Preparing the Application
You’ve researched and written pro and con lists and read advice columns and now you’ve finally decided that you want to be an international student in the USA. Yet you’re still wondering, “How do I get into college?” The answer, of course, is that you have to apply.
If you’re applying as an undergraduate, every school will have different but overlapping requirements. The list below includes the most likely pieces you’ll have to include in your undergraduate application, but make sure to check each school’s website for specifics. And don’t forget that a school’s international student center can be a great resource to help you understand all the steps to get into college.
For graduate programs, though several requirements (such as undergraduate transcripts) will be the same, most programs require specific materials relevant to their focus, such as a statement of purpose, research papers you’ve published, writing samples, a portfolio, or something else. Again, check the schools’ websites.
As an international student, you will most likely also be required to complete the TOEFL, a standardized test that measures the English-speaking abilities of non-native speakers.
Undergraduate requirements for international students
- Most schools require and/or accept applications through an online platform. The most popular for undergraduate programs are the Coalition for College, the Common App, and the Universal College Application, though some schools may use their own application instead. The application form will ask for information such as your name and the name of your secondary or high school, your GPA, extracurricular activities you participate in, and several other items.
- Each application requires a fee generally in the range of $30-90. If the cost is prohibitive, though, you may be able to get the fee waived.
- Every application requires your secondary school transcript. As an international applicant, you’ll need both the transcript in its original language and, if relevant, a certified English translation. Your school must provide the transcript, as well as any official results or certificates of completion from national secondary school exams, directly to the colleges you’re apply to.
- Your SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject Test scores should be sent directly to the schools you’re applying to by the test administrator either during or immediately following the exams.
- Essays are often required, and serve to illustrate why you’re you and what you can offer to the school and its community. Schools that require an essay or statement of purpose usually offer a prompt or a topic to help guide you in your writing.
- You will mostly likely need to submit at least one letter of recommendation. These letters should be written by a teacher, coach, or school counselor who can share with the school a more personal side of you, and must be sent directly by the writer to the school. Make sure to check each school’s requirements about who should write the recommendations.
- Most schools will ask for a list of extracurricular activities you are involved with, both in and out of school. This can include the school newspaper, sports teams, band, volunteer work, scouts, hobbies, etc. These activities, jobs, and awards give the schools a look at your range of interests and your involvement in the community, the arts, and leadership.
- Some schools request an interview with applicants. The interviews are usually held with an alumnus of the school or with an admissions representative, and are a great chance for you to show off your personality.
Things to keep in mind
- While you’re getting your official documents translated and studying for standardized tests, don’t forget that everything must be completed in time to send in the entire application to the schools of your choice. Work backwards to figure out the deadlines you need to hit and then make sure to hit them.
- When you send off your application materials, whether by mail, through an electronic system, or via a third party, don’t expect to get anything back. It’s therefore super important to keep copies of everything for reference or in case something gets lost.
- If you’re sending documents through the mail, allow enough time for the package to reach relevant schools before the application deadline, and assume there will be delays (especially for international mail). If your postal or delivery service offers it, send everything using a method that requires tracking and/or signature or other confirmation upon delivery so you can stay updated about the package’s location.
- Attending college in the USA is expensive. Start looking into scholarships, financial aid, loans, and grants available to international students before completing your college applications in case there are relevant opportunities with early deadlines. However, note that U.S. government aid for international students is extremely limited and you may not be eligible for it.
Learn about Calculating Your GPA.