2021 To-Do List for Prospective International Students

Sitashma Parajuli from Nepal knows a thing or two about being prepared as a prospective international student. She applied to U.S. colleges twice: first during her senior year in high school and then again after her gap year. The second time she didn’t have help from her high school counselor.

“I took matters into my own hands and made a to-do list for myself,” says Parajuli, now a senior at Bennington College in Vermont studying anthropology, sociology and political science. “I made sure to have all information and documents ready before it was time to start sending in my applications.”

For prospective international students planning to apply to a U.S. university, there’s no time like the new year to get organized. Here are few ways to prepare:

— Get documents in order.

— Take advantage of targeted recruitment.

— Strengthen and document extracurricular activities.

— Consider using an international education consultant.

Get Documents in Order

Experts say every item that is necessary for the college application process should be prepared in advance, such as a transcript, letters of recommendation, score reports from any required tests — such as standardized admissions tests like the SAT or ACT and English language proficiency tests like the TOEFL and IELTS — and financial documents.

“We always ask our prospective international students start working on documents that take longer to collect, such as transcripts and test scores,” says Amanda Schaller, director of the office of admissions and services for international students at Lindenwood University in Missouri.

The school requires the official copy of the transcript in the native language as well as a certified translation in English, which due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “can hold up the admission process,” she says.

A lot has changed, and continues to change, as a result of COVID-19, says Dana Brolley, director of international services at the University of Idaho. It’s more important than ever, she says, for students to do their research and work with the schools’ admissions counselors.

“They will provide updates on any changes to requirements or deadlines. Due to the pandemic, many U.S. institutions have adjusted their admissions requirements because they are aware that some of the common standardized tests such as TOEFL, IELTS, SAT, etc. have not been offered,” Brolley says.

[Read: How the Coronavirus Is Pushing Colleges to Go Test-Optional.]

She says each institution will have different requirements and deadlines, “so map out the details required for each application.”

Take Advantage of Targeted Recruitment

The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the global recruitment of prospective international students, which has shifted to online fairs, expos and virtual visits from U.S. university representatives. Students should take advantage of these opportunities to find the right university fit, experts say.

“One major silver lining of the current pandemic is that most admission offices have had to quickly and efficiently transform their recruitment practices to be effective in a virtual world,” says Meredith Twombly, vice president of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Clark University in Massachusetts. “Currently most U.S. colleges are offering daily information sessions, interviews, tours and much more virtually and all free to access on your smartphone or laptop.”

And she says international students shouldn’t be shy about reaching out to schools.

“I can never say this enough: It’s hard for colleges to recruit you effectively if you don’t make yourself known to them. Introduce yourself over email; fill out the request information form on the website,” Twombly says.

Experts say students should also begin researching colleges that are not only a good fit but also have fewer international applicants, where the competition may be less intense, as those schools may be looking to increase their international enrollment.

“One relatively easy way to identify universities eager to grow their international student populations is by searching for colleges that offer scholarships for international students,” Twombly says.

[Read: 10 Universities That Offer International Students the Most Financial Aid.]

Strengthen and Document Extracurricular Activities

Experts say extracurricular activities can make an international applicant stand out by demonstrating a student’s passion, commitment and global citizenship — including activities such as remote volunteering, jobs and tutoring during the pandemic.

“We’ve heard from students who have taken up a new language, instrument or new hobby during COVID-19 or dedicated more time to their existing passion — art, music, reading, poetry, writing, etc.,” says Tony Cabasco, vice president for enrollment at Bennington College.

He says students should not forget to mention part-time work and/or caring for family members during the pandemic, adding that “students who have been able to manage the past year may be better prepared for life in college.” Students should also mention active participation in church or other religious groups and activities, Cabasco says.

Before he applied to U.S. colleges, Yovani Lopez from Honduras says, “I did a lot of missionary work with North Americans.” Lopez, now a sophomore majoring in business at Lindenwood University, says “that was the best way to improve my English and communication skills in that language.”

Lopez also served as high school class president for four years; participated and won awards in regional competitions representing his school, such as spelling bees, soccer games and track and field events; and was an honor roll student.

“When talking with students, I encourage them to start a diary or portfolio of their activities throughout secondary school,” Brolley says. “It’s easy to forget an award or presentation they did a couple years ago, so having that to work from is really helpful.”

Consider Using an International Education Consultant

While prospective international students do not need an education consultant to apply to a U.S. university — and some may be able to turn to high school counselors and others for help — the pandemic has brought about many changes that a consultant can help students sort through.

[Read: Pros, Cons of Using International Student Agents, Consultants.]

“So many areas of life in the United States, including student life, are experiencing upheaval. COVID-19 accommodations, campus openings and closures and vaccine passports to board airplanes are just the beginning,” says Mark Sklarow, chief executive officer of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, a nonprofit professional organization.

He says the new Biden administration’s promise of a more open policy toward international students is welcome news, but there is still uncertainty about what those changes may be and when they will arrive.

“For all these reasons, students globally need reasoned, informed, expert advice as they explore opportunities to study in the United States. IECA members work together to keep up with changes to campus planning, visa requirements, embassy closures and even keep an eye on safety and security concerns,” Sklarow says.

While using an education consultant is an option, prospective international students can always turn to prospective U.S. universities with their inquiries.

“Ask those questions. Counselors can help. Be sure to select your advice wisely and know that support for applying to university is free,” Brolley says. “We are all invested in the success of students.”

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.

More from U.S. News

Common Mistakes International Students Make When Applying to U.S. Colleges

How Prospective International Students Can Demonstrate Financial Ability

15 Most Affordable Colleges for International Students

2021 To-Do List for Prospective International Students originally appeared on usnews.com

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