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Many colleges take a vested interest in being able to claim that their student body is diverse. This begs the question: Do international students have a college admissions advantage in the US?

International students aren’t rare

If international students were truly unique, colleges might jump at the chance to have foreigners join their classrooms. In reality, though, the US is #1 in the world for international students! As a nation, the US accepts over 74,000 students from other countries each year.

Applying to a college in one of these top 10 countries means two things. First, international students are certainly welcome. Second, they aren’t new. While admissions representatives won’t hesitate to accept you, your nationality alone will not get you a ticket to university.

International students have to meet certain criteria

If you’ve looked at a US college application, then you already know that international students have to prove a number of things that their peers in the US do not.

For example, they have to take the TOEFL or IELTS and show that their English is up to par. They may also have to prove that their high school diploma is equivalent to that of a US diploma– a feat that is often accomplished by participating in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Schools in the USA stress volunteering

Another factor that you might have against you is the fact that US colleges tend to stress the importance of extracurriculars– like sports, volunteering, and community involvement.

American high schools know this and generally have a wealth of different clubs and organizations for students to join. However, high schools in other countries may be less zealous about extracurriculars of this sort. In many countries, volunteering in the community just isn’t seen as an appropriate activity for a high school student.

Attendance may be more expensive

While US students benefit from lower, in-state tuition rates, international students are always counted as out-of-state students. Therefore, they always face higher attendance fees.

And since getting a student visa requires proof of financial resources, the chances of accessing need-based aid are basically zero. Thankfully, international students are not exempt from merit-based aid.

International students can use their unique experiences to their advantage

As an international student, you will have to work just as hard – if not even harder – than American citizen college applicants.

However, there are some ways in which a foreign nationality may be useful. For example, life in another country can be great fodder to create colorful stories for an admissions essay, self-introduction video, or interview.

Explaining little-known facts about your culture can definitely pique the admission team’s interest – and many colleges do care about having a diverse student body. Just don’t bank on empty claims that your passport alone will contribute to student diversity.


Maija Wallace is a freelance writer for college admissions blogs. Her website is located at

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