Top 5 Mistakes International Students Make in the US


Applying to U.S. colleges and universities as an international student can be a daunting process, with numerous elements to consider. To increase the likelihood of success, experts advise prospective students to plan carefully and avoid common pitfalls. In this article, we will explore five mistakes that international students often make during the college application journey and provide insights from seasoned college admissions professionals.

Top 5 Mistakes International Students Make in the US
(Photo : Pexels / Andrea Piacquiado)

1. Applying exclusively to well-known U.S. colleges and universities

A common misstep among international students is exclusively targeting renowned institutions. While prestigious universities carry significant appeal, Christine Chu, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, emphasizes that brand recognition doesn't necessarily equate to educational quality. Students may miss out on hidden gems with outstanding programs, dedicated faculty, and smaller class sizes by overlooking a broader range of schools.

Lloyd Nimetz, CEO of Spike Lab, encourages students to optimize for value by considering factors like education quality, prestige, admissions selectivity, campus culture, and location. Katie Burns, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, recommends exploring liberal arts colleges, emphasizing the importance of exposure to diverse disciplines beyond one's major.

READ ALSO: How Does Financial Aid Work In US Colleges? Here's A Comprehensive Guide For International Students 

2. Waiting too long to begin test prep

Early and sustained test preparation is crucial for international students aiming to meet U.S. university admission requirements. Katie Burns advises students to start with standardized tests like the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and English-language proficiency exams (TOEFL, IELTS) as early as sophomore year. Nimetz stresses the significance of the SAT or ACT for international students, considering the unfamiliarity of overseas high schools to U.S. admissions officers.

To achieve optimal results, test preparation should be a gradual process, spanning several months. Christine Chu recommends dedicating at least two months to study for the first exam, with the possibility of two or three sittings. Early preparation not only improves scores but also helps students identify and address specific areas of weakness.

3. Failing to understand and investigate impaction

Impacted majors or programs, where demand exceeds available spaces, can catch international students off guard. Schools may limit enrollment in popular majors to maintain educational quality, turning what seemed like a likely or target school into a reach school. Katie Burns emphasizes the importance of exceeding minimum admission requirements to strengthen a student's profile in competitive fields.

Prospective international students should research whether their chosen major or program is impacted, using tools like the California State University's search tool. Understanding impaction allows students to better position themselves for admission to selective programs.

4. Not researching college scholarships or grants for international students

Financial considerations are a significant aspect of international education, and researching scholarship and grant opportunities is essential. While federal aid options are limited for non-U.S. citizens, some universities offer need-blind admission and need-based aid for international students.

Elizabeth Benedict suggests using resources like to explore scholarship databases. Additionally, students should carefully tailor their college list, as few schools provide financial aid to international applicants. Merit-based scholarships are available at various institutions, such as the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Southern California.

5. Not completing additional requirements after submission

Submitting an application is just the beginning. Afterward, students must remain vigilant for communications from colleges regarding missing documents or additional requirements. Ignoring these requests could lead to a withdrawn application or missed scholarship opportunities.

Lloyd Nimetz emphasizes the importance of checking email and application portals regularly, as schools may request more information or conduct interviews. Optional components, such as additional essays or art supplements, can also strengthen an application and demonstrate genuine interest in a particular college.

The U.S. college admissions process for international students demands careful planning and consideration. By avoiding these common mistakes and heeding the advice of experienced professionals, prospective students can enhance their chances of securing admission to a diverse range of institutions and make the most of their educational journey in the United States.

RELATED ARTICLE: Planning To Study Abroad? Here Are Things Aspiring International Students Should Think About 

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