Originally Posted: Jul 16, 2018
Last Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Being an international student applying to colleges in the United States can be tricky, especially if you attend a small school like I do. Unfortunately, international résumés are often viewed as less credible than domestic students’, especially with the difference in grading systems.
Also, with limited resources and access to internships in the States, it can be difficult to find unique extracurriculars. It seems like almost everyone sings or plays an instrument. Those who don’t (and some who do) play varsity sports or specialize in theater or art. Compared to multi-talented students who excel in academics, fine arts, and sports, sometimes it feels like the rest of the student body has a hard time standing out.
But even students with these exceptional experiences occasionally fail to get into top-ranked schools. This can be discouraging, especially when you’re trying your best to make use of limited resources overseas. But here are four ways to stand out as an international student on your university applications.
1. Hold leadership positions in your school community
Holding leadership positions can be a great way to stand out on your applications. Especially with high-profile positions like student council president, concertmaster, MUN captain, etc., you can establish yourself as an outstanding and efficient leader.
2. Establish close connections with teachers
If universities want to get a closer look at you as a person, what will they look at? Your teacher recommendations! Many upperclassmen have told me that your recommendations play a huge part in the admission process in the States.
If you have perfect grades and extracurriculars, but your teacher paints you as an unmotivated, insensitive, rude teenager, colleges may hesitate before accepting you. On the other hand, if your academics are a tad lackluster but your teacher calls you the best student she or he’s ever had, admission officers may give your application another look.
3. Make use of your surroundings
You may not have access to the New York Department of Justice or the means to snag an internship in LA, but there’s definitely something unique about your surroundings. For example, if you were in Korea during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there were countless opportunities for volunteer work or internships associated with the event.
There’s always something special about your immediate area. Go to a local hospital and ask if you can shadow a doctor. Interview people on the street about local traditions and culture and translate their answers for a personal blog or YouTube channel. There are so many opportunities if you look for them!
4. Ask upperclassmen for advice
Applying to college as an international student is a very different experience from applying as a domestic American student. For one, many people have to take the TOEFL in order to prove English proficiency. Upperclassmen in your high school will likely have gone through all the struggles of the exam already. Listening to their stories and asking specific questions could be more helpful than only looking up generalized tips and tricks on the internet.
Related: A Beginner's Guide to the TOEFL
Being an international student has its benefits and drawbacks. The best thing you can do is utilize the sources you have available and glean whatever you can from them!
Find your future university with the help of our College Search tool.