Any international student needs to be well-informed about the college admissions process in the U.S., which will probably differ drastically from the process in her/his country. As opposed to many other countries that require only standardized test scores for placement, colleges in the U.S. are looking for many different criteria to admit students. Every time we work with an international student, our first task is to inform our student and her/his family about the specific requirements that need to be fulfilled throughout the U.S. college application process as follows:
- Grade Point Average (GPA): The GPA is calculated out of 4.0 in the U.S., so if your high school uses the 100% system, ask your high school counselor (or whoever is in charge of reporting the grades) if it would be possible to convert your GPA from the 100-scale to the 4.0-scale before sending it to the U.S. colleges. If it is not possible at all, at least ask if a concordance table showing the conversion from the 100-scale to the 4.0-scale is available for them to send to your colleges.
- Academic rigor: This refers to the difficulty level of classes offered in your high school (such as Regular, Accelerated, Honors, AP, etc.) Most of the time, all classes will be at the same level in an international high school, but if you are enrolled in an IB program, as might be the case with some international students, then for the IB diploma to count towards your application, you will have to take a certain score on the IB as specified by each college.
- Standardized test scores: The standardized test you have to take in your home country does not count in the U.S., so you need to take either the SAT or the ACT if you are not applying to test-optional schools. Please read our past blog post entitled “The SAT or the ACT?” if you have difficulty in deciding which one to take.
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores: As an international applicant, you must take the TOEFL and get a satisfying score, as specified by each college, to prove that you can read, write, speak, and understand what you hear in English at the post-secondary academic level.
- Letters of recommendation: You need to submit a certain number of recommendation letters (as specified by each college) written in English by your high school teachers, as well as a recommendation letter written in English by your high school counselor.
- Extracurricular activities: This might not be very common in many countries, but being involved in some type of an activity, sport, volunteer work and showing deep interest is very important in the U.S. college admissions process. Active involvement in an extracurricular activity helps you stand out in your applications, so try to be active, do good in your community, and make your youth count.
- Leadership: You need to show leadership skills, if possible (such as President of the Chess Club, Captain of the Soccer Team, etc.)
- Personal statement and supplemental essays: You need to submit many, many, many essays throughout the college application process. There will be lots of edits and revisions to those essays, and it is only going to get “ugly” before it gets “beautiful”, so hang in there… It is crucial that you need to learn how to take “constructive criticism” as there will be many along the way if you are working with a college admissions counselor.
- Communication with the college: This would probably be one of the most important requirements for you and your parents to understand. You have to start the application process a lot earlier than the U.S. applicants, take the tests earlier, ask for recommendation letters way in advance, taking the processing times into consideration. Also, you need to understand that you have to send follow-up emails to the admissions office of each and every college you are applying to and make sure all the documents are being received on time. Especially documents sent via snail mail might take much longer to arrive at the destination and sometimes might even get lost in transit. It is very important to keep in mind that the correspondence with each college must be handled by YOU – the student only. It is common in some countries for parents to be over-involved, but colleges do not like seeing that. YOU need to be in charge throughout the college admissions process and handle all the communication with the college yourself. The only correspondence that your family can have with the colleges is the one with the financial aid office only. For any other inquiry, colleges would like to hear directly from you, not your parents.
- Patience: Yes! The U.S. college admissions process is rather long, and there will be days when you will want to pull your hair. Trust us – you are not alone… Students who were born, raised, and educated in the U.S. are as confused as you are… We wish there could be an easier way to do this, but good things in life do not come easy, do they? Take a deep breath, and just do it… Everything will fall into place eventually. That is our promise to you…
All of this sounds daunting and stressful, but at EdMission Possible, we help our students every step of the way and get through this together. In the end, it will all be worth it! Call us today to get started!
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible