How Do Universities in the U.S Select International Students for Admission?

by | Sep 27, 2022 | Admissions

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You’ve applied to several universities in the U.S. You’re anxious as you wait to know if any of your applications were successful. You’re probably wondering “How do universities in the U.S select international students for admission?”

The good news is that most universities reveal information about the factors they look at when selecting international applicants to grant admission. Before you send in your application, it’s advisable to research the most important factors admission officers will be looking for in your application as an international student.

That said, there are common factors that all universities look for to select international students for admission. These selection factors include:

  • Grades (GPA scores, grades in all courses)
  • Standardized test scores
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essays

The above factors help admission officers to gauge applicants’ intellectual abilities, passion and involvement in their community, and personal traits. They’re looking for international students who will not only thrive in their programs but will also be great additions to their campus community.

Let’s explore each of the main factors that colleges and universities use to select international students for admission.

1- Grades (GPA Scores, Grades in All Courses)

Grades rank the highest when it comes to university selection criteria. While college admissions officers look at a mix of factors to determine whether you’re a good fit for their school, they view your grades as the most important indicator of academic success in college.

81% of college admission officers surveyed by NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) said that grades in all courses are of considerable importance in admission.

The grades you attain in high school or university prep courses show whether you have the ability to succeed academically in college. Research has shown that high school grades are correlated to academic performance in college as well as retention and graduation rates.

Other than your general scores, college admission officers will also pay attention to your grades in key subjects for the program you’ve applied to. For instance, if you’ve applied to an engineering program, they’ll pay special attention to your grades in mathematics subjects.

What if your high school grading system is different from the U.S grading system or your transcript isn’t in English? In such cases, you may be required to send your transcript to a credit evaluation agency to get it translated.

Remember, each university sets it’s own minimum academic – which is why you should check before beginning the application process. However, grades aren’t the only factor they’ll use to decide whether to grant you admission.

2- Standardized Test Scores (SAT and ACT scores)

Other than your grades in high school college prep courses, college admissions will also pay attention to your scores on standardized tests such as SAT and ACT.

Most universities in the U.S accept either one of the tests, but some universities prefer one test over the other. Generally, the SAT test is the most preferred. Check which test is preferred by the universities you want to apply to, ideally before you register to take any standardized test.

Universities and colleges in the US to determine your academic eligibility and compare international applicants to their domestic counterparts. To get a good SAT or ACT score, start preparing for the tests early. Make use of test prep services to familiarize yourself with the test format and questions.

Each college or university sets its minimum score for standardized tests. Generally, scores above 1200 for SAT are considered to be good. For the ACT, scores above 24 are considered to be good.

The higher your score on the required standardized tests, the more likely you are to get into top universities in the U.S. In addition, high scores on standardized tests will make you eligible for more scholarships.

3- Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities also play a big role in how universities select international students for admission. Admission officers are looking for well-rounded candidates who show an interest in activities outside the classroom.

Extracurricular activities demonstrate your passions leadership abilities, and community involvement. When you’re being compared to applicants with similar academic grades, your involvement in extracurricular activities can be the deciding factor. Exceptional performance in some extracurricular activities can also make you eligible for certain scholarships (such as sports and art scholarships).

Use your personal essay to display your extracurricular activities. Bear in mind that you don’t need to be involved in many extracurricular activities. Admissions officers are more impressed by the depth of your involvement rather than by a list of activities you took part in.

The best extracurricular activities for college admissions for international students include athletics, music and dance, community service, leadership, writing, and jobs and internships.

4- Letters of Recommendation

The strength of your recommendation letters is also significant in selecting international students for college admission- especially for private colleges and schools that have holistic admission philosophies or highly competitive admissions processes.

A compelling recommendation from a teacher who knows you well can tip the odds of admission in your favor. High-stakes colleges don’t just want to know that you did well in high school; they also want to know if you have the character traits—like academic zeal and commitment—necessary to make the most of everything the university has to offer.

Many U.S universities require applicants to submit at least one or two recommendation letters. It’s important that you select your recommenders wisely to boost your chances of gaining admission. A negative or unremarkable recommendation can cost you your spot in an international university.

5- Personal Essays

Many colleges and universities in the U.S require applicants to include personal essays in their applications. These essays also help admission officers in making the decision on which applicants to grant admission.

Personal essays give you an opportunity to show admission officers who you are beyond your academic qualifications. Your essay will show how well you can communicate, highlight the unique challenges you’ve had to overcome, showcase your extracurricular activities, and show how you’ll be a good fit for the campus.

Put your best foot forward in writing a strong personal essay. It’s advisable to get as much help and support as possible – from mentors, school counselors, and study abroad consultants.


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