain admission. Not only are these universities hyper-selective, they might not be the best-fit.
IvyWise college counselor Katie says, “There are amazing and incredible institutions across the United States beyond the top 25 colleges. It is a missed opportunity for prospective international students to only apply to well-known colleges. The benefit of coming to the United States for college is the flexibility and diversity of opportunities amongst the 3,000+ colleges in the US. International universities typically limit a student to a single field of study, whereas the liberal arts college model of US colleges, allows students to gain exposure to a vast variety of topics and disciplines beyond their intended major. Some of the most educational and impactful courses I took in my own undergraduate study allowed me to think outside the box of my major and challenged me to think in new and dynamic ways. The lessons from those courses are things I still use today in my everyday job.”
IvyWise counselor Christine adds, “It is absolutely a mistake to apply to only well-known U.S. colleges and universities. For one, ‘brand’ does not equate with quality, and by doing so, an international student would be missing out on hundreds of US schools that offer amazing undergraduate programs and experiences, e.g., with dedicated faculty, abundant resources, and smaller class sizes. Moreover, many of these less well-known schools are quite welcoming of international students, as they seek to craft a diverse, global study body.”
Start Test Prep Early
While test-optional and flexible policies are rising in popularity at US universities, they often don’t apply to international students. This means that international students still need to submit SAT or ACT scores, along with any other required testing like SAT Subject Tests or the TOEFL or IELTS. The TOEFL or IELTS is especially important for students from China, as English is likely not their first language. For the IELTS and TOEFL, many colleges have minimums for international students. Preparing for these tests early and knowing what areas you need to improve on will only benefit your college search process.
“Similar to practicing a sport or musical instrument to improve, early and sustained practice for test best serves students. Knowing a benchmark of your scores for tests like the SAT and ACT is also key for informing the creation of your college list. You may be dreaming of a certain school, but low test scores may make that school unattainable and require you to adjust your college list,” says Katie.
“I usually recommend reserving at least two months for studying for the first exam, and students should plan for two, possibly three, sittings. For some international students need more time to prepare for the English and reading portions of the test, I would recommend beginning at least six months before the first time. Also, in some places, the available seats for a particular testing center and date can go very quickly; as such students should register early, months in advance,” says Christine.
It’s also important to prepare early, as international testing dates are limited and there have been many instances of canceled or delayed scores.
“I also see an increasingly common trend of delayed and canceled test scores among international student due to integrity concerns from the testing agencies. Waiting too long to prepare for and take the tests, could leave a student applying colleges with no valid test scores to submit,” says Katie.
Research Scholarship Options for International Students
International students don’t qualify for federal financial aid at US universities, but there are still options out there for students who may need some help paying for their education. According to Katie, the search for scholarships and grants for international students is something that should begin concurrently with the application process. There are myriad college-specific scholarship opportunities that an applicant can qualify for simply by virtue of applying by a certain deadline. Additionally, there are a wealth of private scholarships and grants that require a quick essay and application. Most of these deadlines are in late winter to early spring prior to the matriculation year.
Christine suggests that international students start researching scholarships and grants in the summer/early fall during the application year. Many scholarship/grant applications involve forms, additional materials, recommendations, and essays. As such, students should reserve time to pull together all of the requirements and work on the application essays.
For Chinese and other international students applying to US universities, it’s important to understand how the US college admissions process works and what to look out for when preparing for their admissions journey. At IvyWise our team of expert counselors works with students in over 40 countries to help them identify and apply to the best-fit US universities for them. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you reach your US admissions goals.
Also download our free International Guide to US Admissions for a comprehensive look at the US admissions process.