By Mandee Heller Adler, MBA, IECA (FL)

International students want to attend graduate school in the United States for numerous reasons: quality of education, future employment opportunities, networking possibilities, scholarships, social recognition, and more immigration options. Most apparent, the quantity and quality of universities make studying in the United States very desirable.

Over the years, I have seen certain repeat challenges faced by students who want to come to the United States for graduate school from other countries. Independent educational consultants (IECs) can help international students overcome some of those specific challenges.

Creating a balanced application list. Many of our international families say they want their student to go to one of the “top-ranked graduate schools.” As IECs, we know that there are many organizations that provide rankings, and the “top-ranked” grad schools aren’t the top schools for everyone. There are other rankings, such as “best graduate school for computer science” and “best graduate school for psychology,” that may be more valuable to a student. Help your family identify “lesser known” schools that best fit the student’s major. If the family is obsessed with rankings, introduce them to other organizations’ rankings that may include schools that you know and love on their lists. Also introduce the student to schools that want international students to help diversify the college experience.

Taking the required standardized tests. Most universities require applicants whose native language is not English to submit an official TOEFL or IELTS score as part of the application process. The TOFEL and IELTS measure the ability of nonnative speakers of English to use and understand English as it’s used in a college setting. Often the only exemption for this requirement is if an international student’s native language is not English but the student earned a degree in the United States or a country like the United Kingdom, Australia, or Canada (except Quebec). Students also need to complete the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, or other standardized test. Each college has its own recommended minimum scores, so it’s important for IECs to check each college’s requirements.

Securing references. Reference letters play an important role in the graduate school admissions process. Whom the student chooses as a recommender as well as the content is vital. Direct your student to pick someone who knows him or her well and who can really talk about the student’s skills, experience, and potential benefit to the program. International students often feel they need to choose someone who speaks English well, but that is not the case; letters of recommendation may be translated.

Completing the application process. International students may need help gathering some of the elements needed to complete the application, such as translated versions of transcripts, letters of recommendation, and bank statements. If you ask students to send you those pieces of the application, get them translated by a certified translation company, and then send them out from the United States, you can better ensure that all parts of the application are complete.

Writing personal statements. Most grad school applications require students to submit a personal statement. In grad school essays, it is important for students to research the department and course they’re applying to, and IECs should make sure that what they write about the school is correct. Students also need to show how their own experience, success, goals, and background will help them thrive at the college as well as benefit the program. International students should not try to “Americanize” or “mainstream” their applications. Schools want diversity and the student should emphasize diversity. The goal is to stand out and to get the admission officer’s attention, not to appear to be like all the other applicants. In addition, the personal statement may cause problems for nonnative English-speaking students, but IECs should be careful not to over-edit the essays so that they remain in the applicant’s own voice.

Getting scholarships. Searching for scholarships can be a daunting process for international students. For top students, there may be aid through fellowships and assistantships, but those aren’t available to everyone and don’t cover all expenses. Some countries provide assistance to students for international study. Encourage students to investigate those options but to also research them fully because some of those require students to return home upon graduation.

Meeting deadlines. About a quarter of our company’s clients live internationally, and because our IECs don’t meet with the student in-person, it’s sometimes more difficult to get our international students to adhere to deadlines. Creating schedules and setting your own deadlines that are well ahead of the real deadlines are very beneficial in keeping students on track. It’s important to emphasize to students that deadlines for applications, financial aid, scholarships, deposits, and other parts of the process are not flexible and if a student misses a deadline, that can mean a missed opportunity. Natural disasters, power outages, and other unfortunate events occur, and admission officers don’t usually accept those excuses for missed deadlines either.

By helping international students navigate the graduate school admissions process, an IEC can help the student avoid frustration and secure the best opportunities to succeed.

Mandee Adler, International College Counselors, can be reached at [email protected].