How I got through college admissions in the USA


The first rule of college admissions for international students is to apply to several colleges and universities at once. Even if you have your favorite, you never know whether you will be accepted into it or not. My name is Mei Lien Wang and today I want to tell you how I managed to get through my enrollment formalities and not go crazy.

1. Choosing your favorites

I have started the application process 3 years before I moved to the USA. This was a time when my brother entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and when I decided to look through the U.S. national ratings, thinking of my future career.

Being a thermophilic and warm-requiring being, I gave it a shot to send my USC application, as the University of Southern California is rated as #22 among all U.S. colleges and tried UF admissions, as the University of Florida is ranked #34. However, when I did a bit of research, I understood that my chances to get to these cozy warm places near the ocean were not that high. 

There is such a thing as a college acceptance rate, and frequently you can anticipate the result of your college application without even trying. For example, in 2019, the acceptance rate of USC was only 11%. Along with this, every university in the U.S. has a minimum overall grade requirement and mine was never that high.

This is why, along with several top-50 universities, I also applied to those I knew I would definitely get into. This is why I completed a Rutgers application and an ASU application. These colleges required the U.S. grade of B and mine was A-, so my chances in New Jersey and Arizona were pretty high.

2. Early start

Some colleges have very strict deadlines with documents, essays, and test results to be turned in up to 10 months before the enrollment. That’s why I’ve started to work on the formalities 18 months before the 1st of September, 2018. 

This is when you might need some college admissions assistance. I was so bold though, that I decided to get through this process on my own. The experience of 1.5 years without social life, proper rest, and good sleep has demonstrated to me that there are things you should entrust to professionals. Fortunately, I screwed up only with the FIU application, as I missed the deadline for my school transcripts.

I applied to 8 colleges I thought I would fit into and I was accepted to 4 of them. And today, I still can’t say where I’ve made mistakes and what went wrong with some of them—for example, with the SUNY application.

Most of the colleges that are open for international students have clear and comprehensive forms and even manuals on how to apply. But sometimes these are not enough. Even though my brother has walked this path several years earlier and I thought I knew everything about the university admission process, I made a lot of mistakes and if I were to repeat it again today, I would apply for some professional assistance.


University by Pixabay from Pexels

3. School transcripts and financial documentation

This was the hardest part for me. I think this is where I messed up with my CSU application. The thing is that I didn’t ask for my credentials evaluation by the appropriate authorities, which is essential for most international applicants.

Another thing all the colleges require is evidence of your financial sustainability. You need to show that you either applied for financial help, which is another difficult process, or that you or your parents are capable of paying for your education.

4. Standardized tests

This was the easiest part. Don’t get me wrong, both the IELTS and ACT were stressful and hard. Moreover, I had to pass my IELTS several times to get the best results. But when dealing with tests, you know that there are only two options: you are right or you are wrong. There are no chances that the application board will find your answers for math unsuitable for the college you’re about to join. When I was trying to understand why some colleges rejected me when all my tests results and GPAs were great, I saw that it was all about application essays. At least, I think this is why my BYU admissions went to the dickens.

5. Personal statements

These essays should be different for each college. When composing an application essay, you have to tell both about yourself and explain why you think you and the university of your choice are a good match. This is something I didn’t completely understand when I applied to all the colleges. Plus, universities give specific prompts and every word in them counts. Describe, analyze, explain, demonstrate, and compare are five different assignments they give. 

At this step, you should also consider the possibility to apply for some professional assistance. At least, check out some samples the writing services provide to see what the application board might expect from your essay.

bench on campus

Bench by Zino Bang

6. Certificates, diplomas, and recommendations

These are things you have to apply to and be stubborn to receive on time. All the documents should be translated into English and signed by the proper authorities. The difficulty here is that your teacher or your school administration can forget about your request to write recommendations for you or to send your diploma where you asked them to. It is you who needs it, so there is no point in getting angry with your school board or your teacher if they haven’t done what you wanted them to do for your rolling admission. Have this part of your application under your total control.

7. Accommodation and student visa

Apply for an F1 visa 3 months before your studies begin. Don’t forget about health insurance and accommodation formalities. You have to apply for a place on your campus if your college offers a dormitory and if you want to live there. 

Renting an apartment isn’t that easy as well, especially if you’re trying to do this from some distance. Lucky for me, my brother covered this part and has chosen for me a great flat at Urbana-Champaign.

Now, when the year has passed, I finally can speak of my application in a flat voice without getting hysterical. I’m glad I’ve got through it by myself. I’m happy it all finished.

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Mei Lien Wang
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Mei Lien moved to the USA from Hong Kong in 2016. She admires American culture and wants to share her experience of adapting to this new environment with other students from abroad. Mei Lien is fond of traveling, drawing, reading, cooking, swimming, and art. She even dreams of opening a gallery in the future.