6 Tips for International Students Applying to US Colleges

Application Strategies
February 18, 2020
The United States Is Home To Some Of The Most Prestigious And Sought-After Colleges In The World…

With top-notch academic programs, valuable career connections, and welcoming communities, it’s no wonder that students from all over the world are competing to gain admission into US universities. Of course, a college admission decision begins with an application; while international students are highly encouraged to submit US college applications, they must go through the same process as everyone else, and sometimes, complete additional requirements.

If you’re an international student seeking to gain admission into a US college, keep reading to learn about some of the tools you can use during your application process. By the end, you’ll be one step closer to studying at your dream school abroad!

What You’ll Find In This Article:

How Do US College Applications Work?

Nearly all college applications can be completed through online application platforms. The three most highly used platforms among US universities are:

Regardless of what US college you’re applying to, you’ll most likely begin the application process by creating an account on one of these platforms. Some colleges may use only one of these, so be sure to do your research before you start applying and find out which platform is best for the colleges you plan to apply to.

It’s important to know that these college application platforms function in two parts:

First, they provide you with an easy way to input your personal information for multiple colleges at once. Without platforms like these, you’d have to write down the same information multiple times for each college you applied to. Fortunately, platforms like these can save you time and energy by only requiring you to provide your general information once. This basic information will include your address, current high school, transcripts, school reports, and extracurricular activities.

Secondly, these platforms provide sections that are specific to the college you’re applying for, including college-specific essays, program-specific questions, and supplementary materials. US college application essays usually include a personal essay that can be about a topic of your choice and that will go to all colleges you apply to, along with  secondary essays that focus on why you want to go to a specific college and that are only sent to those colleges.

Rather than trying to gather all the different essay prompts and documents on your own, websites like the Common App gather them for you and keep them all in an easy-to-access place. Plus, you can save your applications and revisit them as many times as you need before your deadlines.

Thanks to the Internet, international students can access these platforms from anywhere in the world, so you can get started applying to US colleges at any time!

What Application Deadlines Should International Students Follow?

Applying to US colleges as an international student involves paying close attention to deadlines. This is one step of the process that American and international students have in common. However, because international students need to complete additional exams, they’ll have a few extra deadlines to keep in mind:

  • Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision Applications
  • SAT and ACT Scores
  • English Proficiency Exams


In the US, college applications have deadlines that depend on their status and priority. Depending on what kind of application you submit, your college application deadline could be one of three dates.

Early action and early decision applications are considered more of an up-front commitment than regular decision applications. By submitting your application under early action, you’re expressing your high interest in that college without fully committing to it yet.

You can go one step further and submit under the early decision deadline. In this case, if you are granted admission, you will be automatically committed to going to that college and you must withdraw all other active applications.

Early action and early decision application deadlines are usually November 1st and December 1st. Regular decision applications are usually due on January 1st, and don’t have any requirements for admission.


Next, you’ll want to pay attention to when standardized testing scores are due. Living internationally, you’ll need to consider when scores become available, how long it may take to send them to the US, and processing times. Plan to take your exams early so you have plenty of time to receive your scores and send them to colleges.


Lastly, you’ll need to pass an English Proficiency Exam and send your scores by the assigned deadline. The most widely used exams to test international students’ proficiency in English are:

  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
  • DuoLingo

Every college has their own requirements for English Proficiency Exams, so do some research and find out what score you’ll need to be considered for admission. For US colleges, the TOEFL tends to be most popular, while the IELTS is more common in the UK and Australia. For both the TOEFL and IELTS exams, your scores are valid for two years before you’ll need to take the exam again.

DuoLingo is widely known as an app that provides users with a fun way to learn a new language. For college admission purposes however, it functions as a computer aptitude test that challenges a student’s ability to comprehend English. While it isn’t used as frequently as the two previous tests, it’s a fast-growing competitor.

6 Tips For Getting Accepted To US Colleges

While you have a lot to juggle as an international student, you can still stand out to admission officers by using six easy tips. In addition to helping you gain admission to a US college, focusing on these areas will open more opportunities, help you feel more prepared, and ensure that you’re starting the application process strong!


As an international student, you’re probably used to hearing about world-renowned schools like Yale or Harvard. These colleges are well-known because of their name, popularity in the media, and reputation in society. However, applying to college purely based on popularity restricts your chances of finding your ideal campus culture.

Do your own research on several different schools that interest you. Look at different academic programs, campus cultures, locations, and costs before you narrow down your list of colleges. More specifically, we recommend developing a list of five reach, safety, and target schools.

