6 Common Mistakes International Students Make During the College Admissions Process

International Students

As an admissions advisor and educational consultant for over 20 years, I have seen more and more international students who are enrolled in their local high schools or U.S. boarding schools applying to U.S. colleges.  Year after year, I have observed common mistakes that they make during the college admissions process that cause their applications to be rejected.

  1. Not doing research:  Most international students know a little about a few universities and not much more. They haven’t researched key things like academic programs and financial aid. They haven’t considered the accessibility, weather or cost of living in the city where they’ll be living.
  2. Not asking questions: Many international students don’t ask questions.  To many it’s not culturally appropriate. By not asking questions they may obtain misinformation and be misguided during the admissions process. 
  3. Not planning ahead: Most international students expect U.S. college admissions to be very streamlined and the same at each university.  In reality, every university has a different process and schedule.  International students need to develop a timeline and checklist and plan ahead accordingly.
  4. Not understanding the Common Application:  The Common Application is a way which schools assess students and select students.  Many international students misunderstand the complexity and nuances of the Common Application and make egregious and irrevocable mistakes on the Common Application which inevitably result in rejections.
  5. Not Marketing Themselves:  The competitive college admissions process is about developing and marketing your personal brand not just about your A-levels, TOEFL scores, or SAT scores.  Many international students view college admissions selection process quantitatively not qualitatively.  They need to understand the American schools’ expectations during the selection process. They need to share their accomplishments and achievements in a meaningful and compelling way to schools through the Common App.
  6. Depending solely on educational agents:  While educational agents in their countries are resources for international students, many agents in their countries do not constantly travel to U.S. colleges and universities to know, in real-time, the changes in each university admissions policies.  For example, Harvard’s admissions policy and mission is different from Yale, Princeton, Brown, MIT, Columbia, etc.


Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director and lead admissions expert at Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group.  Dr. Lowe specializes in providing exclusive concierge-type admissions advisory services for U.S. and international families and students who are interested in applying to Ivy League and highly selective colleges and combined BS/MD programs.  Dr. Lowe also helps students gain admissions into their top choice private schools and colleges after they have been deferred, wait-listed and rejected.

As an experienced and trusted admissions advisor for over 20 years, Dr. Paul R. Lowe is an active member of the following organizations that uphold the ethical and professional standards and principles of good admission practices in college and independent school counseling: Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling (NJACAC), New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling (NYSACAC) and International Association for College Admissions Counseling (IACAC).