COLLEGE APPLICATIONS: With a Focus on International Students, Since They Have It Worse

Trust me, you’re going to want to save this for later. 

I’m not going to lie to you. College applications, especially for international students, are hard. And when I say hard, I really do mean HARD. Never would I’d imagine that it was going to be this overwhelming. If you have moved from one country to another during high school, chances are you’re going to have to do the same thing I did. Gosh, I feel sorry for you. 

I’ve wanted to do this article for quite a while since an article like this would’ve definitely saved me a couple too many days of confusion, stress, and fear.

About a week ago, I completely finalized my early action applications for three different universities in the United States. I even got my confirmation emails and everything. Now, I feel like I know enough about the topic to write about it so that you guys don’t go through the same thing I did. 

 I’ll try to give somewhat of an overview in 10 steps, while also trying to be straight-forward. 

  1. BE COMPLETELY SURE ABOUT THE UNIVERSITIES YOU’RE APPLYING TO: You don’t want to put time and effort into something you’re not sure about. It’s not worth it. Take every aspect into consideration, from the full cost of attendance to student life. 
  1. CREATE A RESUME:  Here you’ll need to put everything you did throughout high school. Community Service, extracurricular activities, awards, you name it. Oh, and don’t forget to separate it into your different highschools; don’t mix everything. 
  1. ASK FOR RECOMMENDATION LETTERS: Ask your teachers in advance so that they can write you a good one. It’s better if you ask teachers that like you and/or teach the subject you want to study. You should also tell your guidance counselor to write your letter in advance. Teachers know what to do, so you don’t really need to tell them what to write, although it’s really helpful if you send them your resume. Recommendation letters (along with your electronic transcripts) MUST be submitted by your school counselor, or else they lose their legitimacy.
  1. FILL OUT THE APPLICATION: Whether it’s the Common App, Coalition, UC Application, or even independent portals. They will ask you questions ranging from your name and age to the names of your parents’ universities. You might even want/need to put your resume there. It also really depends on which portal you’re using. For example, the Common App and Coalition want you to be pretty specific about everything you write. They even want to know how many hours you spend doing every single activity you do throughout your week. A little bit excessive, if you ask me, but it still needs to be done. Independent portals tend to be simpler, but some might even ask you random questions such as whether you’re part of the National Rifle Association. You could say I prefer filling out independent portals. 
  1. DOCUMENTATION:  Now comes the hard part. Students that have only studied in one highschool just need to ask for their official transcripts with cumulative GPA and ACS will immediately give it to them, whether they ask for your transcript to be sent physically or electronically. As a school, we’re very efficient. BUT, if you’re an international student, this process is going to be much more tedious. You specifically should do this as soon as possible, because you do not know what problems you can encounter after. The problem with us is that the school doesn’t give us a cumulative GPA; we need to find it ourselves through our own means. Especially if your schools throughout highschool had different systems, this is going to be a horrible process (4.0 scale, 100% scale, 7 scale, etc). 

In reality, you have two options regarding how to take care of your documentation, the difference is that one is going to cost about 10 times as much as the other. If you have the money to spend, go for it: 

  • WES: Also known as World Education Services. It’s the easiest way to get your transcripts sent to all your universities, whether they ask them to be sent physically or electronically; and to obtain your cumulative GPA. WES will do it all for you, as long as you pay for it. The problem with it? The cost ranges from 200-1500 dollars, considering you have no more than 5 colleges. I was about to pay for this service because I thought it was my only option until I talked to some ex-seniors. They prevented me from making a HUGE splurging mistake. 
  • SENDING YOUR TRANSCRIPTS INDIVIDUALLY: This is what I opted to do in order to save a couple of hundred bucks. The easiest way to send your transcripts is to do it electronically through an email provided to you by the university, or through their own portal, but sometimes universities ask you to send it in physical form, and this is where it gets complicated. You need to ask all of your high schools to send your transcripts to the college/university you’re applying to, signed, stamped, and sealed. You really do not want to forget this. SIGNED, STAMPED, AND SEALED. Oh, and don’t forget to send the right mail format, if you don’t, your transcripts may not get to their final destination. You can guide yourself through wikihow, at least that’s what I did and I had no problems after. 

Regarding your cumulative GPA, you could pay for any online service available to do this for you. The prices usually start at about $20. Or you could even do it yourself by doing some personal research, but you really need to make sure that you know what you’re doing; you do not want to be accused of fraud. Fortunately, I was able to obtain Israel’s help for this, so it cost me nothing. He kindly found it for me after I sent him my separate transcripts, at Mrs. Blanco’s request.

