For International Students, a College Admissions Checklist for April
In March, The Choice introduced Counselor’s Calendar, an occasional series intended to keep students on track throughout the college admissions process.
Our latest installments feature expert advice for college-bound juniors from Erin K. Johnston, the co-director of college guidance at the National Cathedral School in Washington, and words of wisdom for graduating seniors from Emmi Harward, the director of college counseling at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif.
For this week’s installment of The Choice on India Ink, we present an international version of our April checklists for juniors and seniors. We’ve asked Martin Bennett, the EducationUSA outreach coordinator at the Institute of International Education, to include some advice and resources specific to international students. You’ll see international advice inserted as italicized comments below. — Tanya Caldwell
International College Admissions Checklist for Seniors:
Revel in the good news; move beyond the bad news.
Congratulations! You probably have at least one option you’re happy about and potentially more options among which to decide. An admission decision — whether admit or deny — means many things, but it is not a judgment on your worth as a person. A denial doesn’t feel good, and it’s often hard to avoid self-pity. But you’ll feel better the sooner you let the bad news go and focus on the colleges to which you were admitted.
By this week, most students who have applied to United States institutions, particularly the more selective colleges, have received the news of whether they were accepted. Over the past few years, top schools have become increasingly harder places to obtain admissions. Early data shows that trend bearing out again this year, with top schools admitting typically under 10 percent of their applicant pool.
If you were not accepted to your first-choice school, don’t be discouraged. Carefully examine other offers you may have received before you make your final decision.
Avoid fixating on wait lists or anything else you can’t control.
The wait list can feel like purgatory, and in many ways, it is. It’s not a denial, it’s not an admission, and if you were also deferred during an early decision/action round, it feels especially cruel to be asked to hold on even longer.
The operative word here is “wait,” because colleges use wait lists to hedge their bets that they admitted enough students who will want to enroll. But just as you have until May 1 to decide on your offers of admission, so does everyone else. If you want to keep in mind a college where you were offered a place on the wait list, follow its instructions for next steps in case it ultimately needs to admit a few or a hundred more students. In the meantime, focus on what you can control — making a decision about where to attend.
Compare costs and financial aid awards.
Most colleges try to ensure that you have your need-based financial aid awards in hand as long as they received all necessary information on time. Compare what you’ll be expected to pay at each school. If there are dramatic differences, talk as a family about what makes sense financially and what would really stretch you or leave you with too much debt in the long run. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the college’s financial aid office directly to clear up any uncertainty.
For international students (as for American students) at this stage, putting the final pieces together to make certain you can afford your top choice is the next hurdle to clear. By this point in the process, most students should have an idea of the personal and family resources they’ll have to pay for most — if not all — of their annual costs in the United States. If you have applied to American institutions that offer need-based aid for international applicants (typically only private institutions), by this time, you should have already completed any necessary paperwork to be considered for available aid. Students typically receive notifications of financial aid with their admissions offer or shortly thereafter.
Make your decision.
Remember the reasons you originally applied to each college you’re still considering. For some seniors, the choice may be clear, but often the decision is a tough one. (Remember: This is a great problem to have!)
Take advantage of campus visit days for admitted students if possible; if not, do your final research to answer any lingering questions. Talk to friends who attend the school, and remember that every student’s experience is different.
Make a list of pros and cons to help make your decision, and use friends and family members as sounding boards. Be sure to submit by May 1 whatever is required to secure your spot in the freshman class, and then let it all sink in – you’re going to college.
If receiving financial assistance was not the determining factor for where you might attend, the next step for those with an admissions letter (or letters) in hand and adequate funding would be to make your final decision. Many American schools, particularly top institutions, require a nominal deposit from admitted students by May 1, to secure a place in their class. It is important that you check your admissions offer letter from each institution for exact requirements as to next steps.
For international students, the next task after being admitted is to obtain an I-20 (or DS-2019) form from the school you wish to attend. You will need this form to apply for your student visa to enter the United States. Some institutions may send you an I-20 form with your admission letter, if the institution does not require a deposit from international students and you have already provided the college with proof of your funding through certification of finances and/or bank statements from your sponsors. Keep in mind that each institution operates differently in this regard. Some admissions offices will issue the I-20, while at other campuses, the international student services office might have that responsibility.
Form I-20 may be issued by the school only after that institution has confirmed two things: 1) you have been admitted to that institution, and 2) you have secured appropriate funding through a combination of personal, family and in-country sources, as well as institutional aid offered to cover your expenses for at least one year of study. Expenses include tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, supplies, travel and health insurance.
Stay focused, finish strong and thank everyone in sight.
Graduation is right around the corner — trust me when I say your counselor is counting down the days as well — and the next few weeks and months will probably be a blur of activity. Be sure to take in every day and every memory as you travel down this road for the last time.
Whether you love high school or you can’t begin college quickly enough, remember the friends, teachers and others who have helped you get here and thank them all as you close out the year. Do right by these fine people, and go out on a positive note.
Next up in May, preparing for the visa interview.
International College Admissions Checklist for Juniors:
Continue your college research.
