If you’re like most international students, the U.S. college admissions process seems extremely complex and confusing. Don’t worry! There are actually just a few parts to the college admission application. Understanding them, and the process, is the first step toward getting into the U.S. college of your dreams! The college admission process is simple. Basically, you fill out an application and get it in before the deadline, with any required fee.

You arrange for essential information such as evaluation letters, test scores and secondary school transcripts to be mailed to the college. You complete an interview if required. And, the college lets you know result. With just a little luck, you’ll be accepted! What do colleges look for when accepting students? First, most colleges require an entrance exam such as the ACT or SAT. However, this isn’t the most important factor in choosing students.

Does that surprise you? In the UK, Canada and several other nations, test results are the primary criteria that universities use to select students. A student who earns high test scores gets in. A student who gets low test scores doesn’t go to college. It’s not like that in the U.S. Test scores are just one factor that a U.S. college will consider. And, they’re not the most important factor. Most admission officers look just as closely at other factors including the application, evaluation letters, the essay, the interview and the student’s grades. They also consider any awards the student has earned, their work experience, their leadership skills, and special talents.

Of all these factors, often the student’s grades in secondary school are the most important. Why? Admissions officers, like employers, believe that “past performance predicts future performance.” That means that if you were a good student in the past, you’ll likely be a good student in the future. Above all, the college wants you to succeed at your studies. It does no one any good for a college to accept students who can’t make the grade.

A student with high test scores but low grades may seem lazy to admissions officers. The student is obviously bright, or they wouldn’t have such high test scores. But, their low grades suggest that they don’t work hard. Most colleges would rather have a student of average intelligence who works hard, than a brilliant student who won’t study. What can you do if your grades in secondary school were less than spectacular? This is a great topic to address indirectly in your admissions essay. Maybe your essay will discuss how hard it was for you to focus on your studies after your brother died in your second year. Or maybe, you’ll talk about how you learned to take education more seriously during the last two years of secondary school.

If your grades support your remarks, you may well be admitted in spite of low grades. Don’t try to earn high marks by taking only the easiest classes. Colleges are aware of this strategy, and it will work against you. It makes you appear lazy. Getting a slightly lower grade in advanced mathematics is better than getting a high grade in basic math. This applies to all subjects. Most American colleges value uniqueness and competition. Anyone who stands out from the crowd has an advantage. Schools, especially the top schools, want students who have showed their leadership abilities. It may seem rude or arrogant to “boast” about your awards, honors and achievements, but that’s exactly what you need to do, to get into a good school.

Take a minute to write down everything spectacular you’ve ever done, and make sure it gets on that application somewhere. If you received the highest marks in your science class, write it down. If you were the best cricket player in your school, write it down. You already have one positive going for you as an international student. Colleges recognize that only the most motivated students consider studying outside their native country. In the admissions officer’s mind, you are already ahead of most other students. One area that’s often overlooked by students is the application itself. Make sure that it is filled out completely. If the application is not done on a computer, it should be typed or neatly printed. To the college, the application is an example of the type of work that you produce.

Have a trusted advisor look over the application to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Double check your spelling and grammar. Colleges want evidence that you can succeed outside the classroom, as well as in it. They prefer students who are active in extracurricular activities. These might include music, art, or a job. You might volunteer to tutor younger students or compete in a sport. Maybe you’re active in your community. It’s not so important what you do outside the classroom, but it is important that you do something to show you are “well rounded.” evaluation letters are important.

Ask teachers or community leaders that you trust to write the letters for you. Check in advance to see what the college’s policies are on letters from international students. Some require that evaluation letters be written in English. Others will accept a letter with an English translation. Usually, it’s better to avoid evaluation letters from relatives or members of the clergy. Most colleges realize that no one from those groups is going to say anything bad about you! Be sure that your evaluation letters list your most spectacular accomplishments. Many international students are terrified by the admissions interview, but they really shouldn’t be. For many colleges, this is the least important factor. Many schools even forget about the interview for international students.

Or, they may ask you to interview by phone or answer a series of questions by email. If an admissions officer has decided to reject you, but you ace the interview, that may change his or her mind. If an admission’s officer has decided to accept you based on your application, letters of evaluation and essay, the interview is probably not going to change his or her mind. The admissions process may seem intimidating, but it’s really easier than you think! Once you are accepted into a U.S. college, you’ll forget all about the time you spent on admissions.

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