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US University Admission: 5 Areas to Focus on to Increase Your Chances

What’s the secret to US university acceptance? There's no magic trick that helps, but it’s smart to focus on these five areas for a better application.

College application season is here, and it’s often one of the most intense times of a high school senior’s life. Applications come from far and wide. I like to categorize applicants into three different categories:

  1. Students who’ve been coached and tutored their entire lives to get into top universities;
  2. Students who have some idea of what they want to study and are trying their best to work hard on their applications individually; and
  3. Students who haven’t yet chosen a school or picked a major and are kind of doing everything last minute.

These categories all have scenario subsections; the truth is that every type of student will get accepted somewhere if they have what the college is looking for. As an international student, you may wonder how you fit into all of this, especially if you come from a school with a different curriculum. But there’s no need to worry! You can show your ability to succeed in the American college system in several ways. Here’s how.

1. Education elements

Every nation in the world has some sort of educational system. Various countries share systems, while some may have their own. Some educational systems are harder and some are easier. There are different testing methods to assess students, unweighted and weighted GPA systems, and categories of grading that vary depending on how easy or hard the work is. Most universities will require your official high school transcript, so don’t be negligent on your grades from your home country. You can ask your school administrator or counselor how your GPA is calculated and if it’s on track for your universities of interest.

2. Standardized tests

As a student who wants to study in the US, another way to show your academic proficiency is through SAT or ACT exams. The highest possible ACT score is 36, while the highest SAT score is 1600. Most schools have certain test score requirements for accepting students, which you should research and aim for—though higher scores will make you stand out even more. Other accepted testing forms to show your proficiency include AP exams, A-levels, IB exams, and CLEP exams.

Related: Which Admission Tests Should International Students Take?

English-language proficiency tests

Additionally, if you’re coming from a country where English is not the primary language, it would work greatly in your favor to take an English proficiency test; sometimes these are even required by universities for admission. Some popular and widely accepted English tests include the TOEFL, IELTS, and, more recently, Duolingo English. It’s important to take these tests seriously and show your abilities from the start in order to convince college admission officers you’ll be able to cope in their educational system as an international student.

3. Extracurriculars, clubs, and volunteering

The days of simply having a quality education as a guarantee of admission to a reputable university are long gone. You need a balanced life in order to be a well-rounded student, and that includes having interests outside the classroom. This can be accomplished through participating in and joining clubs, sports teams, and/or internships. Volunteering can take place in many areas, from helping at a religious organization or school to a hospital or orphanage. It’s important to take on activities you actually have an interest in, not just ones that look good on your university applications. You should engage in activities that clearly demonstrate your interest, growth, and leadership skills. Although not vital, having photographic evidence and referrals from these clubs can also go a long way.

Related: 4 Ways to Stand Out as an International Applicant

4. Personal statements and application essays

Writing is an extremely essential part of university, regardless of what your major is. Perhaps that’s why applicants have to write lengthy essays about themselves to explain their personality to the college admission office. A lot of people get personal statements wrong because they lack genuine demeanor. Everyone is too focused on writing the “perfect” essay that they lack depth and end up having the most generic essay ever.

When writing your personal statement (especially as an international student), be sure to let your personality and background speak for you. Write whatever you think reflects you and your background, not just want you think would get you accepted. Ensure you have no grammatical or punctuation errors as well; you should ask someone to help you proofread, even if you don’t feel the need to.

5. Having options and showing interest

Applying to colleges internationally can be easy as long as you have a good work ethic, determination, and resilience. It’s important to have many school options that are tailored to where you believe you will fit in and cope as an international student. Most people advise to have target, reach, and safety schools; my advice is to apply to a minimum of five schools. Although application fees can be expensive, some colleges have reduced or waived fees for international students. Also, go out of your way to attend virtual open house events to learn more about your potential university and demonstrate interest in schools.

Related: How to Use Demonstrated Interest to Your Benefit

I hope these tips will make it simpler for other international students to get accepted to schools abroad. You can have a great university experience as long as you can manage the stress that comes with applications and persevere.

Still looking for your best-fit university? Find schools that are seeking international students and get connected in one click on CollegeXpress!

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