Your reach list should consist of colleges where your chances of being admitted are lower than average, based on your test scores. Your safety schools should be colleges that you have a very high chance of being accepted; these will function as your back up schools.

The most important category for you will be your target schools. These colleges are essentially your ideal schools; you have a good chance of being accepted, and they offer strong programs and financial aid plans for international students.

Put in the time to research schools and don’t just opt for what’s popular. You’ll be glad that you’re applying to colleges where you’ll truly thrive, rather than where you’ll just earn a bit of prestige.


When college admission officers read incoming applications, they’re looking for a story. They want to know what passions and ambitions you have, and why those desires drove you to apply to their school.

It’s important to remember that college is a transaction of skills: you have something valuable to bring to their campus, and your future college offers training, experiences and opportunities in return. The clearer you can identify this in your application, the better.

Be honest about your experiences, and show the admission officers exactly what their college offers that will help you accomplish your goals. In other words, tell them a compelling story about who you are now, and how their college will help you become who you want to be. Round it out by showing off the unique skills and experiences you can bring to their campus, and you’ll be well on your way to a winning college application!


As you’re completing your applications, continue to work hard in school. Keep your grades up, and study for your standardized tests and English proficiency exams. If your school doesn’t have SAT study groups, credible online resources can help you study for your standardized tests instead:

US colleges will be more concerned with your TOEFL score than anything else; if you don’t understand English well, you unfortunately won’t succeed at a US college. To improve your English skills, take advantage of free online practice tests and spend some time outside of classes refining your English comprehension. Pair up with another student who’s also eyeing US colleges, and practice your spoken English together!


Because you’re an international student, college admissions officers are already interested in you! International students compete for slots at US colleges because they are valuable members of US college campuses, and colleges are always excited to welcome new worldviews and backgrounds to their schools.

Of course, while you’ll capture their attention by being an international student, it’s still important to be prepared for any questions they may ask. They will have plenty of questions for you, so the more prepared you are, the better.

Be prepared to explain how your grades were calculated at your school; grades are handled differently all over the world, so they will want to know how to translate your classroom performance to US terms. This also relates to class rankings; translating international grade scales helps US admission officers understand how you were ranked against your classmates.

Lastly, include any specific bits of information that your college may find interesting. They want to know what it’s like growing up and learning in a foreign country, what activities you participated in, and how challenging your education truly was. Put your international  education into a context they can understand and use every experience you’ve had to your advantage!


Unlike US students, international students don’t have access to the main financial aid assistance tools that provide students with student loans, scholarships, and grants. While this may seem like a setback, there are still plenty of financial aid options for international students attending US colleges. Make sure you take the time to do your research, and plan your finances well in advance of submitting your applications.


International students need to pay close attention to US college requirements. Make sure that you read every requirement on your applications; download application checklists, and seek help from a counselor to avoid any unexpected road blocks.

Due to English proficiency exams, different grading scales, and transcripts, you have more to keep track of than most US students do, so the earlier you start on your applications, the better. Create a schedule for completing your applications ahead of time; this is the best way to ensure that you’re giving yourself plenty of time to gather all the necessary documents.

US Colleges For International Students

Going to college in the US is something that many students want to experience. Your opportunity to come to the US and study at one of the world’s most prestigious colleges all begins with your applications, so start early, take your time, and do your best to present a polished application.

Pay close attention to the additional requirements you must complete as an international student as well; this includes English proficiency exams, priority deadlines, and standardized test scores. Due to factors like time zones and only having access to your applications through the internet, be aware of the specific components of the US college application process so you’re on top of things well before the deadlines.

Lastly, embrace honesty and integrity in your application. Tell a story about your ambitions, and why going to a US college is crucial to your success as a student.

Fortunately, WeAdmit exists to help; our professional counselors can connect with students anywhere in the world through our online platform to help them with their college application process. If you have any doubts, questions, or simply need a second opinion regarding your US college applications don’t hesitate to reach out to WeAdmit for help. We’d love to help you achieve your dream of being accepted into a US college!

Of course, your college options are vast, so get started on your search with WeAdmit’s College Guides. These special articles hone in on a variety of specific college’s admission statistics, programs, and campus opportunities. We outline everything you need to know to get into your dream school, so don’t miss out on this valuable resource.

You Have Big Dreams; Let Us Help You Achieve Them!



Need more Information?

Gain all the information you need by getting in touch with our admissions team or booking a free 30-minute counseling session.