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Tips for international students applying to undergraduate colleges in the US

College application is sometimes confusing and complicated for international applicants as students are unfamiliar with U.S. college admission system and the difficulty of language barriers. This post provides some most frequently asked questions for international applicants.

I want to study abroad, where should I start?

Your first step is to ask yourself the question, “Am I ready?”.  

  • Am I ready for the new culture and environment? 
  • Am I ready to live away from home? 
  • Am I ready to face the challenge and overcome it?

If you answer “yes” for the above questions, then ask yourself what your goals are and how studying abroad can help you achieve it. Once you have an answer, the next step is to discuss it with your family. Studying abroad is a big decision and having support from family is utterly important, especially the financial support. If you and your family can afford the tuition and living expenses for at least one year, only then it’s time for school search. 

How many schools should I apply to?

A list of 7-10 schools is a good number. You should know what you want to study in advance. There are many factors that go into making a school list namely environment, geography, size, or school activities. 

How do I apply to colleges?

You can apply to colleges through the Common App or directly through the school’s website (make sure you have a credit card to pay for the application fee online).

What documents do I need to send to colleges?

Some common requirements for an application include: school transcript, personal statement, financial statement, letter of recommendations, TOEFL score (some colleges may accept IELTS), and SAT/ACT score (some colleges may not require SAT/ACT score from international applicants so you should check each school’s requirement).

Is TOEFL or IELTS required for application?

If English is not your first language, colleges will require an English proficiency exam. The most common exam is TOEFL. Some colleges may accept IELTS but you should check with the admissions office. 

What is the minimum TOEFL score I need to get?

Different colleges require different scores, so you should always check with each one for a minimum score requirement.

Do I have to send my SAT/ACT score?

For international students, TOEFL is primary. Some colleges may request SAT/ACT scores. However, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try, you may get a good SAT/ACT score and boost your acceptance chances. 

Do colleges accept the IB diploma, A-levels, AP credits, etc.?

Yes. If you have good performance on these tests, you can get certain college credits (which will save you some cash). 

How can I send my documents?

The best way is emailing or faxing because sometimes letters get lost in the mail. For standardized tests, you can request ETS and College Board to send the scores as you register for them. Letters of recommendation and school transcript should be kept confidential and sent by your providers or school administrators. 

How can I ensure my documents arrived or check the status of my application?

If you use the Common App, you can easily check on the list of requirements for each school. If you apply through the school’s online application, you can log onto your account with a username and password that you create on the school’s site to check for application status.  

When will I get acceptance notification?

After the deadline, it will be a month or two for the consideration process. Different colleges have different notification dates, but generally for Regular Decision, the results should be out no later than mid-April unless you are on a wait list.

If you apply for Early Decision or Early Action, colleges will notify you in January. 

I got accepted, can I apply for a visa now?

Not yet. Once you get admitted and make your choice of school, you should send a confirmation to the school’s admission office with a deposit. Then you have to apply for SEVIS and send the admission office a copy of your SEVIS receipt with SEVIS number on it. After that, college will issue you an I-20 to apply for a visa. 

U.S. immigration department requires that full-time international students apply for F-1 visa. No tourist visa is allowed. 

Can I apply as part-time students?

No. In order to be an eligible international student in the U.S. with an I-20, you have to be a full-time student. Only full-time students with I-20 can apply for an F-1 visa. 

Can I get a paid job while I’m studying in the U.S.?

Yes, but only an on-campus job. You are not allowed to have an off-campus paid job if you are an F-1 international student. As for internship, you can have an unpaid position off-campus.

Can I live off-campus?

Maybe, each school has a different policy about housing. Most of the time, you can live off-campus after freshman year or you are older than 21. In case you do live off-campus, make sure to update your address with the office for international students at your school. Most colleges require and encourage students to live on-campus during freshman year for social and academic benefits.   

*The information in this post is only relevant to international students who haven’t studied in the U.S. before. If you graduate from a U.S. high school, the requirements may be slightly different so you should contact your college counselor or college admissions offices for more information.

—Written by Tran Nguyen – Activities Coach and Student Experience Coordinator at Spark Prep—

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