Common Application Mistakes


Hi Crimson, what are some of the common mistakes international students make when applying to US universities?


Just off the top of my head…

  1. Not asking teachers for letters of recommendation early enough. So many students make that mistake. Or they don’t ask the right teachers. You should ask two months before the letters are due, and you should ask teachers who really know you well, but preferably who know different sides of you (two teacher letters are recommended). Don’t forget your counselor letter too! Many international students don’t have the same sort of counselors that US kids do, or their counselors don’t know much about US. Your counselor has to write a letter AND send in official school forms – don’t forget!

  2. Thinking Ivies are the only US schools worth going to. That’s so so wrong. Most of the top 50 colleges in the US are better than just about any other college in the world. Even if you or your parents haven’t heard of them, the multinational companies you’ll want to get employed by WILL know those schools, and will know how good they are. Plus, employers care about how much you stick out in your academic environment – being a star student at a top 15 school is WAY better than being a mediocre student at a top 5 school. If you come from a top 5 school, you’ll be competing for jobs with the best kids from those schools…way tougher.

  3. Not taking the SAT or ACT early enough. This is essential to a competitive app to American schools as an international student. Unless you’re a star in other areas, you really need good to great scores on those tests, which means you should start taking them and practicing really early. Crimson can help with that!

  4. Not starting the essays early enough. Read my other posts on how to write a great essay but…you should start brainstorming 6 months before the common app is due, and have a draft ready to edit 4 months before it’s due in order to ensure top quality.

  5. Picking the wrong schools to apply to generally. International students often over-estimate their chances. Being realistic, but also recognizing how many incredible schools there are in the US, is key. Look at your scores, your extra curriculars, etc. Dare to dream, but don’t put all of your eggs in a small, selective basket.

  6. Not applying for financial aid if you need it. International students tend not to want to go through the trouble of applying for aid, but going to college in the US is expensive as hell. If you need aid, you should apply for it. It may in some cases make admission more difficult for you, but it’s even worse to be admitted and have to say no because you can’t afford to go. My two cents: you never get to do over the four years of your life that you spend getting that BA degree. You have your whole life to make money–I feel it’s worth taking out loans to go to a better school. That’s a contentious topic, and many smart people disagree with me on that, so don’t take it as fact.

  7. Failing to include all extra curriculars in their application. International students often don’t entirely understand what US schools want to see for ECs. Really, they want to know everything you’ve done. Priority is anything you’ve created yourself, received regional/national/international recognition for, or some standard recognized competition or exam that you’ve really destroyed. But if you play oboe in the school orchestra, you have to include that too! They want to see that you have diverse interests, but that you specialize in just a couple passions as well.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are more. Let me know if you have any more specific questions!