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International Admission to U.S. Universities

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College Admissions Consultant Landis Fryer

Written by Landis Fryeron August 8th, 2021

My work in education started when I was an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Dartmouth College, my alma mater. In addition to reading applications and making admissions decisions, I led our recruitment efforts for Black students and supervised the Senior Interviewer program. I moved back to my hometown, Chicago, and began working in the Undergraduate Admissions office at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. There, I also read applications, made admissions decisions, and led our recruitment efforts for Black students. I completed my MS in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania and my Ph.D. at Loyola University Chicago, where I studied, traveled, and taught in Tunisia, Cuba, South Korea, and China. My most recent position was working with students from China, helping both undergraduates and graduates succeed through the admissions process. Over the course of my career, I have helped students aged 6 to over 30 find their own path toward new educational opportunities.
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by Landis Fryer, former admissions officer at Dartmouth College Admission for international students (non-U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents) to American universities can be challenging to understand for families unfamiliar with the process. If you add to this confusion a few big changes in admissions, many related to the pandemic, the process becomes even more overwhelming. As an educator who has worked with many international families, I have heard countless questions about applying as “international” and concerns about perceived challenges, so let me share some insight into this process. First, how is the admissions process different for international applicants?
  • At many U.S. colleges and universities, international applicants may not qualify for scholarships and/or financial aid, and the ability for a family to pay in full for an education can seriously impact admission decisions. Since tuition dollars can be very important for the bottom line of universities, an international student who might need great financial support could be at a disadvantage in the admissions process. I strongly recommend every international family check with the financial aid offices at any schools of interest to know what the financial responsibility of your family will be.
  • International students may be required to take an English proficiency exam, like the TOEFL or IELTS, in order to prove fluency. Some colleges waive this requirement for students attending high schools where the primary language of instruction is English, while others will allow students to use high scores in the reading or English sections of the SAT or ACT in lieu of a proficiency exam.
Apart from these critical differences in the evaluation process, everything else is the same as it is for domestic applicants. Admissions staff review the entire application: academic record, testing, and if needed, extracurricular involvement, letters of recommendation, and essays. Just like domestic students, international students will be looked at by the strength of their academic record and how they will contribute to the campus community. But whether you’re a domestic or international student, COVID has impacted the admissions process, especially in two areas:
  • Most admissions offices across the United States have adapted their requirements to offer more flexibility for all applicants. The first big change was for the majority of schools to waive standardized testing requirements (ACT and SAT) for the class of 2021, and many institutions have extended this policy to the class of 2022 and beyond—but there may be exceptions for international students. Visit the admissions websites for any prospective colleges to stay up to date on their policies, or visit FairTest.
  • The pandemic has not only done away with the testing requirement at many schools, it has also changed how schools will consider extracurricular activities (ECAs) in their review process, since many were cancelled or curtailed. Participation in ECAs is traditionally an important part of admissions to universities in the U.S. Admissions offices examine participation in anything other than classes and use that information to see what motivates you, and to envision your participation within their college community. There are no specific requirements for ECAs—including time commitments—so students should just find activities that appeal to them. If students were able to participate in ECAs since the pandemic began, great. But if they were not able to participate or if activities were cancelled, note that the same occurred for almost all applicants! Admissions officers know this and will assess applications within the context of COVID.
Understanding U.S. university admissions for international students can be confusing, especially if you are familiar with another higher education entrance process. When adding the impact of the pandemic to the situation, the outlook becomes even murkier. The information I shared with you should answer some of your questions and give you a better sense of what the process entails. FAQs about Bright Horizons College Coach


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