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28 October 2012
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1 November 2012

Knowing the system: How are American expats and international students viewed during the US application process?

By Donna Zilkha

Director of College and International Services at Aristotle Circle


When I lived in France, most expats, including fellow ALP board members, would talk about “playing the French Card” when applying to schools in the US. “The French Card” can mean either a French national applying to schools in the US or a US expat applying to schools.

Depending on which “French Card” you plan on playing, there are significant differences in the admissions process. Now, more than ever, it is important for international and expat students to understand the application process because the number of international students applying to US universities has gone steadily up and reached an all-time high of 723,277 in 2010.

If you are a US citizen applying from abroad, you are still considered a US citizen.  You are compared to students in similar schools to yours in the area in which you live. You are not part of a foreign student quota and you are eligible to apply for financial aid just like any US student in the US.  Fortunately, you do add to the geographic diversity of the school, which is an obvious benefit.

If you are a citizen of a country other than the US and you are applying to a US school, you are compared to all the students from a country in your application zone.  For instance, if you are French, you will be in the European quota and be compared with students from Germany, Italy and other European nations.

For dual citizen applicants, it is generally considered to their advantage to apply as US citizens for admissions and especially for financial aid. There are no quotas for US citizens, so if you are an exceptional student, have achieved high test scores and have a solid application, you still have the same chance of getting in as other US applicants with similar credentials. Some schools are exceptions, and applicants can apply as US citizens to one set of schools and as international students to another set, depending on what the particular schools is looking for. Experts in admissions can distinguish between the two.

To improve your chances of admission, you should take the TOEFL if you are enrolled in a foreign language school or hold a foreign passport.  Good TOEFL scores can counterbalance lower SAT reading and writing scores.

Where you are from is only one aspect of the admissions process. Grades, SATs and the application are of great importance as well.  It is important to do your research to make sure that you mitigate the stresses that can be part of the US admissions process.

Donna will be joined at the Library by Charlotte Goodwin of the Fulbright Commission on Wednesday, November 7.

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