International Students and College Admissions: Everything You Need to Know

June 23, 2016

The number of international students studying in the United States continues to skyrocket. Find out how college consultants help them navigate the complex application process and avoid common mistakes.

According to the Institute of International Education, 974,926 international students attended a U.S. university last year. That’s a 41% increase in the number of enrolled international students in just 5 years. And this is just the number of those who enrolled - many more applied.

To better understand the international application landscape, we interviewed Dr. Natalie Lundsteen and Brian Giroux from Capital College Consulting to share their combined 30+ years of experience guiding international students through the college admissions process.

Origin of Intl. Students in the U.S. (source: iie)
Origin of Intl. Students in the U.S. (source: iie)

What are the most common mistakes you see international applicants make?

Too much focus on the ‘name’ of a school and not how a particular student might or might not fit there. We sometimes (not commonly, but fairly often) encounter international families who think university admissions can be influenced by connections that aren’t that meaningful. Knowing a faculty member, or even being a legacy applicant, is not enough without top notch grades, test scores, essays, and activities. 


How do you help tackle that issue? What are some schools that have strong programs for international applicants?

Great question. The US has almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to college choices compared to other countries, especially when you look at schools ranked outside of the top 20. There are so many excellent schools for international students with amazing resources, research opportunities, and internship possibilities that aren’t “name-brand.” Many state universities, such as Michigan State and University of Minnesota, have excellent international student offices and support. I also like Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Middlebury, University of Richmond, and Swarthmore for international applicants.

Do international applicants typically visit schools before attending? If so, how many schools should they try to visit?

Sometimes (not always!) international clients have the ability to take a U.S. college visit trip - usually in mid-summer -  and it’s always overwhelming and exhausting for students (and their families), but it’s an excellent way to really get a ‘feel’ for a campus and its culture. Two campuses per day is the maximum, even in a city like Boston or LA where there are campuses in close proximity. There’s a lot of information to process in a campus visit!

We always recommend our clients visit schools before they apply, if possible. Demonstrated interest can be important for certain schools. We’ve met with clients for college tours for the day, designed/escorted clients on a 7 day, 10 college tour visit, and even designed and escorted clients on a 16 college tour that last nearly three weeks up and down the East Coast, to Texas and California.

How involved should parents be in the application process?

We’ve had all levels of involvement from parents. If a parent attended college in the US, he or she might have more input into school selections.

Overall, families should be in agreement well before applications start being completed as to which schools are good choices for them. Parents and children should be on the same page regarding expectations for the university experience. Parents should understand the process and what the student is working towards. Parents should support and guide (but not micromanage), and should always have deadlines in the back of their minds so they can help keep an eye on progress. Ideally, however, the entire application process should be driven and managed by the student’s motivation. Applying to college is a very ‘American’ rite of passage towards independence and adulthood.

What online resources and/or books do you recommend to your clients?

For websites, is a good starting point for international families to become more familiar with the wide range of US institutions. They can also find more general information to get started on For UK students, the London-based Fulbright Commission online resources are fantastic.

Books: Colleges that Change Lives by Loren Pope; The Hidden Ivies by Howard and Matthew Green; Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni; How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims; Crazy U by Andrew Ferguson.

If you need help navigating the complex application process, consider speaking to Capital College Consulting’s team. You can learn more about their services, and even get a 15% discount on their admission packages. Sign-up now!

About The Author

Capital College Consulting, Guest Blogger
Capital College Consulting, Guest Blogger

Capital College Consulting is a leading international college admissions firm that provides expert admissions counseling to international students who want to study in the US and UK. CCC guides students through all aspects of the application process.

Browse Successful Application Files

UPenn ‘21

Accepted to UPenn, Tulane, Elon , UNC

Student in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business dual enrolled in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School.
Notre Dame ‘20

Accepted to BU, Emory, Swarthmore, Notre Dame

Hello! I'm an international student from Ethiopia and I'll be majoring in Biology. I'd love to share all the tips and tricks I've learned from my rather unique college application experience with you!
UPenn ‘20

Accepted to UPenn

Hello! I'm a Freshman at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. I plan on concentrating in finance, marketing and social impact. In high school I was active in LGBTQ advocacy and music. I can help with any questions you have about admissions
NYU ‘19

Accepted to NYU, BU, Ohio State

Chicago-->Cincinnati-->New York City. Dancer. Rower. Volunteer. Future Teacher.

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