College Search Differences: US vs. International Students

International students should be focusing on different key details in the college search than their US peers. Here's what CollegeXpress student writer Pilar wants you to know.

As an international student starting the university search and looking for your perfect fit, you may encounter facts like a school's overall admission rate, average SAT scores, cost of tuition and fees, and so on. You may spend countless nights looking at data and information thinking this is all you need. Even though it’s a great guide to finding what suits you as an applicant, this data tends to target US students. This means as an international student, there are other important details you want to focus on when researching your top school choices. It may sound overwhelming, but don't worry—we’ve got your back. Here’s some crucial information to consider that will help you in your college search process and give you some insight when it comes to your dream school and being an international student.

Support and resources

Knowing what resources a college offers, especially for international students, should play a big part when deciding where to apply. When I speak of support systems and resources, I’m referring to various areas, including non-English-speaker support and tutoring, international student associations or clubs, counseling and mental health resources, international student financial aid, and so forth. These aspects are significant if you want to study far from home. For instance, if you’re from a non-English-speaking country, the language barrier may be a challenge. Many schools like the University of California Berkeley and the University of Chicago offer assistance and tutoring; UChicago even has a whole English language institute. Universities want you to feel comfortable and can help you ease into the language. If you’re interested in knowing if your dream school offers this kind of assistance, be sure to look at the international students sections of official school websites. If you can't find the information, feel free to send an email to the school expressing your concern—it will help.

Campus clubs and associations offer more of an emotional assistance, but this will be just as important. They’re a great way to make friends and get a close feeling to home. Student groups vary between schools, but most of them focus on bringing different cultures to campus. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, check the website and social media of your schools of interest since a lot of information can be found on both. Getting involved may even allow you to associate with upperclassmen and find a mentor through your college experiences.

Related: The Best On-Campus Resources for International Students

Scholarships and financial aid

As an international student, you won't be able to apply for US federal student aid, which is a big contribution to most residential students looking for financial support. Don't worry though! Many schools offer various scholarships and job opportunities to help you out—including ones specifically for international students. Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, and more offer specialized international student scholarships. This will increase your chances of getting some financial help—but keep in mind scholarships are limited, and conditions vary between schools.

Private schools tend to offer more money to students with financial issues than public schools. This is because private universities tend to have more resources and a greater chance to assist students financially. Private colleges often offer more of a tuition discount than public institutions. Even though this sounds incredible, these schools tend to be very expensive compared to public universities. But also remember that a school that admits you into their upcoming class wants you to attend, so making it more affordable for you is usually a priority. Extra tip: Always look at the out-of-state tuition and fees, as that’s usually what international student tuition is based on.

Related: Financial Tips for Disadvantaged International Students

TOEFL requirements

If you've never heard of the TOEFL, it’s a standardized test to measure international students’ English-language skills, primarily those from non-English-speaking countries. Yes, this means as an international student, you have to take an extra test. This test specifically is one a lot of students tend to forget about, especially if you’re new to the US university application system. You may wonder which students have to submit TOEFL scores. It only applies to students whose education was based in a country or school where the official language isn’t English. If this applies to you, be sure to check each school's particular policies and requirements. Some schools will require you to submit your scores, like Yale University and Princeton University. On the other hand, schools like Stanford University and Columbia recommend you submit scores but don’t require it. Lastly, schools like Rice University and Harvard don't take this test into consideration when reviewing your application. This gives you a brief insight on the different policies schools may have when it comes to the TOEFL. The best advice: If the option is open to you, take the test! It’ll open your options up to more schools and set you apart when applying to schools that don't require it. But don't forget to take into consideration COVID-19 alternations when it comes to test scores since many schools have gone test-optional.

Related: 2 Easy Study Tips for Both Admission and Language Tests

International student ratio

This is crucial golden ticket information. Basically, what this means is knowing the number of international students in comparison to the whole student body or upcoming freshman class. This will allow you to have a clearer vision on your chances of admission and gain insight on the amount of people with similar backgrounds to you. You may even find a ratio specifically for your country or overall region. For instance, a school like Harvard has an overall acceptance rate of 5%, which translates to about 2,015 students in their upcoming freshman class. Out of these students, about 12% are international students, meaning only 242 students. Knowing the diversity in a specific college or university not only helps you understand the relationship between your top-choice school and students with similar backgrounds as you, but it also might help you know how comfortable you'll feel. Keep in mind when admission officers view your application, they do so in a holistic matter, meaning they’ll evaluate your application with consideration of your entire background, so your nationality shouldn’t be a factor playing against you; in fact, it actually might help.

Related: 4 Ways to Stand Out as an International Applicant

When researching universities, there are certain details you need to consider that most American students don’t need to think about. Keep an eye out for international student resources on campus, scholarships and specialized financial aid, each school’s TOEFL requirements and policies, and the number of international students per class. Of course, you’ll have to consider other factors too, but these are the most important to you as an international applicant. Good luck!

For more advice on navigating the university search as a non-US student, check out our International Students section.

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About Pilar Zapata Thompson

Pilar Zapata Thompson is a Chilean high school student who's passionate about neuroscience, psychology, and health. She dedicates large portions of her time to sports, hiking, her dog, and volunteering as a tutor. Her love for books and learning is what drives her to hopefully study abroad and major in Neuroscience & Behavior.



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