Some colleges offer spring open houses for juniors, or special summer opportunities for prospective applicants. Spring is a busy time for many juniors, with year-end school and extracurricular commitments, exams and final papers, and standardized tests. Unfortunately, this is the same time when college representatives are available to visit your hometown or invite you to campus, so be sure to prioritize. Protect your G.P.A. and transcript — don’t spend more time researching colleges than doing your schoolwork.
Because many international students are not familiar with the American college and university admissions process, at first glance, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed. The United States offers great diversity with thousands of accredited institutions to choose from, but there is no official ranking system to rate individual colleges and universities. So the college search process can seem challenging and time-consuming for international students.
The best college or university is the one that is best for you and meets your goals and requirements — academically, financially and personally. At this stage in your schooling, with a little more than a year to go before you finish secondary school, you may not know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. That’s O.K. If you haven’t already, I suggest you examine Step 1 of EducationUSA’s “Your Five Steps to U.S. Study” – research your options. There is also a webinar to help international students research undergraduate options.
Here is a series of important questions that you should ask yourself at the beginning of your college search process:
•Why do you want to study in the United States?
(Latha Ramchand, a native of India and the dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, recently wrote an essay for The Choice on India Ink about this very topic.)
•Which colleges or universities will meet your needs?
•Will you need financial assistance?
•Where will you fit in best?
Keep financial considerations in mind.
As was noted on the March checklist, any student whose family cannot comfortably foot the cost of a college education should investigate options for need- and merit-based aid. Net-price calculators are user-friendly if you have completed tax returns in hand.
Over the next two or three months, international students should identify types and sources of financial aid from individual institutions and other sources.
Have a plan for taking standardized tests.
Most students should sit for the ACT or SAT at least once before the end of the year, and those interested in selective universities should take at least two SAT subject tests, as well. Register for the tests well in advance to make sure you get a testing location near you home.
If you’ve already taken the SAT or ACT once, seriously consider waiting until the fall for a retake rather than rushing to retake it again this spring. For many students, the older they are, the better they fare on any test.
Think about the coming Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. How prepared are you to do well on those exams? Sometimes, students sit for more exams than they really need to take — it’s better to do well on three exams than to do poorly on five.
Finally, if you think your standardized test results won’t accurately showcase your abilities (in other words, if you’re not a great test taker), then add some test-optional or test-flexible colleges to your list of schools.
Now is the time to start preparing for the standardized tests that are required by your top schools. Standardized tests for international students may include the SAT, ACT and tests that evaluate English-language proficiency — the Toefl, Ielts and the P.T.E. Academic.
Think about potential recommendation writers.
Many colleges ask applicants to submit three letters of recommendation — one from a guidance counselor and two from teachers. Students generally ask teachers from junior year (and sometimes, from senior year) to provide a written endorsement, so now is an excellent time to consider whom you might ask for a letter of recommendation. Not sure whom to ask? Ask yourself: “Who sees the best version of me, as a student, in the classroom every day?” or “Who has seen me grow and change, in a good way, this year?” or “In which class do I act the way a successful college student acts?”
Check out the April PDF of the Common Application.
The Common Application, a universal method of applying to colleges accepted at more than 450 institutions, has promised to release a preview PDF of the 2012-13 form in mid-April. Students cannot begin to complete the online version until Aug. 1.
Pick the right classes for senior year.
Think carefully about a schedule that will provide you with an appropriate challenge. Having reached senior year, there might be very few classes you actually need to take to graduate. Given this flexibility, balance choosing specialized electives with foundational courses. In other words, that science elective in zoology might be a lot of fun, but if you haven’t taken any physics in secondary school, now is a good time to do so.
Many colleges prefer to see that students have taken the basics in high school, so that they can explore specialized fields in depth at the collegiate level. Maximize your choices to demonstrate your interest in a particular field. When in doubt, consider calling a few admissions offices to get their take.
Watch the seniors.
Your friends in the class of 2012 have received most of their college news by this point. Consider the ways they experienced this process, and take note of actions, words and approaches you’d like to emulate — as well as mistakes, blunders and missteps you’d like to avoid.
Now is the time of year when admissions statistics are released by schools and many news stories are written about general admission trends. Think about how all of this data might have an impact on your search. Compare, for example, a college’s acceptance rate for early-decision candidates with its acceptance rate for regular candidates. Pay attention to the types of notifications that aren’t just “admit” or “deny,” like decisions about wait lists, guaranteed transfers, spring admission or fall 2013 (a “forced” gap year) admission.
At school, resist the urge to offer judgment or unsolicited advice (“Can you believe he got in and she did not?” or “Why would you choose X College over Y College?”). There are a lot of factors that go into an
admissions decision — both the decisions made by colleges, as well as the ones made by seniors — so watch, listen and observe. This will be you in just one short year.
Now it’s your turn. As an international student, what has your college admissions process been like so far? Do you — and others reading this post — have any recommendations about staying on track? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below.
The domestic checklists for juniors and seniors were prepared in consultation with the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools.