third culture kid

What is a Third Culture Kid?

Are you a dual citizen? Do you live in a country outside of your citizenship? Do you dream in multiple languages? Do some of your friends look at you funny when you call soccer “football” or talk about “maths” class?

If you answered yes to more than one of the questions above, you might be a third culture kid. What is a third culture kid? It’s a state of mind. It’s a feeling like you are simultaneously a citizen of the world and without a country. It’s that feeling of belonging everywhere and nowhere, of fitting into more than one culture but also not quite fitting into any particular culture because you are truly unique. Being from a third culture is that feeling of sitting on a plane, simultaneously missing the place you are leaving while being excited about the place you’re moving to.

Third Culture Kids and the College Admissions Process

The college application process can be daunting for any student who has attended more than one high school, but particularly so for students who have attended schools in more than one country. The good news is, you are not alone, neither in the number of students who are in the same boat (or train or plane) as you, nor in the support you have for expressing your own distinctive identity. My advice for any student applying to college is to highlight the things that are truly yours. Being a third culture kid is not unusual, but your particular mix of cultures and homes, and your love of certain sports or foods or music from the places you’ve lived, are what make your experience distinctive. Think about what makes you, you and use it in the college admissions process to define your own culture.

The lovely thing about applying to college is that your application will be read by admissions officers who understand what it means to be a third culture kid because they make up a significant percentage of applicant pools. You certainly can write about your identity where it is relevant in the college application but know that, a) You don’t have to, and b) There are others here to help you through this process. Your college counselor is there to help explain your trajectory so you don’t have to. The history of where you have lived and studied, or where your family comes from, is an integral part of your story and if you make sure they know all the details, your college counselor will help you convey that to the admissions folks who are reading your application. Your counselor, as well admissions officers, can also help you better understand just how you’re applying and being evaluated (e.g. international versus domestic) when it comes to admission and financial aid.

There are many synonyms for unique: exceptional, distinctive, rare. Being a third-culture kid is none of these things in and of itself, but your own identity, like that of any student, certainly is. And that makes it something to highlight in your college applications.


Written by Jennifer Simons
Jennifer Simons is a member of College Coach's team of college admissions consultants and a former college admissions officer from Tufts, Barnard, and more. Visit our website to learn more about Jennifer Simons.