Introduction to College Admissions for International Students

on March 13, 2017

U.S. colleges and universities are a popular destination for international students seeking to further their undergraduate and graduate education.


More than 1 million international students currently are pursuing postsecondary education in the U.S., representing about 5 percent of the total college enrollment. Almost half of international students in the U.S. come from China and India, followed by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brazil, Japan and Mexico.


The Institute of International Education (IIE) publishes an annual two-page fact sheet about international students in the U.S. and U.S. students studying in other countries as part of their Open Doors initiative. The fact sheet provides a lot of interesting statistics.


The college admissions process for international students is similar to the process for domestic applicants, with a few key differences:

  • Most U.S. colleges and universities require international students to have their official education credentials evaluated (and, in some cases, translated) by a credential evaluation service
  • Most international students will be required to take an English language proficiency test. Aside from the English language proficiency requirements, minimum test scores on the SAT or ACT are the same as for domestic applicants
  • Early admission options, such as early action and early decision, and deferred admission are not available to international students
  • International students should allow enough time to submit materials by the college’s deadlines, given possible delays in sending materials by postal mail. It is best to use an express carrier, such as FedEx, DHL and UPS

Start by visiting a U.S. educational advising center in your country. These centers provide free information and advice about applying for admission to U.S. colleges and universities. They also have libraries of reference materials and run pre-departure orientation seminars. Additional information may be obtained through Education USA on the U.S. Department of State web site.


To get into a U.S. college or university, an international student must have a strong academic background, spoken and written English language proficiency, and enough money to pay for their college education.


Admissions to U.S. colleges and universities is extremely competitive for international students, much more so that for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Accordingly, most international students apply for admission to 10 to 15 U.S. colleges and universities.


Financial aid for international students is very limited and very few U.S. colleges offer need-blind admissions for international students.


Before considering a U.S. college or university, investigate whether the college and the specific academic program are accredited. Unlike other countries, the U.S. government does not directly monitor the quality of colleges and universities. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education approves accrediting agencies that, in turn, evaluate the quality of colleges and universities. Colleges and universities must also be certified for the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) for international students to get an F-1 or M-1 student visa.


Note that a U.S. Bachelor’s degree requires four years of study, not three.


Application essays must be written in English and by the student.


Proofread all of your documents to ensure that your name and birth date are written in the same way on all of the documents. This includes how your name is spelled on the English language proficiency tests and other admissions tests. If there is any discrepancy, you will not be admitted and you will not be able to obtain a student visa.


Plan a calendar in advance, so that you allow enough time. For example, you should take the admissions tests and English language proficiency tests by the end of October. If you wait until the November test administrations, you may miss the college’s deadlines.

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