International students need to understand that the dynamics of US colleges are different for domestic and international in terms of financial aid and fees. International students, generally in the context of Nepal, should start preparations 6 months or 1 year ahead of the academic year they plan to attend colleges in the US.

Let us walk through the key components of the application process:

Standardized Tests:

Students commonly appear for standardized tests like TOEFL/IELTS and ACT/SAT as required. The applicants should note that they should appear for the test way before the onset of the application season. This gives students proper research criteria and extra time to reappear for the tests, if necessary. The more you score, the better your chances of scholarship, as per the trend.

Normally, due to the high volume of test-takers in Nepal, the seats get packed soon especially for SAT and ACT. And, not to forget, the online banking system in Nepal has its own hassles. For example, currently, there are a very few banks which operate online payment to ets.org (for TOEFL). Thus, to guarantee yourself a seat as per your convenience, you should register for the tests as soon as possible. Frequently check for the test dates on the official websites of the test agencies and prepare yourself accordingly.

You can send the official scores for free up to 4 colleges. Be sure to send the free scores before the free score deadline. After that, there is a certain fee per college you need to pay to send the official scores.

College Research and Planning

Be sure to spend ample time in your college research as college is a place where you will be spending the next 4 years of your life! You will need to short-list a certain number of colleges to apply (often, a balanced list). Plan your budget in time and prioritize your choices. You may want to consider factors like acceptance rate, fee structure, availability of aid for internationals, deadlines, your intended major (even if you don’t have a fixed major, it’s fine as you can go for liberal arts), the location, size, safety, alumni reviews, and different other programs of the college.

Another mistake that students generally make is heavily relying on college search/filter websites like Big future, College Matchmaker to finalize their college list. Such websites may be a good reference point, to begin with, but they might not always have up-to-date information about the colleges. It’s always best to confirm from the official website of the college for their up-to-date courses, scholarships, and other programs.

Common App and your documents

You can apply up to 20 colleges for free via CommonApp. For colleges that are not in Common App, check their admission website to know how to apply. Spend enough time in your personal essay and supplemental essays that can help you stand out. Meanwhile, get your test scores, transcripts, and financial documents ready and CVs updated, ask your teachers for some personalized recommendations before the deadlines.

Admission Plan

Generally, there are four admission plans: Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision and Rolling Admission.  If you are planning to apply early, you will have to prepare early. The common deadline is October-November, so be sure to have all the requirements ready by then. While it may be beneficial to apply Early Decision to that one dream college or your top-most preferred college to demonstrate your high level of interest, you must also beware of the cons of a binding Early Decision plan. It would be better to have a list of colleges to apply for Regular Decision/ Rolling Admission too, in case you get rejected/ deferred.

Interview
Some colleges might also ask for an optional/compulsory interview. An interview is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your special interest in the college and showcase your personality beyond your application. So, even if colleges may not ask for an interview, you could request one as it could do no harm.

Now that you’ve sent your application(s), it’s time to patiently wait for the decisions and make a wise choice after the decisions are out.