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Introduction to College Admissions for International Students

several international flags flying


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 are pursuing postsecondary education in the U.S., representing about 5% of the total 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 American students studying in other countries as a 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.
  • Minimum test scores on the SAT or ACT are the same as for domestic applicants
  • Early admission (early action, 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 and spoken and written English language skills. Accordingly, most international students apply to 10-15 schools. Financial aid for international students is limited, but it is possible to earn a scholarship or grant.

Before considering a U.S. college or university, investigate whether the college and the program are accredited. The U.S. government does not directly monitor 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.

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 you allow enough time. For example, take the admissions tests and English language proficiency tests by the end of October. If you wait until November, you may miss the school's deadlines.

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