The International Application: An Insider's Perspective

Assistant Director of Admissions, Caldwell College

Have you ever wondered what those international admission counselors are thinking as they review your carefully completed applications? What life is really like on the other end of the college search process? Well, you’re about to find out. This is the international admission process from someone who’s been there—on both sides.

Imagine you are about to embark on a 4,000-mile journey. You are ready to leave your family, your friends, your cuisine, and many other things that mean “home” to you behind. This is scary, but at the same time, it is an exciting situation. You are prepared to leave the comfort of the well known and journey on the most exciting adventure of your life.

Deciding what college or university to attend is already a difficult and stressful decision for domestic students. Now add the fact that you are thousands of miles away, in a different country and probably a different continent, and that you have to make that same decision. This is when working with your international admission counselor becomes vital.

As an international student, you will need to adapt to a totally different environment: new people, new cultures, and, many times, a new language. For these and many other reasons, international students require a lot of attention and guidance. In order to make this transition manageable, it is imperative to have the help of a good admission counselor. These admission counselors might not even realize it themselves, but they play an extremely important role in helping international students decide what school to attend and how to go about the entire process, which in some cases can be very complicated if not guided properly.

I remember being in that situation almost 10 years ago. I was very excited but also scared. I had just completed my application to Caldwell College, and I was getting ready to submit all the required supplemental documents. I had to sign up, study, and take the SAT (in a different language, as Spanish is my first language); write an essay that would convince the admission committee that I was the right candidate for the school; find the right people to write letters of recommendation for me; and then request my high school transcripts to be sent to WES (World Education Services) to be evaluated and then sent to Caldwell College—and I had no idea what WES or a NACES-accredited evaluation was, nor had I ever heard of them before. The help and guidance I received from my admission counselor at the time was crucial and made the process a lot smoother for me. I thought of myself as the most annoying candidate for e-mailing him so many times and asking him so many questions; however, now that I am in the shoes of an international admission counselor, I realize how important it is to be patient and dedicated to applicants.

I feel it is essential to constantly guide and support students throughout the entire application process. Yes, it can be a lot of work, at times; however, it is also very rewarding. Just like with domestic applicants, I make sure international students submit all necessary documents for admission, look at their transcripts and test scores, and read their résumés, letters of recommendation, and essays. By the way, application essays and personal statements are often very interesting and fun to read; I love learning about people in different countries and cultures and how they go about life! Finally, I have to make an admission decision. However, this is not the end of the journey. It is just the beginning, because there is still a lot to do in order to bring the student to campus by the start of classes.

International admission counselors make sure students receive their acceptance package and other important documents thousands of miles away. They stay in constant contact to make sure students obtain their I-20 and student visa, submit their housing and health forms, and make the necessary arrangements to arrive on campus in time to attend the international student orientation and get acclimated before the beginning of the semester.

Moreover, it is also important that admission counselors try to put themselves in the student’s position and not assume that things are easy and smooth when going through the process. It’s a common mistake to assume that all applicants are familiar with the terminology. Every country and educational system in the world is different. I try to explain to applicants how things work in the American system and at the same time, become familiar with their educational systems and if possible, their culture. I need to be aware that the words we use on a regular basis, such as “college” and “high school,” might have different meanings in other countries. I am also conscientious of terms such as “tuition,” “room and board,” and “resident and commuter,” among many others, as they could create confusion for the applicant. This is why we try to use simple language or explain what these words mean in the United States.

International applicants face lots of hurdles while trying to get to a U.S. institution of higher education. I remember waiting for my admission and scholarship decisions and being so thrilled to find out I had been accepted to Caldwell College with a very generous scholarship package. However, there was still a lot to do. First, I had to complete and return an I-20 application form . . . an I-what? Once more, I was not familiar with the term or process, but my admission counselor, working along with the international student advisor, did a great job guiding me so I was able to gather all the financial documents and send back my I-20 application. Not long after, I had my I-20, which meant it was time to go to the American embassy and apply for a student visa. When I finally got my F1 visa, I could take care of the final details, such as submitting housing forms, health forms, and booking my flight to New Jersey. This was a daunting process and even though it might be easier for students coming from certain countries, there are many others who face a lot more challenges during the process. But, luckily, international admission counselors are there to support and guide them.

At the end of the day, the international admission counselor’s role is not to “sell” their particular college or university or convince students to attend the school. In my opinion, they are there to provide prospective international students with all the necessary tools to make an informed decision and then guide them throughout the entire journey—from that first contact via e-mail, phone, Facebook, Skype, virtual fair, or face-to-face through the subsequent phone calls and e-mails to answer questions and make sure students submit all the necessary documents for admission and entry into the United States—until they arrive on campus and often even beyond that.

There is nothing like the satisfaction of having a new international student stop by your office and thank you for all you did to help him or her get there. After being in touch with a student so many times throughout the process, you feel like you are a part of their journey.

International applicants should not be afraid of asking as many questions as necessary. Admission counselors are there for you basically whenever you need them. It might sound like an exaggeration, but in my experience as an international applicant and a current international admission counselor, just being there can make all the difference.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »