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Applying as a foreign student to a US university can be pretty daunting. The liberal arts curriculum that most universities in the US operate under is unlike any other in the world. As a consequence, the admissions application process is also quite unique. Instead of simply focusing on merely academic qualifications, colleges tend to look at candidates holistically; extra-curriculars, letters of recommendation and essays are equally important components of an admissions application. Keep reading to learn about how to overcome the unique challenges that foreign students face when applying to US colleges.

National Curriculum vs IB vs College Board AP Exams:

Most countries around the world have a national curriculum that is different from the one in the United States. While colleges understand that foreign students come from different academic backgrounds and curriculums, there’s often debate on whether supplemental AP exams or the IB curriculum can boost one’s chances. No doubt that any additional exams are bound to show the academic competitiveness of an applicant, but admissions committees do not penalize students who lack APs. Similarly, the IB curriculum is seen as positive on an application, but admissions committees are well aware that foreign students may not have easy access to AP exams and the IB curriculum. The most important thing is to show that you have challenged yourself in your own academic environment, whether it offers a national curriculum or AP or IB.

Letters of Recommendation:

Another major aspect of the application process is letters of recommendation from your teachers and guidance counselor. Many international students might face major challenges approaching this aspect of their application. Letters of Recommendation are rarely sought from high school teachers in any other country’s college admissions process. This means that teachers are usually unaware of how to write effective recommendation letters that fit the format of what US admissions committees are looking for. It is important to provide teachers assistance and resources that they may need to write strong letters. Providing samples, proactively giving additional information and assisting them in regards to logistical aspects of submitting recommendations are essential in nailing this part

College List:

Many foreign students tend to apply exclusively to “brand name” colleges. From Harvard and Stanford to NYU and UC Berkeley, these are magnet schools for international students and are also very known around the world. However, there are many hidden gems that go missing from the radar of foreign students who don’t know about them. These could be small private liberal arts colleges or large state universities that are lesser known to a foreign audience. It is important to research in order to gain a wider perspective on all the colleges and universities out there. Most of these “unknown” gems have great resources. They are also extremely eager to welcome internationals to their campus and go the extra mile to make it into a hospitable environment.

A few other tips for international students to keep in mind through this process:

  1. Start early! Whether it’s the SATs or your Common App essay, make sure you know the deadlines and are working on a strategic timeline. Given the way things went with the SAT and ACT during the pandemic, we highly recommend getting everything sorted as early as possible.
  2. Financial aid for international students can also be quite different. It’s important to research specific colleges you’re interested in. Most colleges are not need blind when it comes to international students and will factor in your family’s income when making an admissions decision. Some colleges meet full demonstrated need for U.S. students but not international ones, so carefully read each school’s website for more information.

While applying as an international can seem a bit intimidating, the process is largely the same. The most important aspect to remember is to celebrate the unique perspective that you would bring to a campus community. That is exactly what admissions committees are looking for as well!

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