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Ask the Experts: Guide to American Universities

By Peterson's Staff updated on Sunday, January 27, 2013

Question What does it take for an international student to get an admission in the United states of America? What are the requirements? How can an international student obtain a scholarship probably free tuition fee from a body or Institution and what are its requirements - Obinnabinna

AnswerYour focus should be on the same things as American students: a strong college preparatory curriculum, good grades over time, completion of any national exam programs with good scores, and completion of U.S. college admissions tests (the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT, TOEFL) with as strong a set of scores as possible. Each college will list its requirements on its Web site and in its admissions application.

One issue you will face is the lack of substantial financial aid availability for international students. Most need-based financial aid in America is funded by the federal and state governments, and is not provided to non-U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens. Thus, if you need scholarship money, you'll need to seek funds from your home country, from private scholarship organizations with programs in your areas of interest or for students from your country, and from individual colleges that set aside money for international students.

 

Question Hi. I am a high-school student in Greece. I am an American citizen, fluent in English. I attend the Athens College, which provides a Greek educational program with a good American flavour. My school has a very good record of its graduates being accepted in US and European selective universities. I need three more years to graduate. Looking ahead, I like to best prepare myself for entering to a very good US university. So, I would like to understand the basic admission criteria for a good university in order of priority/importance, for a person coming from a different country like myself. I would also like to know whether the score in the IB program (International Baccalaureate) is a factor in the admission process. The latter is important to know because next year I need to decide whether to attend the typical high school program or the separate IB program. - elizabeth

AnswerThe most important factors for acceptance into a selective U.S. university is the combination of the level of your academic courses and the grades you receive. You can opt for either the more typical American high school college preparatory program or the International Baccalaureate. The IB is considered to be more advanced and challenging. The IB also gives you the option of applying to European universities.

Test scores are also an important factor in admissions to selective universities. You will need to take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests or the ACT test. The scores in the IB program are reported to the universities but admissions officers are less familiar with their relative value and weight. If English is not your first language you would also need to take the TOEFL test.

 

Question For the most prestigious universities in America, such as Harvard and Princeton, is IB (International Baccalaureate) exam results or SAT more recognized when they recruit a foreign student? Thank you! - wang

 

AnswerBoth IB results and SAT scores can be very important. The IB is well regarded and recognized in the U.S. Even though final IB results won't be available during the admissions process, colleges will gain a sense of where you stand and what your qualifications are. Many IB students will take SAT Subject Tests, in sciences, languages, histories, etc., to prove their content knowledge gained from the strong IB program. Additionally, the SAT is important to help colleges place you within a more international and national (U.S.) pool of applicants.

 

Question Hello. I am 17 years old. I am from Kazakhstan. Here in Kazakhstan we have different educational system. I really want to enter prestigious university. To begin with i want to know: what is the best way to enter the university? Do universities have preparation academic programs? I often ask universities if they have that programs. But nobody answers me. - Muratbek

AnswerIf your specific goal is to find a university program for foreign students that prepares for studying in English, you can do a search online. There are many fine universities in the U.S. that offer a residential one or two semester program that prepares students for full time study. Many international students enroll in two-year community colleges in order to build their academic track record and to perfect their English before transferring into major four-year universities. Any accredited two-year program will provide you with the I-20 student visa.

 

Question I am an international student looking for colleges in the United States. I have some questions to ask about what is the difference between liberal art college, community college, and university? How is the admission consideration of admitting a student into colleges? Is SAT the most important or is it grades are highly regarded? Thanks - Elizabeth

AnswerThe American system of higher education provides so many good types and level of institutions that you can consider which type is most suitable for you based on your interests, academic performance, and cost factors. Community colleges are two-year academic programs operated by local, regional or state public government. Their curriculum is wide ranging and generally focused on specific career related fields. Tuition is very reasonable and the lowest of all the higher education options. Usually campus housing is not provided and students commute from their home or live on their own near the campus. 

Liberal arts colleges are four-year undergraduate programs that emphasize a broad general exposure to the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and arts. The majority of privately funded undergraduate colleges are liberal arts oriented. They prepare students for more specialized fields of professional study at the graduate level. Almost all are campus oriented and provide dormitory housing. Their tuition costs are higher than the publically supported two-year colleges. 

