A step-by-step guide for international students to start your study-abroad journey.
Your international education adventure is just beginning, and you want nothing more than to start it at the school of your dreams. As you begin looking into your study abroad possibilities, your excitement and anticipation grow. A great place to focus that positive energy is on your college application.
Your dream school doesn't have to be just a dream. You’ve got this!
With some planning, you can create a strong application that positions you to get accepted into your dream school. As your go-to study-abroad resource, we’re here to walk you through every step of the process.
Step One: Figure out where to go
There’s more to your college application than writing papers or taking tests (although both are super important!). Before you can even think about those tasks, the first step is to become familiar with where you want to go and what it takes to get there.
Make your criteria. Does your dream school have a specific program or work-study opportunity that you’d like to pursue? Do you want to spend your free time on a beach under the sun or stay indoors as you admire the snowcapped mountains outside your window?
There are 50 states in the U.S., and each one delivers a unique study-abroad experience. It’s better to deliver high-quality applications to a select number of schools that meet your criteria than send dozens to schools you wouldn’t even consider.
Deadlines fall into four categories: early decision, early action, regular decision, and rolling admission. In most cases, these deadlines are based on students enrolling for fall or spring semester.
Application submission dates vary from one school to the next, but the general consensus is that those who submit their application after these dates rarely get considered. Know when your applications are due for each school you’re interested in, and submit them as early as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the competition.
Step Two: Boost your application
Things like grades, English language tests, and interviews are all requirements you’ll encounter as part of the application process. On the other hand, you can do a handful of things to give the admissions committee a clearer picture of who you are, but they might not be as obvious.
Take a standardized assessment. The SAT and ACT assess your ability in core subjects such as math, reading, writing, etc. Many international students forgo taking these assessments as they aren’t required in most cases. Would we advise every student to take these tests? It’s not necessary. However, if your academic scores aren’t the best, it wouldn’t hurt to give yourself a chance at wowing the admissions committee through other means.
Volunteer. Similar to how internships help you land a job, volunteering shows that you’ve gone above and beyond the scope of regular studies. Volunteering is not a replacement for academic achievement, but if you’re trying to get into a competitive school, every box you check will make a difference. Volunteering encompasses a wide range of experiences, including community service, working at a homeless shelter, helping out at your church, etc.
Get letters of recommendation. Your successes tell one story, but admissions representatives want to know who you are beyond the statistics and accolades. Has there been a teacher who’s seen your growth or exceptional performance? Have you volunteered under someone who can vouch for your generosity, work ethic, or skill? Ask them to write a letter about your character and how your experiences have prepared you for higher education.
Step Three: Write an impactful college essay
College essays play a pivotal role in the process and give the committee the most personal look into your application. In a process where many steps relegate you to a statistic, number, or accomplishment, your essay can leave a lasting impression that makes you stand out.
No matter the prompt, you can ace your college essay by using the following tips:
Make it all about YOU. Depending on your writing experience, 250–650 words can be your biggest gift or greatest enemy. Throughout secondary school, we build the habit of adding “fluff” to our writing to reach a word limit — in the case of a college essay, there is no space to waste. Don’t repeat something you’ve already mentioned, and don’t focus on your family, friends, or someone you look up to. Use that space to tell the reader more about YOU.
Tell the story within the story. At a glance, you’d think that sharing stories of your greatest accomplishments or significant events would be compelling. In many ways, it is. However, admissions committees already have an idea of what you’ve done — that doesn’t help them learn more about who you are. Instead, use those experiences and accomplishments to convey how they’ve shaped you.
It’s more important to tell who you are than what you’ve done. Here’s an example of two ways to express the same situation. The first simply lists the facts; the second brings the reader into your personal experience and what you learned as a result:
Outlining an accomplishment: “I was selected for the varsity basketball team in 10th grade. I was the only underclassman on the team. We went on to win the regional championship, and I was honored as the Most Valuable Player. I went on to become the team captain when I reached 12th grade.”
Writing a story: “The weight of being the ‘star’ player — and an underclassman at that — was a lot to handle. At the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to ‘share my burden.’ It wasn’t until my senior year, when I had underclassmen of my own to lead, that I realized what they’d meant. When it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you’re not alone. I’m not alone. We can achieve so much more together.”
Get your essay peer-reviewed. Whether you’re an incredible writer or writing is your worst subject (especially then), peer-reviewing your essay is a must-do step. It’s common to miss errors in our writing even after rereading it, so having a teacher, tutor, or someone you trust to read over your essay can fix small mistakes and give you input on improving your work.
Final Step: Follow up with each college
Will your chances of getting accepted improve if you reach out to the school? We can’t say for sure. We will say, though, that schools will appreciate the effort, and if there’s any way to improve your application, they’d be the first to tell you what you can do to accomplish that. As documents sometimes get lost or misplaced, following up with schools will confirm that they’ve received your application and give you the best chance at success.
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