For International Parents: Helping Your Child Apply to Colleges in the U.S.

If you live abroad and your child wants to pursue college in the U.S., there’s good news for you: American colleges are enrolling record-breaking numbers of students from abroad.

U.S. News reports that the overall number of international college students in the U.S. has grown 72 percent since 2000. The flip side of these increases is that your child’s college application will face more competition as increasing numbers of students apply for a U.S. undergraduate education. Here are some ways you can prepare for a successful college application:

Plan Early

It will help your child if you begin planning early. As a parent, there are several preparatory steps you can take when your child begins high school, or even a few years before that.

Research the tests that are required by American colleges.

Typically, these are the SAT or ACT, and the TOEFL or IELTS if English is your chlid’s second language. In addition, subject SATs may be required by some colleges; even when they are not mandatory, these tests are an indicator of a student’s interest and competence in the subject.

Many selective colleges use standardized tests scores in evaluating a student’s application. Work backwards from the application deadlines and schedule enough time for your child to prepare for and take all of the standardized exams she intends to. And consider leaving time for her to take some of the tests two or three times in case she does not do well on her first try.

Follow this link for further advice on taking standardized tests.

Talk to other parents.

Get to know other parents whose kids have gone to the colleges your child is interested in. You can find out details about their kids’ experiences, as well as get advice on the application process. Be sure to ask what they found most challenging, what it turned out they didn’t need to be concerned about, and what advice they would offer others who are just setting out.

You can find out what students say about a school on Noodle college profiles.

Craft a challenging course load.

Plan for your child to take the most challenging high school courses she can handle without compromising her overall grades. This shows colleges the kind of goals your child sets for herself. Help her choose electives that will stretch her abilities. If her school offers Advanced Placement courses or an International Baccalaureate program, participating in either of these programs will demonstrate your child’s readiness to undertake college-level study.

Consider transferring schools.

You may decide to move your child to a high school with a curriculum and teaching style closer to that of American programs. A curriculum with a greater focus on developing research and writing skills will help kids make a more successful transition to college.

Meet with your college counselor.

International schools usually have college counselors on their staff who can guide your child through the application process. It should be noted that international schools are usually far more expensive than local schools in any country, so not all parents have the resources to enroll their kids in one. If your school doesn’t offer this kind of guidance, there may be independent college counselors who consult in your city.

Check Noodle's listing of guidance counselors, some of whom might be able to offer assistance remotely via the Internet.

Helping Your Child Choose Where To Apply

While the College Board recommends that students submit applications to at least four colleges, many college admissions experts, including Noodle CEO John Katzman and Kevin McMullin of Collegewise counselling, recommend between 10 and 15 applications. Applying to fewer than four colleges may reduce your overall chance of being admitted to a U.S. college, in light of how many applications schools receive today. That said, there are many factors — from the selectivity of the college to the strength of your child’s application — that play a role.

But how do you create a short-list of colleges from the vast number of choices available? Noodle's college report card offers insight into what data really matters in your decision process. Here is a list of considerations that are particularly important when looking at universities outside your home country:

Evaluate the academics.

Research the programs that are offered in your child’s area of interest by checking the college website, calling or emailing the admissions office with questions, and checking rankings for her prospective major. Find out about the faculty, typical class sizes, and how selective admission is for this subject area, as well as any special requirements the school may have for entering this program.

Research cost and financial aid availability.

Going to college in the U.S. is an expensive affair. Many of the financial aid options used by American citizens — such as federal aid — are not available to international students. The amount you will pay and the financial help available to non-American students will depend on the school. For example, some universities give international students merit-based aid if they are academically talented. Speak to the financial aid offices at the schools that you are interested in before applying.

Consider the location.

Your child should consider if she would like to attend school in an urban or rural setting. Would she like to be located near to or in a particular city? Consider the location’s climate and whether or not that will be an adjustment — some areas in the U.S. are much colder or hotter than others. It would be best if you and your child visited the college campuses on your shortlist before beginning the applications.

If you're taking college tours, make sure to read this article "Take Charge of Your College Visit with These Expert Hacks" before you go!

Think about school size.

Consider both the number of students enrolled as well as the physical size of the campus. Some kids may feel safer in a small college community where everybody knows who they are, while others may want to have a wider choice of people that they come in contact with.

Look into the school’s diversity.

