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Applying to U.S. Colleges as a Mexican Student

Are you a Mexican student who wants to attend a U.S. university? The American college application process is unique and at times complex, but with the right strategy and preparation, international applicants can stand out to top institutions and gain admission to their dream schools!

From testing to essay writing to compiling your Common Application materials, Command Education has compiled all of the information Mexican applicants need to know to successfully navigate the process.

Standardized Tests

The majority of U.S. colleges and universities evaluate students’ scores on one of two standardized tests—the ACT or the SAT. Despite being slightly different, the two tests are regarded equally—choosing to take one over the other will not affect your chances of admission. While it may be tempting to forego testing if the schools on your list have adopted test-optional policies, it is important to note that students who submit their scores typically have a greater chance of acceptance over those who do not. Standardized testing is also a particularly important component for international students, as it can provide a benchmark for your academic abilities compared to those of American students.

In addition, if you score high enough on the ACT or SAT, you may also be allowed to test out of the English Proficiency exam requirements. The exact score required to test out of the proficiency exam varies depending on the school—for example, Columbia University requires 700 or higher on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT or 29 or higher on the English or Reading sections of the ACT, while Boston College requires students score 650 or above on the SAT EBRW or 29 or better on the ACT English section. It is important to check requirements for each school, as they can be quite different.

English Proficiency Exams

Unless English is your native language or the primary language of instruction at your school is in English—for example, a school such as the American School Foundation or Edron Academy—you will likely need to take an exam to demonstrate your English proficiency. The most popular way to prove proficiency is through the TOEFL, or by scoring a set minimum on the SAT/ACT. Another popular test is the Duolingo test which became more prevalent during the pandemic. While it is shorter and cheaper, it isn’t universally accepted as the TOEFL is.

What is a good TOEFL score?

While the recommended score varies from school to school, 100 tends to be the most common cut off for competitive schools. Below are the recommended TOEFL scores for top schools in the U.S.:

Minimum Required TOEFL Score
Recommended TOEFL Score
Boston University
Minimum scores of 20 in each section



Notre Dame


University of Washington
92 or higher


Common Application Essay

The Common App essay presents an opportunity for you to showcase your personality and values—keep in mind that admissions committees are reading essays from thousands of applicants, so you want to stand out and leave a distinct impression on your readers. Consider anecdotes or topics that emphasize your unique qualities. Make sure your writing is specific. For example, if you are an aspiring chef, you could write about a particular Mexican dish that particularly inspires you. Don’t be afraid to bring in Spanish words and translations!

Supplemental Essays

Many schools require applicants to write additional essays in response to school-specific prompts. First and foremost, these essays allow you to write about the specific reasons that you would be a good fit for the school you are applying to. In these essays, you should seek to provide details about why you want to attend the school and how you feel you will add value to their campus community. Mexican applicants can also use these essays to indicate what kind of knowledge and skills they hope to gain in the U.S. and potentially bring back to their home country. For example, perhaps one school has an exceptional public transportation class and you hope to use the knowledge you gain in the class and similar courses to ultimately improve public transportation in your home country.

Extracurricular activities

As in many other countries, extracurricular and after school activities are less common in Mexico than they are in the U.S.. Therefore, a Mexican applicant’s resume is likely going to be less full. In order to add substance to your resume, first think outside the box: the Common Application allows family activities to count toward your activities list. Because quality time with family is so highly valued in Mexican culture, applicants can speak about the central role of family in their lives and the specific contributions they have made to their family life—whether babysitting younger siblings, helping with the cooking, or working for a family business.

Being successful in Mexico tends to require forging strong relationships with people in one’s community, and building your resume is no exception—tap into your network and see if there are opportunities to get involved in companies and organizations locally. Even if a business is not advertising open positions, showing enough interest and drive can often make opportunities materialize!

Finally, the summer is the best time for you to take advantage of experiences abroad, especially in the U.S. if that is your target region. The summer after your freshman or sophomore year is a great time to consider attending a pre-college program at a university in the U.S. that will allow you to explore your academic interests.

Letters of Recommendation

American universities require letters of recommendations from a student’s teachers or college counselor—every school has different requirements, so be sure to do your research to ensure that you know what you need to submit to each school on your list. A letter of recommendation should typically be no more than a page in length, addressed as a letter to the college from the teacher. They should focus on the applicant as an individual and a student inside of the classroom, giving the admissions officers more context as to how the student would thrive in future academic settings and school communities. For example, if the student loves engaging in the course material with thoughtful questions, the teacher should emphasize that characteristic and give specific examples. It can be very helpful for the teacher if the student provides personal anecdotes from the teacher’s class, such as an experience the student loved or personal interaction with the teacher. Explain why you chose that teacher, and provide specific instances that were particularly memorable! For more information about how to request a letter of recommendation, check out Command Education’s complete guide!

Make sure to speak with your teachers about letters of recommendation as early as possible. In the case that the letters need to be translated, the applicant will need to reject the FERPA Waiver. In addition, if the school is not an international school, teachers might have less of an idea of what colleges are looking for in a recommendation letter. For teachers who may be unsure of what to include in their recommendation letter, applicants can share Command Education’s recommendation guide for teachers, coaches, and counselors! The guide provides in-depth information about how to write stand-out letters as well as sample letters for recommenders.

International Student Support from the Experts

Applying to U.S. colleges and universities as an international student is a complex and intricate process. Command Education Senior Mentors offer international students expert, individually tailored guidance to support them through the process step-by-step, empowering them to build standout applicant profiles and get into their dream schools.

Start your admissions journey at top U.S. colleges and universities today by scheduling a free consult!