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  • Cortney Dowdle

Challenges Facing International Students Applying to University in the USA this Fall

Hi Readers,


It’s already nearly August, which for all of us who work in education, means that summer is coming to a swift close. What comes with a new year is another round of helping students from around the world find and apply to their dream universities in the USA. I won’t lie, I miss summer terribly once it’s gone, but I’m always excited at the prospect of helping students work through university processes. Why not get started with some tips for success?!


This is going to be another challenging year as the world tries to return to normal and work through the COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries, COVID-19 continues to severely impact resources and priorities for students. In the USA, many universities have come together the past 17 months working on how to best help students.


This blog will highlight some of the challenges you can expect as you navigate the university application process and give you some recommendations for how to overcome the challenges.


If you need the highlight reel, here are some big takeaways:

  • Make sure you understand what materials can be waived with your university applications and how that changes how they look at your other materials. For example, yes, many universities are test optional, but this undoubtedly places more emphasis on your grades in school and the rigor of courses you took. Be sure to still submit the best application possible.

  • Check airline websites, government pages, and USA embassy sites like travel.gov to make sure you understand travel requirements.

  • University support is more important than ever before - make sure you are applying to universities that have specific support personnel for international admissions and on campus support. If you are doing an application and can’t get ahold of someone to answer questions about COVID protocols, required materials, or financial support, that’s a problem. Plenty of universities have incredibly kind and helpful staff to support you!

What does it mean to apply to university in another country in the midst of a global pandemic? Basically, it means that an already complicated process for international students has become even more complicated. Sigh.


BUT - This blog will give you some tips and advice on how to keep the process as smooth and easy as possible so read on!


What will be the biggest hurdles or challenges for international students coming to the USA and how are universities helping? In my opinion...
  1. Visa Appointments - one of the biggest concerns for international students around the world is that even after they go through the process of applying to university in the USA and get admitted to a top choice school, that they won’t be able to secure a visa appointment. Understanding the latest updates in your home country is a key to saving you huge headaches when you get to this point.

  2. Alleviate stress by:

  3. Checking visa wait times for embassies near to you - https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html

  4. If the embassy in your city has extensive processing times or is closed completely, research other locations where you may be able to travel and get your student visa approved

  5. Changing Testing Requirements - Universities in the USA continue to update their testing requirements, with more and more universities allowing students to apply with transcripts and other application materials like personal statements. Universities that are traditionally very reliant on SAT or ACT scores are allowing students to apply without any prior tests. This is great for international students, especially those who had a difficult time accessing testing centers previously!

  6. What this means for students:

  7. International students may be able to apply to universities that couldn’t previously be on their list due to testing requirements

  8. Universities are placing even more emphasis on courses taken in high school, and not just emphasis on strong grades. Universities are more than ever placing emphasis on course rigor. They want to know that students are taking the most rigorous courses available.

  9. This is helpful for international students since they often worry they are being compared to students at American diploma or IB World schools.

  10. Travel Rules - students more than ever have to keep an eye on travel requirements and restrictions. For example, if I leave the USA and want to return, even though I am vaccinated, I have to show a negative COVID test to get on an airplane.

  11. Recommendations for success:

  12. Check the airline sites, as they are working diligently to make sure they update travel requirements for passengers regularly.

  13. Check your country’s government website for COVID updates and travel regulations.

  14. Obtaining Required Materials - another area we are seeing international students struggling is if they are trying to get diplomas, transcripts, proof of graduation, or even meet English proficiency requirements. Universities that truly care about international student support understand these challenges and work diligently to update their processes.

  15. What you should do:

  16. Reach out to universities before you start an application to ask how they can waive or provide alternatives for English testing requirements or if you can’t obtain your official transcripts.

  17. Be proactive and explain difficulties your country is going through due to the COVID pandemic (or other extenuating circumstances) in your application or to the international admissions person via email/Zoom/interview so they have a full picture of your application

  18. Use CommonApp to apply to universities - this gives you some flexibility if you encounter challenges with a university and need to apply to others that weren’t previously on your list.


These are some of the biggest challenges international students will face in the upcoming university application season. Feel free to comment with questions or share around the globe!


Until next time,

The Savvy International



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