Embarking on the American Dream: Essential College Transition Guide for International Students

Starting college is undoubtedly one of the most significant transitions in a young person’s life. Many students might experience moving far from home, living separately from their parents for the first time, and being thrust into a new sea of people. Moreover, if you’re entering the college chapter of your life in the States as an international student, many more changes factor into this transition! Luckily, at Zinkerz, we have a lot of experience helping international students apply and transition into college life. So, here are some of our top tips for international students looking to attend college in the United States.

Look out for application requirements and deadlines that are specific to international students

On top of the standard application components – your statement, test scores, letters of recommendation – often, international students have a few more additional requirements and documents to submit. These documents can range from official test scores from an English proficiency exam like the TOEFL to financial forms and statements to visa application materials. Many universities have a separate page on their admissions’ website specifically for international students, including requirements, deadlines, and other helpful information. Be sure to explore the admissions websites of the colleges you’re applying to or planning to attend – there might have been something you overlooked! Even after you apply and get admitted into your dream school, be aware that there might still be more deadlines to mark on your calendar.

If you’re physically sending application materials, do it in advance

Typically, the entire college application process can be completed and submitted digitally. However, on the rare occasion that something has to be sent via “snail mail,” be aware that delays can happen, especially in international mail. In the past, we’ve seen students have to send their transcripts and test scores through the mail. If the document has to be sent by a school official, like your high school guidance counselor, make sure to keep them in the loop, too, so they know what to expect.

When mailing documents, ensure you send them off weeks before the deadline and get a tracking number to make sure it gets to where it needs to be on time. Many factors are out of a student’s control when applying to college. However, diligent planning can reduce the chances of an application going wrong. 

Attend virtual information sessions, interviews, welcome week activities, and more

“This event is too far away for me to attend” is no longer a good excuse, especially in this age where many things can be done virtually and remotely (does anyone else remember the pandemic?) Depending on where you live, it might be highly unlikely that an admissions’ counselor will be holding an informational event in your hometown across the globe from the university’s location. So, we strongly suggest that our international students still try to learn about the colleges they’re interested in by signing up for virtual events. They may be more available than you expect! 

For example, New York University hosts virtual informational admissions sessions weekly. (https://connect.nyu.edu/portal/virtual_info) Take advantage of this opportunity to speak with an admissions counselor and current students! 

For Babson, nowadays, all college interviews are done virtually (https://connect.babson.edu/portal/virtual_interview), which gives you, an international student, a fair chance to demonstrate your interest and further add your personality to your application.

Finally, almost every university offers virtual tours of their campus now. So, if you’re unable to travel or if all their in-person tours are booked out, you still have a chance to explore your potential new life right in the comfort of your own home.

Get to know your university’s international student office

Have questions about how to apply for a student visa? What’s an I-20, and where do you get one?  What are things you shouldn’t do to maintain your F-1 student status? These are all questions you can find answers to at the international student office at your university. There, you’ll find people and resources to help you navigate all the complicated paperwork and go over any specific rules that international students must follow to maintain their legal status in the States. 

Beyond helping you fill out forms, often, international offices at universities also host events for students just like you! Such events allow you to meet other international students going through the same challenges as you, discuss current events in your country, or learn more about your school’s on-campus cultural clubs and organizations. For example, at Stanford, the Bechtel International Center for Students (https://bechtel.stanford.edu/connect-campus/programs-events/event-calendar) hosts events ranging from “Matcha-Ma-Call-It” where international students can take a matcha-making masterclass together while meeting new friends to their recurring “International Discussion Series,” events where students can learn about and discuss global issues such as  “Why are Turkish Elections Vital for Global Democracy?” and “Where are Philippine politics headed?” So, if you’re feeling homesick, international student offices seem like a great place to make friends and turn your campus into a home away from home.

Don’t limit your friendship circle

While it’s good to have friends at college who are from your home country to relate to and keep homesickness at bay, a whole college experience should take you outside your comfort zone, too! So, don’t forget to take advantage of all that studying in a new country can offer, including making new friends with people outside your circle. 

Grab a coffee after class with the people sitting next to you in your lectures, join a club based on your interests and hobbies, and be open to all the different lifestyles and cultures you can find on your campus. A great thing about college campus life in the United States is that often, students come from around the world to connect and learn from each other. Even within the states, a student from Portland, Maine, and another from New Orleans, Louisiana, will have vastly different life experiences you can learn from and share yours with. So, get ready to make lasting friendships while broadening your horizons and meeting new people you might not otherwise have had the chance to meet in your home country!



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