10 Mistakes International Applicants Make When Applying to U.S. Schools

February 22, 2016
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Applying to college as an international student can be a difficult process. From figuring out your most important priorities to understanding the application completely, it’s crucial to take time to complete the entire admissions process. We have worked with hundreds of students internationally, and trust me, we’ve seen our fair share of mistakes! Here are the ten worst mistakes that we see international applicants make:

1. Spending Almost All of Your Efforts on Standardized Test Preparation

To many people, the idea of holistic admissions evaluations run counter to everything they previously thought they understood about meritocracy. Standardized test scores are just going to get your foot in the door, but they aren’t going to be what closes it behind you.

2. Treating Extracurriculars as a “Box to Check”

Extracurricular involvement is the best way to frame the debate about a student within the admissions office. What separates two candidates with 2200s and identical GPAs? The answer lies in the honors and activities list: what they have chosen to do over the years and what they have made of those opportunities.

3. Exaggerating “Hours Spent per Week”

We have seen plenty of students fill out the Common App and artificially inflate their time commitment. Sometimes even so much that the aggregate hours spent per week for contemporaneously performed activities get up into the hundreds! Major red flag.

 

4. Treating Letters of Recommendation as an Afterthought

Many admissions offices don’t give much weight to recommendations written for international applicants. They simply don’t know how much credibility to accord them. International students should foster relationships with mentors and educate those writers about the letter of recommendation process.

5. Basing School Lists off the U.S. News and World Report Rankings

Rankings are a helpful starting point for doing research about schools. However, all too often we see students deciding that their school list will be the “Top 20” schools. Such a cookie-cutter approach will usually lead to bad admissions results and unhappy students.

6. Not Checking Your E-mail!

We have encountered this problem frequently in China in particular because students are not used to communicating via e-mail. Unfortunately, many students miss important requests (such as interview sign-up dates!).

7. Not Planning Far Enough in Advance

Students candidacies begin years before they actually apply. Preparing for the relevant standardized tests, picking the right classes, and building meaningful extracurricular involvements are pivotal in maturing students’ candidacies.

8. Preparing Financial Documentation

Some schools require international applicants to provide financial documentation supporting their ability to afford tuition. Although many schools don’t have such requirements, doubts about students’ ability to pay may still be detrimental.

9. Forgetting SAT Subject Tests

International students focus so much on the SAT and TOEFL/IELTS that they are prone to overlook preparation for SAT Subject Tests. They need to chart out their test-taking dates well in advance, build in some wiggle room, and prepare accordingly.

10. Omitting Transcripts

If an applicant took classes for credit at another school, almost all schools require you to submit transcripts from those programs. If the applicants are late in the process of obtaining these transcripts, they could struggle to meet deadlines, or worse yet, give rise to the inference that they are attempting to hide pertinent information.

Are you applying to college as an international student? Search our database of accepted international students to find application files, essays, stats, and advice. Find out how you can get in by chatting with mentors or getting their help on your application essays!

 

About The Author

David Mainiero, Guest Blogger
David Mainiero, Guest Blogger

David is the Co-Founder and College Admissions Expert at InGenius Prep. He is an experienced educator and admissions counselor with over almost a decade of experience helping students unlock their potential and achieve their dreams.​ David graduated from Harvard Law School after completing his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth. 




Browse Successful Application Files

VivienneEve23
UC Berkeley ‘20


Accepted to UC Berkeley, Brown, Claremont (CMC), Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Northwestern, Pomona, Stanford, San Diego, Vanderbilt, UCSC, UCSB, UCSD, UCLA, Cal Poly, Cal Poly Pomona, Washington

Los Angeles kid attending UC Berkeley, Class of 2020! Planning on studying business or economics. Go Bears!
tifstar1997
Cornell ‘19


Accepted to Cornell, CMU, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, UCSD, UCSB, UC Irvine

Cornell Engineering '19
youngch
Vanderbilt ‘18


Accepted to Baruch, Binghamton, Brooklyn College, Hunter, Macaulay Honors, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, UPenn, Brown, Cornell, SUNY Buffalo, Rice, Vanderbilt, NYU, Columbia

I grew up in New York City, Bronx and Brooklyn to be exact. I went to pretty big public schools and once you find a supportive yet motivating group of friends, teachers, advisors, and counselors to complement your family, life becomes a whole lot better!
niustephanie
Stanford ‘19


Accepted to Stanford, MIT, GA Tech

STEM outreach enthusiast. Poet. Programmer. Advocate for women in STEM.

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