America is home to some of the best colleges and universities in the world. For international students, the process of applying and getting accepted to a school in the United States can be complicated and confusing. Thankfully, some simple steps can help get you moving in the right direction toward an acceptance from your top choice.
Find the right fit
Just because a school has a recognizable name and is lauded as “one of the best” does not mean that it’s an ideal match for every student. This is especially true for international students whose backgrounds and experiences are often very different from those of domestic applicants.
When researching possible schools to apply to in the United States, consider the following:
- What are the costs and potential financial aid benefits for international students?
- What support structures are in place to help international students adjust to American campus life?
- What are your quality-of-life deal-breakers (location, climate, proximity to airports, etc.)?
Of course, visiting a school is one of the best ways to get a true feeling of a campus and its energy. Sitting in on some classes, scoping out the dorms, and meeting with admissions faculty can give a better impression of a school than a brochure or website can.
When in-person visits aren’t possible, consider reaching out to admissions offices about facilitating time to speak with faculty members and current international students. A school’s willingness to help you understand its programs and philosophies while you are still only an applicant can be a telling look at how they might someday treat you as a student.
Once you have your sights set on a list of potential schools, the real work begins…
Start test prep early
Most colleges and universities in the US require (or at the very least strongly encourage) applicants to submit scores from either the SAT or ACT.
Simply registering for and taking these exams isn’t enough. To stand a chance against the other students competing for the coveted spots in college and university classrooms, applicants need to excel on the tests they take. If studying in the United States is your goal, test prep needs to be at the top of the list of your priorities.
Start by identifying what exams the schools on your wish list are asking for and/or are willing to accept. Note that some schools and programs have additional content exam requirements (like the SAT Subject Tests) or English proficiency exams (like the TOEFL) that require separate registrations and involve extra preparation.
Thankfully, there’s help available. Enrolling in a reputable, proven, online test prep program is a great way to ensure can reach your score achievement goals. Test prep professionals can help focus your studying efforts in the areas ripest for improvement as well as ensure you are making the right exam selections.
Simply put, once attending an American school is even a consideration, test prep should begin. Learning both the content and format of these tests is crucial to attain the highest, most competitive scores possible.
Plan to take exams more than once
Many applicants to American schools take their entrance exams multiple times. There are several benefits to this approach:
- Each attempt creates an increased familiarity with the test and test day experience.
- Many schools accept “Superscores” – a combination of your best performances on the various sections of the test, regardless of whether they were from the same test day or not.
- Students can opt to switch to the ACT after a disappointing SAT performance (or vice versa).
To be competitive, students should actually start taking their exams no later than two years before expecting to start their higher education careers. This provides ample time to re-register and re-test if necessary. Since international test dates and locations are not always as readily available as they are in the United States, be sure to consider the calendar when planning ahead!
Getting into American schools as an international applicant requires some extra legwork, but as long as you do your research, plan ahead, and take the appropriate steps to prepare, it is a dream that can be realized.