How Applying as an International Student is Different
Most colleges in the United States welcome international students*. While the application process is nearly the same as for American students, there are a few things you need to consider if you are an international student:
Start the application process early, preferably in your second year of high school. The need to take exams such as the SAT or ACT, TOEFL, IELTS, SAT Subject Tests, etc. means you need to plan ahead, as some of these tests are not offered outside the US frequently.
Starting early may also be necessary to obtain any passports or travel visas you’ll need if you plan to visit colleges in the US before applying.
Each admissions office has a specialist in international admissions. Contact this person and ask any questions you have about their application process. Remember to also ask if there are any local alumni in your area that you can talk to about the college.
Keep in mind that international students will be evaluated slightly differently than American students. It is not always possible to interpret foreign transcripts accurately, so there may be a heavier reliance on test scores. In addition, a demonstration of English proficiency, in addition to testing, needs to be evident.
Unlike in many countries, there is no national standard used to apply to colleges in the US. Each college has a different standard on which it judges applicants. Make sure you do your research on what these qualifications are before applying.
It is not accurate for you to look at admissions rates, particularly at the more selective schools, and apply them to international students. The percentage of international students admitted will be lower than the general rate. For example, if a school generally admits 15%, it may be as much as half that rate for international students. Colleges also do not admit by country. If there are only 100 slots, this is for all students worldwide.
Only a very few colleges offer any financial aid to international students. If this is going to be factor, research this carefully. For the most part, international students must be able to show ability to pay for their entire undergraduate career as a factor for admission.
Once admitted to a US college, you will need an F-1 visa and I-20 form, both of which will allow you to be legally in the US as a student. Once you select a college to attend, the school will provide all the necessary documentation for you to complete your visa and I-20 applications.
*Note: An international student is generally defined as someone who does not hold US citizenship or permanent residency. A US citizen studying abroad does not need to follow special application guidelines for international students, but it would still be smart to start early due to some of the same limitations that international students face, especially for test scheduling.