Three Common Mistakes International Students Make When Applying to US Universities

Guides / USA

It’s tough to apply to any university system outside your country of education. It’s even tougher when the system is the US system, with such levels of complexity that it’s easy to make mistakes. Here are three mistakes that students make which should be avoided:

Not knowing enough about the universities you are applying to

The variety of education available at US universities is huge: from small liberal arts colleges to large public research universities, strict or open distribution requirements or the availability of different majors and minors.

Students used to choosing universities based on picking one degree subject and cross-referencing with entry requirements for A Levels or the IB Diploma can often find themselves applying to universities that will offer an academic experience they might not want: if you really hate swimming, is Columbia’s Physical Education requirement going to work for you? That might seem like an extreme example, but just because a university is highly-ranked and well-known doesn’t mean that it will offer the same type of education than all the others. Research is needed to make good choices. After all, you’re going to have to write about why you match that university in the supplemental essays.

Not spending enough time on the supplemental essays

If the university system you are used to involves one central application, then to have to write additional essays for each university can seem unusual. Though the Common Application essay can take time, students looking to make the strongest possible case as to why they should be admitted to a university need to make sure that they spend as much – if not more – time on their supplemental essays.

Some of these essays are the ‘Why us?’ format – why do you want to go to this university? To just give a rushed answer touching on anything you could find out about the university on the first page of their website will not cut it. To do well, applicants need to be able to articulate in detail why they are a good match for the opportunities available at that university.

Then there are the more quirky questions, designed to draw out an original response. Famously, a few years ago, the University of Chicago asked: ‘Where’s Waldo, really?’ Rushing these questions or not seeing them as one of the crucial parts of the application is a major mistake I see.

Not understanding how money interacts with admissibility

When applying to the US, knowing what the financial realities of the situation are is a key part of the strategy. Where you should apply and where you might get in is very different if you need lots of money, some money or no money from a university in order to attend. Too often, students apply thinking that they’ll ask for a scholarship if they get in, and then realise that they had no idea of how the process works. Anyone considering a US application needs to have their financial plan clear from the start.

These are all issues which can be resolved, with guidance from a knowledgeable advisor. If your school has a specialist in US applications, please make sure to plan this out with them before you apply. If not, please get in touch.