U.S. College Admission for International Students

 August 31, 2021
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More than 1.1 million international students studied in the U.S. in the spring of 2019. While that number dropped by 43% during the pandemic, it’s likely to rebound in the future. College admission for international students follows a similar process as it does for American students, but there are some key differences to be aware of.

If you’re an international student interested in studying in the U.S., these tips will help you navigate the college admissions process.

College admission for international students: 9 pro tips

Before sending off your application, consider this advice for international students:

1. Apply to several different schools
2. Learn about the holistic admission process
3. Research application requirements
4. Spend time on your personal essay
5. Take the SAT or ACT
6. Learn the language requirements
7. Get your transcript evaluated
8. Learn about your options for financial aid and scholarships
9. Keep track of deadlines

1. Apply to several different schools

There are nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. Some are extremely selective and only let in students with top grades and test scores; others have a more forgiving admission process.

To maximize their chances, most American students apply to several different colleges. They apply to a few “safety schools” where they feel confident they’ll get in. They also apply to two to three “on target” schools. They’re qualified to get into these schools, but admission is not guaranteed.

Finally, students apply to two to three “reach” schools. Getting in may be a long shot, but it’s possible. Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale are considered “reach” schools for just about every student since they’re so selective.

If you’re applying as an international student, send off five to eight applications to increase your chances of admission. Even if you have your sights set on one school, make sure all the schools on your list are ones you’d be happy to attend.

If application fees are an obstacle, contact the financial aid office of your prospective schools. Financial aid officers may grant you an application fee waiver.

2. Learn about the holistic admission process

Another unique feature of American college admissions is that the process at many schools is holistic. Rather than looking solely at grades and test scores, admissions officers seek to learn about you as a person.

They want to know about your interests and passions. What do you do outside of school? How have you contributed to your community? What skills have you developed outside of academics?

You can reveal your personality through your personal essay and letters of recommendation. Plus, you’ll share any extracurricular activities or community engagement on your application.

If time allows, make it a point to join some clubs or take on an internship during high school. Many U.S. colleges are interested in what you’ve done outside of the classroom, not just within it.

3. Research application requirements

Every college is different, so every application might have its own unique requirements. Some colleges may require standardized test scores, while others are “test optional” or don’t look at test scores at all.

Some ask for recommendation letters from teachers or coaches, and others request that you schedule an interview with an admissions officer or alumni volunteer. It’s important to research the unique requirements of each school you apply to to ensure you’re not missing anything.

That said, many schools will accept the Common Application, which is an online application that you can fill out once and send to multiple schools. Filling out the Common Application can be a time-saver, but make sure to include any supplemental materials a college requests, as well.

4. Spend time on your personal essay

Your personal essay is an important part of your international student college application. This college essay is very different from a typical academic essay you may have written in history class.

Admissions officers want you to share a specific anecdote from your life. Maybe it was a time you experienced failure, overcame a challenge or learned a life-changing lesson. They’re interested in how you made meaning from this experience. Your personal essay is a chance for you to reveal your identity.

Before sitting down to write it, read some sample college essays. Many colleges share essays that impressed admissions officers on their website.

5. Take the SAT or ACT

Among other requirements, an American university application will likely ask that you take the SAT (or its counterpart, the ACT). The SAT is a test that measures your reasoning, verbal and math skills.

Studying for the SAT is key. Before you start, research the average SAT (or ACT) scores of accepted students at your prospective colleges. That way, you’ll know what scores will help you get in.

You can use free study materials online, an SAT or ACT prep book or study with a tutor or class.

6. Learn the language requirements

Since your courses at a U.S. college or university will be in English, you might have to demonstrate English proficiency to get accepted. Many colleges require foreign applicants to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL®) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Just as with the SAT or ACT, you can research schools to find out what scores it looks for in applicants. Once you have your goal, commit some time to studying and preparing for your exam.

Even if you speak English fluently, the TOEFL and IELTS are challenging. The TOEFL, for instance, is strictly timed and asks you to deliver verbal “essays” in response to unpredictable questions.

7. Get your transcript evaluated

Before applying, you’ll likely need to have your transcript evaluated. Since your school probably uses a different grading system than American high schools use, this evaluator can put your transcript into terms a college admissions officer will understand.

Make sure to request a transcript evaluation from an acceptable agency, such as one that’s a member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) or the Association of International Credential Evaluators, Inc. (AICE).

This evaluation typically costs somewhere between $75 and $250 and can take several weeks to complete, so plan ahead. You might also need someone to translate your transcript into English if it’s in a different language.

Check with your school to find out if it has any requirements around transcript translation. Harvard University, for example, says you don’t need to hire a professional translator; rather, it’s acceptable to have an English teacher translate your materials.

8. Learn about your options for financial aid and scholarships

Most U.S. citizens apply for federal financial aid with an application called the FAFSA. If you’re an international applicant, you’re probably wondering, “Can international students apply to FAFSA?”

The answer is somewhat complicated. Unfortunately, international students are not eligible for federal financial aid. However, it’s still worth filing the FAFSA, since your school might use it to award institutional grants or scholarships.

While you may not be able to access the form online if you don’t have a U.S. Social Security number, you can still print out the form and mail it in. Some schools also ask for additional financial aid forms, such as the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA) or the CSS profile.

You can also apply to external scholarships. Use a scholarship search tool to find money for college.

If you need further funding, you might be able to take out private student loans in the U.S. or your home country. U.S. lenders may require a cosigner who’s a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Be cautious about repayment plans and interest rates — interest rates on private student loans can get very high, making your student debt balloon over time.

Before accepting an offer of admission, figure out how you’ll fund your education and make sure your investment is worth the cost.

9. Keep track of deadlines

From filling out the Common Application to writing your personal essay to taking standardized tests, the college admissions process has a lot of moving parts. It’s crucial to keep track of your various deadlines so that you can stay on track.

Some important deadlines to keep track of include test registration, testing days, financial aid deadlines and of course, application due dates. Colleges often offer early deadlines (typically in October or November) or regular deadlines (typically in January or February).

But again, every college is different, so look up every school on your list to learn about its unique requirements and deadlines.

Getting your student visa

Once you’re accepted to a college, you’ll start the process of obtaining your student visa. If you’ll be attending a four-year school, you’ll apply for an F-1 visa. Vocational students will typically apply for an M-1 visa.

You will need fill out a student visa application at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country before you come to the U.S. Your school should assign you an international student advisor who can help you navigate this process.

You should start this process early, as it can take time. Your F-1 visa can be issued up to three months before you arrive in the U.S. to start your studies.

Plan early for your international student college application

Admissions officers at U.S. colleges review all four years of your high school experience. They look at your grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and community involvement. Plus, they want to learn about your personality through your college essay and recommendation letters.

All of these American university application components take time, so start planning early. With enough preparation, you can submit an amazing application and get into your first choice school.

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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 8/9/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.

Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.


8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.