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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

University application prep for international students

Yay for summertime!

Read on to see how you can prepare to apply to university in the USA this fall…

Hopefully, you are enjoying a well deserved summer break right now! It’s been a crazy two years with the pandemic and international study and travel being a mess. I thought this is a good time to share some tips if you want to do some preparation for university this summer, but you don’t know where to start or you are already balancing a busy schedule.

There are a few key things you can do to prepare for university for the fall 2023. So if your first question is, when do I start preparing, then the answer is now! This blog is really focused on rising (upcoming) final year students. So if you are starting your final year of secondary school this fall, these tips are for you!


-Choose your final year courses wisely

-Prepare for standardized tests

-College search and visit

-Brainstorm for your personal statement

International students often have more to overcome than American students if they want to study at universities in the USA. The processes are unfamiliar, complex, and daunting. There are plenty of free online resources, and of course, I always recommend going directly to your Education USA advising center or the university to ask questions.

When it seems like there is too much to do or learn, I like to simplify it into action steps. Let’s look at a few ways you can set yourself up for success this summer.

Choose final year courses

This is a tricky one, because depending on which country you go to school in, you may or may not have a choice. If you don’t, no worries, just skip to the next step. If you do have choice, remember these pro tips:

  • Make sure to challenge yourself senior year, even if you already met the graduation requirements - no schedules with three free periods! Take math even if you don’t need it for graduation!

  • Don’t worry about choosing courses that are directly related to what you want to study in university (ie medicine or business), but rather focus on taking the most challenging courses available to you in your school and in core subjects (English, Math, Science, and History)

  • Remember that even though you are applying to university without final year grades/transcripts, it is important to do well in the subjects you take and continue challenging yourself

Student filling in test bubbles
Always prepare for standardized tests!

Prepare for standardized tests

As an international student applying to university in the USA, schools can have very different requirements for which test scores you may or may not need to submit.

Understand from the beginning that if you do not have access to testing centers, there are plenty of universities in the USA who are test optional (meaning you can decide whether or not to submit test scores) or even test blind (meaning they won’t review test scores for anyone, even if you did submit them). You can build a list of universities to apply to based on what works best for you.

  1. English Test - most universities will require non native English speakers to submit proof of English proficiency. This could be the TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo test. Many universities will waive this requirement (but not all) if you submit SAT or ACT scores with a certain reading score.

  2. SAT/ACT - these are standardized tests that may or may not be available to you to take. If you are planning to take them this fall, or even take them again, it is important to prepare this summer, as you will probably only have one or two more chances to take the test before you have to submit your scores to universities.

Levels of preparing for standardized tests before you take them:

  • Free resources online - go directly to the provider site and find their free practice questions, or search for old copies of past tests that you can go through to study

  • Budget friendly resources - go to Amazon and purchase a prep book, book an online course

  • Most expensive - work with a private tutor to prepare

*I always say that you should not continue to take a standardized test without changing the way you prepare and expect the result to drastically change. Summer is the perfect time to do some extra preparation (at any level) and take the test in the fall or winter.

College search and visit

The best way to choose the universities to apply to is to visit. That is extremely hard when you live in another country, so my advice is always to use online resources like US News and World Report, SCOIR, and StudyUSA to search for universities you may be interested in.

See this blog about searching for universities to learn more!

Now, it’s really difficult to visit campuses in person when you live around the world. The pandemic has really caused universities to step up their online presence, so get creative when trying to learn more about life on a university campus:

  • Check out their social media accounts

  • Look for a virtual tour

  • Attend an admissions virtual visit - they usually show pictures and videos

  • Use Google Earth to take a look around the campus and local area

Remember to narrow your university search down so it’s less overwhelming! As always, I tell students to start with location, climate, and programs and go from there. SCOIR has some great search tools to compare university options.

*Remember - Once you narrow down your search, you can see if you can use the Common Application to apply to all universities on your list!

Brainstorming for your personal statement

The Common Application opens August 1 each year. This means that you can start applying to universities, and one of the biggest pieces of the Common App is the personal statement. There are always seven options, including a free write, so summer is the perfect time to brainstorm what you’d like to write about. So many students go to submit their personal statement and sit down to brainstorm and write it all at once. Please don’t!

Definitely check out this blog about writing your essay - and then take some time this summer to brainstorm.

Pro tips to brainstorm your essay:

  • Read the Common App prompts to familiarize yourself

  • Do some brainstorming exercises like the values exercise or essence objects exercise

  • Free write - write ideas, draw pictures, record voice messages of things that you think would make a good essay. Keep them for later to go back and review.

So I always tell students to enjoy their summer, take time to rest and reset from the previous school year. Do things you love and enjoy. The last summer before your final year of secondary is also great to hone skills or interests - do an internship, join an organization, try something new, it’s all great. This blog just give you a few things you can do to get ahead and set yourself up for success in the fall when applying to foreign universities can become really overwhelming. You've got this!

Now get back to summer-ing!

Beach and palm tree

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