Universities are large in size, offer a wide range of undergraduate academic programs (liberal arts, business, science and technology, engineering, education as major examples) and also have extensive graduate school divisions that offer professional degrees and research-oriented degrees. These universities are large in size and student body. They can be privately or publicly supported.

Grades and appropriate academic courses in high school are the most important factors in consideration for acceptance. International students are required to submit the TOEFL for consideration.

 

Question As a chinese student,I spent most of my time on study. So I don't have enough special career or speciality to apply a famous university in America. Would you please give me some advice to remedy this aspect? I want to apply an American University in a short-term. - ding

AnswerAmerican universities and colleges are often looking for more than just grades and test scores, particularly at the most selective level of institutions. That said, the core of courses, grades, and test scores build the foundation for any application. Apply to a broad range of colleges, and develop one major talent if you can in addition to your academics. Many foreign students do not have as much development of extracurricular areas as American students are used to. Often curricular demands are tougher, and the resources at foreign high schools less oriented toward non-academic pursuits. Music and art do count for a non-academic or "co-curricular" involvement, however, so if that is an area of interest you can feature it in your application.

 

Question I am from Greece and i would like to study english literature abroad. I have the FCE certificate and now i study for the Proficiency Certificate. How can I study in the US? my grades are not excellent. How can I apply to universities? - Marianna

 

AnswerFirst, you should plan to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is the major test used to evaluate students for whom English is a second language. Then, you must read about financial aid opportunities for international students. You may need a two-step process, beginning work at a community or state college here, perhaps even earning a two-year degree, prior to applying to a four-year university where you can earn your Bachelor of Arts and/or Master of Arts in English Literature.

 

Question I am from Hong Kong, and will not be able to come to states to have interview. What can I do? Are you allowed to ask questions about the school's particular programs during an interview, or does that make it seem as though you have not done enough research? - jonathan

AnswerYou might be able to do a telephone interview with an admissions office, or a regional/alumni interview in Hong Kong. Call/e-mail the admissions office at colleges in which you're interested to find out. You should ask detailed questions about the colleges' programs in an interview, and make connections to your own interests. We like "statement questions" that make a statement about one of your personal, academic, or extracurricular interests, and then notes a college's particular offerings you have found out about in that area, and then asks an interviewer to "tell you more about" the program. That connotes interest, knowledge, and seriousness on your part, and you'll learn important things you need to know which will help you make your decisions in the admissions process.

 

Question i am the international student. I have just completed my high school level and has completed toefl and Sat1. I am planning to apply in united states of america for march semester because i wanted to give continious to my study. I wanted to know that whether march semester is good for international student? - pujan

AnswerMost colleges will not take students in March. Some will admit students in the U.S. mid-year of January, but it is almost certainly too late for that this year. You might start in some colleges, particularly two-year programs, in the summer term (June), but your best bet is to apply now for the fall semester (August/September).

 

Question If I have attended an American high school for 2 years, am I going to be "read" as an American. I mean 2 years is not enough to boost my SAT verbal up. - Khoa

 

AnswerIf you are not an American citizen and have studied here for a short time you should apply as an international student. College applications will ask you what is your first language and citizenship. This will enable you to share with the admissions committees your specific background. An applicant for whom English is a second language will be required to take the TOEFL test which should reassure you that you are not automatically expected to have pure fluency in English.

 

Question As a foreigner is there any opportunity to be learning and doing some night job or any other activity to enable me to pay my studies? If yes how can I proceed? - Frank

 

AnswerAs an international student on a student visa here, there will be limitations on where/how you can work, especially in terms of work outside of the school in which you are enrolled. You would need to discuss your options with the financial aid office of a college you entered. Sometimes, on-campus work might be available to you, even as an international student. There are limited funds available to internationals in the form of need-based financial aid, but if a college admits you and commits to funding your studies, they will often work with you to try to help you secure the funds and income you need to manage.

 

Question I'm in Montreal, Canada. I have my lessons in french and I'm in an international program (advanced program) school. Therefore I want to finish in that school, to have another type of diploma and than have english classes to be able to get in a American College. In Montreal, we only have 5 years of High School but then, we have 2 years of CEGEP. So I wanted to do the sixth year of High School in USA and go in an American College. Now I'd like to know if it's necessary for me to do all of that or is there another that I can make it? - Marie

AnswerThe CEGEP program is unique to the Province of Quebec as a requirement for entrance into university. American students complete four years of high school studies in order to qualify for admission to a university. A number of students in your situation have done one of the two following options:

1. They take a post graduate or 13th year of study in an American private school. This qualifies a student to apply to any and all American colleges and universities, depending on the level of their academic performance. This is a great way to acclimate to the style of teaching and studying in the U.S. as well as improving one's English skills. The issue is the tuition costs of attending a private school. If you are an outstanding student you may be able to qualify for a scholarship.

