5 U.S. College Admissions Mistakes International Students Make

Applying to U.S. colleges and universities as an international student can be overwhelming. There are many different parts of the admissions process to consider, so experts recommend students plan carefully.

As prospective international students navigate the college application process, here are five common mistakes they should avoid:

— Applying exclusively to well-known U.S. colleges and universities.

— Waiting too long to begin test prep.

— Failing to understand and investigate impaction.

— Not researching college scholarships or grants for international students.

— Not completing additional requirements after submission.

Applying exclusively to well-known U.S. colleges and universities.

Experts suggest prospective international students consider a wide range of schools.

“It is absolutely a mistake to apply to only well-known U.S. colleges and universities,” says Christine Chu, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting firm, and former assistant director of undergraduate admissions at both Yale and Georgetown universities.

“Brand does not equate with quality,” Chu says. International students who apply only to big-name colleges and universities are missing out on hundreds of schools with amazing undergraduate programs, she says, and benefits like dedicated faculty, abundant resources and smaller class sizes.

International students need to expand their scope and create a balanced college list, says Lloyd Nimetz, founder and CEO of Spike Lab, a college admissions consultancy that helps students develop passion projects.

“We encourage students to optimize for value, which they need to define for themselves by weighing a combination of factors like education quality, prestige, admissions selectivity, campus culture and location,” Nimetz says.

Katie Burns, a college admissions counselor for IvyWise and a former senior assistant director of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says international students should consider liberal arts colleges, which expose students to topics and disciplines beyond their intended major.

“Some of the most educational and impactful courses I took in my own undergraduate study allowed me to think outside the box of my major and challenged me to think in new and dynamic ways,” Burns says. “The lessons from those courses are things I still use today in my everyday job.”

[Read: How International Students Can Practice Speaking English.]

Waiting too long to begin test prep.

Early preparation is important when taking required standardized tests for admission into U.S. universities. Depending on school requirements, that can include college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT and English-language proficiency exams like the TOEFL and IELTS.

“Similar to practicing a sport or musical instrument to improve, early and sustained practice for tests best serves students,” Burns says. By taking the PSAT, for example, and practice tests for both the SAT and ACT, international students can get initial benchmarks for their scores. From there, they can identify areas of weakness and work to hone skills in those specific areas.

The scores “can also give a student an idea of what colleges might fall in their likely target or reach range, based on the average statistics for admitted students,” Burns says.

Chu says test preparation takes a bit of time for most students, from learning the material and working on practice sections and full-length tests to reviewing answers and practicing strategies. “I usually recommend reserving at least two months for studying for the first exam, and students should plan for two, possibly three, sittings,” Chu says.

Nimetz believes the SAT or ACT is more important for international students than it is for U.S. students since college admissions officers are much less likely to be familiar with the quality of their high schools overseas.

Also, he says, the SAT and ACT offer fewer test dates internationally, and for students in populous regions, the test dates fill up months in advance. He says his firm recommends international students choose which test to take and begin studying in the spring of their sophomore year.

[Read: 10 Colleges That Received the Most Applications.]

Failing to understand and investigate impaction.

A campus or major is considered “impacted” when it receives more applications than it has spaces available. The California State University system, for example, has a search tool to find out if a program is impacted at any of their campuses. While other schools may use different terms — such as “limited enrollment” at the University of Maryland or “capped” at the University of Washington — it’s an issue that affects many large public universities.

“What it essentially means is that some majors are very, very popular, and to maintain the quality of education in those subjects, colleges will limit the number of students they enroll,” Burns says.

This can make certain fields of study at a university more selective in regard to admission. So, a school that was considered a likely or target school by a student could then become a reach school, Burns says.

“It is also important to note that this doesn’t mean a student should just apply into another major to get in with the hopes of changing once they get there. Typically impacted majors only accept students as entering freshmen,” Burns says.

Instead students should ensure their academic and overall profile goes above and beyond the minimum admissions requirements, Chu says, so the student can present the strongest application possible.

Not researching college scholarships or grants for international students.

Prospective international students should research scholarship and grant opportunities, including requirements and deadlines, in advance, experts say.

“Students should begin researching scholarships and grants the summer before senior year, though it can be very difficult to find financial aid as an international student,” Nimetz says. “We recommend students who need financial aid to tailor their college list very carefully, since few schools offer aid to international students.”

There is “virtually no U.S. federal government financial aid for non-U.S. citizens, at least at the undergraduate level,” Chu notes. She recommends using the website internationalscholarships.com as a starting point in the research process, since it has a database of scholarships available to international students.

Chu also notes that several U.S. colleges and universities have need-blind admission for international students — meaning they are admitted regardless of their ability to pay — and offer need-based aid, and that these universities could meet 100% of demonstrated need of an admitted international student.

Burns says there are myriad college-specific scholarship opportunities applicants can qualify for simply by applying by a certain deadline. It depends on the college, she says, but some schools offer merit scholarships to international students, too, such as the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University, the University of Oregon and the University of Southern California.

“USC is a great example, with a huge range of scholarships, including a few specifically for international students. Students are automatically considered for these merit-based scholarships if they apply by Dec. 1,” Burns says.

Many other colleges and universities have some financial aid, says Elizabeth Benedict, founder of Don’t Sweat the Essay Inc., a college counseling service. But the amount of aid awards may be limited and not fully cover tuition and expenses.

She says as international students study potential colleges, they should consult each school’s website and understand the opportunities for and limitations of financial aid.

[Read: Tips for International Students Studying STEM at U.S. Colleges.]

Not completing additional requirements after submission.

Once a student submits their application, experts recommend they continue to look for emails from schools, including checking spam and junk folders and all portals. Schools may contact students regarding missing documents and other important information. Failing to respond can result in having your application withdrawn or marked as incomplete.

“Just because you’ve submitted your application doesn’t mean you’re done. It’s critical that you pay close attention to your email and your application portal,” Nimetz says.

Colleges often request more information or context from applicants, Nimetz says. Some selective programs may also interview final candidates or invite them for merit interviews. He says not completing additional requirements could mean being rejected on a technicality or missing out on an opportunity for scholarships.

Having the fullest application can present the student in the strongest ways possible, Chu says. She recommends submitting any optional components of an application, such as an additional essay or a music or art supplement, if those may be helpful.

“Taking care to submit quality optional components can help demonstrate interest in a college and that the student cares about the application,” Chu says.

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

More from U.S. News

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Campus Resources for International Students

How to Register and Prepare for the TOEFL Test

5 U.S. College Admissions Mistakes International Students Make originally appeared on usnews.com

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