The diversity of the student population may be a factor in determining how comfortable your child feels on campus. You can check for availability of ethnic/national student associations and clubs to help combat any homesickness your child may feel.

Build a Resume

Colleges in the U.S. look beyond test scores and academics to see whether the student will be a good fit as a member of their campus. The student’s interests and extracurricular activities, potential for leadership, and contribution to her community are all factors that are scrutinized by admissions offices. As a parent, there are many ways you can help your child grow and develop over the years so that she can demonstrate her personality and leadership capabilities by the time she is applying to college:

Select extracurriculars that play to your child’s strengths.

Observe and help your child identify the activities that she excels at and enjoys. This could be sports, music, boy/girl scouts, writing poetry, debating — whatever your child is passionate about.

Encourage opportunities for leadership.

Help your child do her best in her chosen areas, and make suggestions on how she can be a leader in the field. This often requires a lot of time and energy from the entire family. If your child excels at soccer, enroll her in a competitive soccer league. Encourage her to become the editor of the school magazine if she loves to write. A friend’s son was deeply interested in science, so his mother helped him create a science club with classmates.

Look for volunteering opportunities.

Some curricula, like the International Baccalaureate, have community service built into the student’s high school experience. If this is not the case for your child, you can help. Identify volunteer opportunities where your child can contribute to the community you live in. This could be as simple as helping out in a local library, working with underprivileged children, or visiting senior citizens.

Search for internship opportunities

Look for internships offered during summer vacations in your child’s area of interest. This demonstrates to colleges the depth of her passion and can be great practical experience for her as well.

Get the Best Possible Recommendations

The best people to approach for recommendations are those who know your child’s capabilities and are willing to express them. Typically one may need two to three recommendations, so it’s good to identify people who can shine a light on different aspects of your child’s personality and achievements. The best people you can ask for recommendations are:

  • A teacher of a subject in which your child excels
  • A teacher of an extracurricular activity that your child excels in
  • A community leader
  • A manager from her internship experience or summer job

If your child feels close to someone in one of these positions, encourage her to focus on building a relationship with the teacher or leader. This will allow that person to get to know your child more and to write a comprehensive recommendation letter when the time comes.

Some guidelines you can provide to those writing the recommendation:

  • Provide examples where your child demonstrated initiative or leadership
  • Mention the specific contributions your child made to the program he or she participated in
  • Mention the qualities that are most impressive about your child

The aim is to have a well-packaged application which helps the admissions committee get to know the student beyond test scores and numbers. The application should also demonstrate that your child is well-rounded and can contribute to the student life in the university she is applying to.

For more information, read "How to Garner a Great College Recommendation."

Sources of Information

Aside from calls and emails exchanged with the school admission office, you can use the following sources of information to evaluate your list of schools:

Talk to alumni.

If you know an alumnus from the college you are considering, find out details about the academic and social experience that she had. Some admissions offices will also put you in touch with alumni from your country to help answer your child’s questions.

Visit the campus.

There is no substitute for walking around campus and seeing how you and your child feel once you are there. For instance, a friend who has lived in India all her life was taken aback at the remoteness of Cornell University when she first visited, expecting it to be located close to New York City. It came as a surprise when she realized that New York state covers a large area, much of it quite far from the city lights. Also, some universities view a campus visit as a positive factor in a student’s application since it demonstrates genuine interest in the university.

Research on the Internet

There are many reliable sources of information about U.S. universities online. Noodle’s college search page provides a great starting point. Students can filter according to various preferences, and the search results provide information about each college’s academics, expenses, admissions, financial aid statistics, rankings, and more.

In addition to Noodle, annual college rankings and reviews are also published by various agencies, such as The Princeton Review, U.S. News, and Forbes. There are several college discussion boards on the internet such as College Confidential, which can provide firsthand insight into the application process.

These are only the first steps in the American college application process, but if approached systematically, this planning will make it easier for applicants and set your child up with the best chance of being admitted.

Sources:

10 Colleges that Award International Students the Most Financial Aid. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2015, from U.S. News and World Report

Apply to 4 or More. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2015, from College Board

Haynie, D. Number of International College Students Continues to Climb. (2014, November 17). Retrieved November 29, 2014 from U.S. News and World Report

Identify Important Factors in Choosing a College. Retrieved November 29, 2014 from The ACT