USA Admissions

For students applying to U.S. colleges and universities from abroad, it’s not only a challenge meeting the benchmarks defined by one’s own national curriculum—either secondary school leaving exams or applications to one’s own set of national universities—there’s the added work of deciphering how local successes translate over to USA admissions standards, a system with its own set of quirks. Will a set of classes taken abroad even fulfill the course requirements of a U.S. college? As with most answers: It depends.

When push comes to shove, U.S. admission officers are looking for certain core competencies from college applicants, domestic and international alike. It’s their job to scrutinize transcripts for signs admitted students can succeed at their college, that students can pick up where they left off in high school and hit the ground running within in a college’s set of required coursework.

Colleges might outline, ahead of time, a set of core classes they’d expect a student to have taken—English, math, science, social studies, and a world language. But the core doesn’t always translate so easily abroad. To state the obvious, for example, English is considered a world language, not the primary language, of many international applicants. And social studies within an international curriculum probably wouldn’t be grounded upon a U.S. or European vision of the world. So try not to sweat the differences too much. International admission officers are adept at switching out their reading glasses; where their gaze lands upon a transcript is often predicated upon a student’s country of origin.

So what’s the best way to prepare yourself for the U.S. college admissions process? Do well within your own educational system. And if that system gives you opportunities to round out your set of classes with subjects that are valued in the U.S., take them! Also, be mindful there’s a reason schools might want to see TOEFL results, ACT or SAT scores, SAT Subject Tests, or a student’s own set of secondary school leaving exams. While those results aren’t exactly admission qualifiers within the U.S. process, they’re often used to prove to an admission officer you can do the work—they complement your curricular story, so to speak.

It’s expected that your curriculum will probably not look like that of a typical U.S. applicant’s. But if you’re mindful of U.S. core requirements and curricular expectations, chances are you can successfully navigate both the admissions process within your own country and that of the U.S., too!


Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory. To learn more about Zaragoza, be sure to read his bio on