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Applying to college as an international student

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University of Massachusetts mascot Sam poses with a group of students

Applying to college in the US is a multi-step, and sometimes confusing process. If you’re applying as an international student, the process has a few extra steps that can be scary to navigate. Don’t worry though! Just follow these tips and you’ll find that the process is a lot easier than you think.

1. Plan ahead

Think about the colleges you want to apply to, make a list, and find out everything about what materials you need to apply. My advice is to make a list of each college you want to apply to, what you need for each (you’ll probably need the same materials for most colleges), and each school deadline. Do this well in advance — about a year or so before you graduate. Even if you don’t end up applying to all the colleges in your list, at least you’ll have the information in one place.

2. Think about the tests

You need to think about the SATs. The SATs are a bit of a pain, but a staple of the US college application process. Research your college choices and find out the scores you’d need to be accepted. If you’re not familiar with the SATs, it might be a good idea to find a tutor to prepare you. A good place to look for tutors are English institutes (places where English classes are offered).

If you haven’t had your secondary education in English (or completed two college-level English composition classes), you’ll most likely need to take an English proficiency test, such as the TOEFL. Like with the SATs, find out the score you’ll need to get accepted, and find prep classes. Even if you’re fluent in English, taking TOEFL prep classes is a good idea to get familiarized with the test.

3. Gather those transcripts

Nearly every college will require you to send translated transcripts (if they’re originally in English, you probably don’t need to worry about having them translated).

If your school’s grading system is different than the one in the US, you’ll need to have your grades converted as well. If you take English classes, you could ask your English teacher if they know someone who can do that for you.

4. Think about those recommendation letters

Recommendation letters are an important aspect of your application. Next to the essay, they’re what makes you stand out from other applicants. Are you particularly good in a class? Do you have a favorite teacher you really want to have a recommendation letter from? Since recommendation letters are meant to, well, recommend you to your school of choice, it’s important that you pick someone who’ll say positive things about you.

Bonus tip: If you’re using the Common App, your teacher will need to upload their letter directly to the website. Let them know that they need to do this well in advance. This will give them not only ample time to write the letter, but also have it translated if needed, and also to figure out their way around the Common App if they’re not already familiar with it.

5. Find an application buddy

The US college application process can be tedious and confusing, but you don’t have to go through it alone. If you know other people in your class who are applying to colleges in the US, start a group and go through the process together. It not only makes the whole thing a little less stressful, but you can also keep in touch and have a network for when you move the US. It’s like taking a little piece of home with you.

6. Do you need a visa?

If you’re applying from outside of the U.S., chances are that you’ll need a student F-1 visa. You’ll need an acceptance letter from a US college to start the application process, but it doesn’t hurt to find out what you need to apply. You can start the process up to 120 days before your starting day, but keep in mind that won’t be allowed entry into the U.S. more than 30 days before your first day of classes. Visit this link for more information about the visa application process.



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