2. The American community college system is somewhat similar to the CEGEP system. These are state supported, two-year colleges that are very inexpensive and prepare students to transfer into four-year universities after either one or two years of study. Many international students will begin their studies in the U.S. by enrolling in a community college.

It is also possible to complete the CEGEP program and apply as a transfer student to U.S. universities for entrance into the second year. However, this is not always a guarantee and there is the issue of English language foundation at a level of proficiency.

 

Question I am an international student currently in my last year of high school. I intend on writing SAT's the following year in hope to be eligible for a college in the US. How can i achieve a scholarship without regard to my immigration status? - Kristina

AnswerStrong SATs, and grades, a good TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score, and any other appropriate credentials (national exam results, A level results, International Baccalaureate grades, etc.) would help to establish your ability to succeed in an American college, and would make you more eligible for the limited funds available for international students. First, you would need to be admitted to a U.S. college, and they would need to have the resources available to support your studies, which they would allocate out of a limited pool of funds. You'd be competing against other talented internationals, in other words, for the same funds.

You might also apply for scholarships from your home country government (check with your national Department/Ministry of Education), or scholarships from U.S.-based organizations that support students with your interests, or from your country.

 

Question Hi. I'm from Vietnam but I'm currently studying in the US as an exchange student. I'm a senior. Is my chance to get into colleges here very small? I need a lot of financial aid, does it make my chance even smaller? what should I consider when choosing a college as an international student? - Nhien

AnswerYou have the great advantage of studying in the U.S. right now, so you should work with your host school (and perhaps host family) to try to visit and contact some American colleges. Talk directly with admission officers responsible for international students, and apply to a broad list (including colleges far away from where you are now in school). The availability of aid is not great, but money is out there. You just need to be open minded and creative about the schools you consider. If you cannot travel to many campuses, you may be able to arrange phone discussions with admission personnel.

Additionally, you might also look into the presence of other students from Vietnam on campus, as well as Asian student organizations. We have found that students who are able to communicate with other international students from the same or similar backgrounds are able to gain good insights into campus life, in addition to recommendations for how to go through the admissions process.

 

Question My question to you is, do colleges look at international students in a different manner than American students? What i mean is do they look for higher SAT ranges for the above mentioned group? I am an Indian citizen currently enrolled in an American high school as a senior. I am asking this because, i was wondering if I should compare myself with my other classmates. Or is this comparison void? - Vignesh

AnswerWhen you read the literature of the majority of American colleges, you should notice the emphasis on welcoming students of diverse backgrounds and cultures. This includes international students who are prepared to meet the academic requirements and show signs of adding to the cultural and intellectual life of the institution.

International applicants whose first language is one other than English are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in addition to the regular required admission testing of the individual college under consideration. No, your SAT or ACT test scores do not have to be higher than an American student, especially in the verbal and writing sections if English is not your native language. You should emphasize through personal interviews and essays on the applications your cultural heritage, its impact on you, and the ways by which you would enhance the learning experience of your college peers.

 

Question Hi, I am not from the US. How should i prepare? - Bryan

 

AnswerYou should prepare the same way as an American student, but be ready for some differences in process. You will need to be ready to talk about your skills and ability to handle an American college curriculum, and the reasons you want to study in the U.S. Secondly, you will need to help the college understand your school and your transcript, since they may not be familiar with it. You might need to describe your curriculum, course demands, potential lack of extracurricular activities, and so on.

Since you may not be able to attend an on-campus interview, you can request a phone interview by calling the admissions office and asking to speak with the international admissions officer or coordinator. You can also e-mail with him/her. It is possible, depending on your home country, to have an alumni interview as well as, or instead of, an interview with an admissions officer, but we would still recommend contacting the college representative in the admissions office to discuss your application. One key area you'll need to be aware of, and which you might ask about, is the availability, or lack thereof, of financial aid for international students at the college.

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