Applying to college from 12,787km (7945 miles) away, I definitely felt stressed/anxious/overwhelmed at times. If you googled the distance or read my bio, you might have figured out that I grew up in Hong Kong. I went to a British school where most of my peers were applying to the UK. Back then I had many assumptions about the college application process, assumptions that now, as an admissions counselor, I know to be false. So you don't make the same mistakes, here are some things to know about applying to college as an international student.
1. Standardized testing is not the be all and end all
I could have saved so many buckets of tears if I knew this. Back then, my 16 year old self thought that my perceived to be poor SAT score meant I wasn't getting into college. The mentality amongst my friends was that the SAT was one of the most important elements of my application. We were wrong. While standardized testing is still an important component of the application process, don't forget that it is just one component. In terms of academics, we will be looking more closely at your grades and the rigor of your curriculum. We want to see that you have chosen challenging classes given the courses your school has to offer. Many international students worry that because their non-American school does not offer test prep, that they are at a disadvantage. If you have the resources to do so, seek outside help, but don't kill yourself studying for the SAT to the point that it jeopardizes your schoolwork. At Tufts we don't have any SAT/ACT cut offs or requirements. It means so much more to us that you do well in school and you have taken advantage of the opportunities given to you inside and outside of the classroom. It means so much more to us that you are the right fit for Tufts. So while the standardized testing is important, don't forget about your schoolwork, your extracurricular activities, your essay and your supplements, because we won't.
Note. If you aren't doing well on the SAT, try the ACT! No one ever recommended the ACT to me and so I thought it was irrelevant or not as prestigious as the SAT…but it's not! Try it out, some students do better on the ACT, some don't.
2. You are not applying to one single major / department
Unlike some universities, US colleges give you the flexibility to explore different degree options in your first and second year. When applying to college, you are not applying to one particular department and you are not stuck to that major forever. At Tufts, you have until the end of your sophomore year to declare a major in the School of Arts & Sciences, until the end of your first year to declare a major in the School of Engineering, and we don't have majors at all in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts! We have a curriculum that will encourage you to try disciplines that you hadn't considered before. We want you to explore outside of your comfort zone before committing to one or two areas (Yes! You can double major). That being said, while its okay to not know what you want to study, we encourage that you still indicate on your application some of your academic interests! My colleague here will tell you why you shouldn't apply undecided.
3. Put things in ways that we will understand
When writing about your extra-curricular activities, just because something is very common and well known in your home country, doesn't mean that it shares the same name in the US. In High School, I participated in the Award for Young People, a challenge encompassing community service and outdoor expeditions (learning all skills hiking and camping). Turns out, this is the same thing as the Duke of Edinburgh award but while this type of award exists in 12 other countries, it doesn't exist in the US. So, whether its Netball, Dragon Maths Competition or Kumon (these are all real recurring activities that I participated in!), make sure you take the time to explain the activity if you think we won't know what it is.
4. It is OK if you didn't take the AP
Whether you took the IB, A-level or your country's national curriculum, your transcript will look different to US schools and that’s OK. To be honest, transcripts vary from state to state as well. No matter where you live, it is your territory manager's job to know your curriculum and know how to read your transcript. It is important to remember that we read your applications in context, meaning that we will never compare your transcript to that of a student from Pennsylvania. To further prove that we aren't forgetting about you IB-ers and A-level-ers, here are a list of courses that we will accept as pre-matriculation course credits.
So whether you say toMAYto or toMAHto, flipflop or thong, don't stress! You're going to be fine :)