How to Apply to a US College as an International Student

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1,169,464 international students were studying at colleges and universities across the United States. While this number was already slightly down from previous years due, at least in part, to the political conditions in the United States, American institutions of higher education continued to draw massive levels of interest from high-achieving teens all around the globe. Unfortunately, coronavirus dealt a sharp blow to the U.S. schools, as the number of new international student enrollment fell 43% in a single year between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

China sends the greatest number of students to the U.S. as there presently more than 363,000 Chinese students studying at American universities. India is second with just shy of 200,000 students enrolled in U.S. colleges. Next on the list are (in order): South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan. No matter where an international student hails from, they will face common challenges as they enter the particularly complicated gauntlet that is the American college admissions process. With an aim of shedding light on a rather opaque and muddled process, we will explore:

Why students elect to study in the US
The English language requirements for foreign students
Standardized testing requirements
Getting your transcript evaluated/translated
The F-1 visa application process
An overview of the American admissions timeline
Common mistakes made by international applicants

First, let’s tackle why high school students from every corner of the globe are so eager to travel thousands of miles and jump through endless hoops in order to attend college in the States.

Why study in the US?

No other country has the number of top-notch research institutions and exceptional liberal arts colleges that you will find in the United States. The qualifications you can earn at an American university will be recognized and accepted around the globe. Further, you will make important connections with faculty and peers that can enhance your professional network and lead to long-term career success.Economic mobility is certainly a top factor in deciding to attend an American school. Thus, it is no accident that the most popular areas of study for international students are typically the most lucrative professions 1) business 2) engineering and 3) math & computer science. However, there are a sizable number of foreign students currently seeking degrees in the areas of health professions, fine and applied arts, social science, and the physical & life sciences.

What are the language requirements?

Most American universities require foreign applicants to take an English as a second language exam. There are two commonly administered tests for this purpose: the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The minimum TOEFL score required by most American schools is a 78 which is in the 40th percentile of all test takers. However, more competitive universities will demand higher scores. For example. UCLA requires a minimum of an 83 TOEFL score (48th percentile) merely for consideration, but the average entering international freshman actually possessed a 113, which places right at the 97th percentile. Cornell University’s engineering program recommends a minimum of 100 TOEFL score or a 7 on the IELTS which places a student in the 75th-80th percentile.If you are a strong English speaker, taking one of these exams early in high school is good idea, just so there is one less thing to do once the admissions crunch of senior year commences. If you are still learning the language, delay taking the exam until right before the start of senior year.

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