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3 Things I Wish I Knew Earlier in the University Search

An international student shares what he wishes he knew before he started the university admission process. His advice could help you graduate without regrets!

With the excitement of graduation, I can’t help but reflect on the choices I made during my high school years. Did I make the right decisions? Many times, the answer to me is simply: no. I always wish I could travel back in time to remake some choices, such as attending more competitions, reaching out to more people, or even transferring to another school. With the lack of concrete resources in my school, I was often left alone to fend for myself during the college application process, especially being an international student studying at a school where relatively 35 out of 44 students in my class had paid over $10,000 USD for outside counseling agencies.

Without outside help, I didn’t realize the importance of picking the right courses and building a résumé during high school. I failed to notice how influential the role of counselor recommendations is in the college application process. Most importantly, I didn’t realize that I should choose my major based on how competitive it is relative to other students’ choices. Here’s what I would’ve done differently throughout high school and how you can learn from my mistakes. 

1. Attend a high school with great resources

Studying at a bilingual school, I can’t help but recognize the abundance of resources that typical American schools offer. Many of my friends who studied at American schools constantly told me the strong advising network that their schools offered, ranging from weekly personal consultations on courses and numerous sessions and workshops on résumé building. On the other hand, studying at a traditional, conservative Taiwanese high school whose small bilingual program is still in the experimental phase really made me realize how the lack of certain resources available to students can make all the difference. With many restrictions ranging from a limited variety of subject courses to even monthly hair checks (with rigid rules dictated in a “student guide handbook”), students who wish to pursue an overseas education often lack the opportunity and flexibility to explore their interests inside and outside of school. 

This is why I strongly urge incoming high school students to wisely pick where to attend your four years of high school. Even though high school seems to be a small factor in terms of your future, it is critical to first research and gather information on the curriculum and advising resources that a school offers. That way, you’ll be able to easily seek help during the busiest months of college applications.

Related: Application Timeline for International Students

2. Form close relationships with counselors and teachers

Counselors play a vital role in a student’s high school career not just by advising them about course selection and extracurriculars but also by writing recommendation letters that truly depict a student’s personality and potential. During the application period, I isolated myself to craft out my Common App/UC profiles, résumé, personal statements, and supplemental materials all by myself. Unlike many of my classmates who went through weeks and weeks of editing with their English teachers and high school/outside counselors, I swiftly finished my essays and only showed the first draft of my personal statement to one of my English teachers and counselors. However, after receiving conflicting suggestions from both adults, I decided to work on all my essays on my own. I ended up submitting all my supplemental essays without going through any rounds of editing. The only time I asked for advice from my counselors was during my sophomore year and after I received my admission decisions, where I was advised on what majors to choose and what school to commit to, respectively.

As a result of keeping to myself, my teachers and counselors lacked any understanding of my applications or aspirations for the future, making it difficult for them to craft authentic recommendation letters that could potentially give me an edge among thousands of outstanding applicants. Much to my regret, I missed out on the chance of receiving extra recommendation letters and updates written by counselors and teachers that could have provided colleges with new insights that were not discussed in my application. To any high school students out there who believe that they alone can handle college applications, I suggest not going that route. Take advantage of all the resources and people available to you, because you never know how much an extra recommendation or piece of advice can boost your application.

3. Choose the “right” major

As a student who plans to major in Biology, I didn’t realize how the major I applied to is one of the most popular and competitive majors that typical Pre-med students choose. Thus, many of my classmates chose majors such as History or Environmental Science, which are relatively uncommon compared to others. This helped them avoid competition with those applying to the same fields of study. While this might not work for everyone, it’s an option that you can consider if you’re interested in a sought-after major at a particular school. Your selection should be made wisely based on an evaluation of the major’s competitiveness within the pool of applicants. Try finding statistics for admission into certain majors at your colleges of interest; this can let you see how competitive your intended program is. You may discover it’s wiser to list a different intended major and switch once you’re enrolled, if the program allows it. 

Related: How to Choose a Major: With Your Head or Your Heart? 

Ultimately, you don’t want to have any regrets on the choices you made once you graduate high school. Be sure to gather and consider as many suggestions as possible and consult early with others before you make any final decisions! 

Learn more about navigating the foreign university search and admission process in our International Students section. 

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college admission college prep international applications international students study abroad university

About Po-Ting (Duke) Lin

Po-Ting (Duke) Lin

Po-Ting (Duke) Lin is a student at Northwestern University from Taipei, Taiwan. He's interested in both human biology and creative writing and currently pursues Economics and Business at college. Besides conducting research at the National Defense Medical Center, Duke is a founder of KidSpirit magazine's Taiwanese editorial board and an avid sharer who loves helping high schoolers with the college application process.

 

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