*Remember some universities might ask you for mid-year reports — you should send those too.

*Do not send your documentation until you have completely filled out (writing included) and paid for your application. 

  1. FINANCIAL AID: Now this is optional, but I mean, who wouldn’t want to get some sort of financial aid for their college tuition? 

For Americans: 

  • You should fill out the FAFSA in order to be eligible to get grants, loans, or federal aid. They’re not the same thing. I know. I was also confused at the beginning, but you’ll eventually understand the difference between them. In short, you definitely do not want a grant if you can avoid it. The good thing about FAFSA? It’s free! But the big downside to it is that if you’re not in the United States, you’ll need to send a physical signature through the mail, meaning MORE MONEY.
  • You should also fill out the CSS Profile, affiliated with the College Board. The downside is that you need to pay $25 for it. Bummer. 

*Colleges and universities sometimes only accept one, that one usually being FAFSA, so you want to have both available. 

For non-Americans: 

  • You only need to fill out the CSS Profile 
  1. WRITING: Now comes the fun part. You’ll need to write whatever they require you to write. From 650-word essays to 50-word supplements. Most of these questions will ask you to write about yourself, your life experience, or about what you want to study. After you’re done, you should ask someone reliable to proofread your writing. I, personally, asked some of the English teachers to read it for me, and they helped me with my mistakes and in developing my ideas. 
  1. SEND YOUR  STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES: Now comes some more money splurging. For this area, you should probably have either the SAT or ACT AND the TOEFL. You might think that you won’t need the TOEFL, but trust me when I tell you that’s it’s better to have it. And do it early, preferably by September; you just want to get that over with. It’s easy, REALLY easy, so you basically only need to go over the format a day before taking it. 

Most colleges ask you to send your standardized test scores, although not all of them.  Chances are, since you live in Bolivia, that you’ll be asked to send BOTH scores through their independent emails or webpages. You should spend about $40 to send your scores to each university. Do the math. AND don’t forget to do it at least 2 weeks in advance, since if you don’t they might not get there on time unless you’re willing to pay a fast delivery fee, which still takes about 3 days to get to its destination. 

  1. REVIEW AND PAY FOR YOUR APPLICATION: Go through your application and make sure everything’s filled-out and accurate. After you’re done revising, you should have a credit card on hand to make the payment. Remember that college application fees can range from $0-150, so that can add up.  If you’re an international student, you must do this at least 5 days before the deadline. There’s no debating it. Chances are, you’re going to encounter at least one small problem. My small problem was that one of my universities didn’t get my CSS Profile at the time I submitted my application. Fortunately, I was able to solve it almost immediately. You might not be so lucky, so yeah, take precautions. 
  1. SEND CONFIRMATION EMAILS: After you’ve paid for everything and submitted your application, you should send an email to your universities, asking them if they received everything. You do not want to find out that you missed something AFTER the deadline. 

NOW … YOU CELEBRATE! Finally, after receiving a positive answer from your confirmation email, you’re free! Knowing that I had completely finished my application seemed surreal at first. It might seem lame, but this was one of the happiest moments I’d had throughout the whole semester. 

Before wrapping it up, I’ll leave you with some useful tips: 

  • WRITE EMAILS! Email after email after email. If, for example, you’re not sure if your university requires your transcripts to be sent physically or electronically, you should definitely send them an email to ask them about it. Don’t worry about seeming desperate. It might save you money, uncertainty, and prevent you from making mistakes in your application. And even if the problem seems small, such as you not being able to change your gender on your application, you should still ask. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR GUIDANCE/COLLEGE COUNSELOR: They might be able to help you so much more than you imagined. At least in my case, Mrs. Caro was able to save me a lot of trouble. 
  • KEEP TRACK OF EVERYTHING: If you’ve just started high school you should start making a list of everything you accomplish throughout the years. Extracurricular activities, volunteering opportunities, awards, competitions, everything! And save the constancies, meaning, SAVE THE PHYSICAL DOCUMENTS. If you won a Presidential Award, for example, you might want to safeguard it along with the rest of the awards you keep accumulating throughout the years. If you want, you could even start building your resume and just keep adding information as you grow older. This is a piece of advice I was given in 9th grade and something that I feel has definitely made making and validating my resume a much easier process. 

I still have 8 more colleges to apply for regular decision, but fortunately, now I know what to do, and I hope you do too. 

Thank me later 🙂 

Fernanda Pedroza

My name is Fernanda Pedroza. I am a senior who loves being happy. I am from Peru. My favorite food is pasta. A word that would describe me would be optimistic.

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