SSIS College Spotlight: For International Students


SSIS College Spotlight: For International Students
volume 3, issue 1. Fall 2016
Dear International Students and Families,
The American college experience is unlike any other. Colleges are independent or part of a university. They are public or private, liberal arts or pre-professional, 2 year or 4 year, and can have either secular or religious foundations. There is no uniform placement process, admission requirements vary, college rankings diverge considerably, and every college offers unique opportunities for majors, research, internships, travel, and community involvement. Every college seeks students who are a good fit, likely to graduate in 4-years happy and ready for the world. This Spotlight focuses on the English Language requirements and application processes unique to international students.
All colleges require a lot of reading, listening, and writing in English. Math and engineering programs demand high language skills too. Students are expected to be able to absorb and communicate in English at a high level, fluently and quickly. Below, please find college information unique to the needs of international students.
As always, feel free to make use of the SSIS College Counseling office and me! I am available to you by e-mail and appointment during Flex and after school.
Best always,
Your College Counselor


Colleges want to graduate successful, happy students in four years. Every college applicant, no matter where they come from, needs to demonstrate proficiency in academic English.
International students, just like Americans, can show proficiency with SAT/ACT critical reading and writing test scores. International students may also have to pass the TOEFL exam, ideally with a score greater than 95. No 4-year college will accept an international student with a TOEFL score below 79.
Conditional Enrollment 
With  a TOEFL score of 65, even a 61, a student may have the option to take a semester or two of intensive English classes and pass a test before continuing on with regular classes at the college. 
Concurrent Enrollment
A few colleges will allow students with scores below their TOEFL entry requirement to take a few regular classes alongside their Intensive English classes. These students also will have to pass an English proficiency test before they are fully enrolled in regular classes.
There are many excellent schools that will accept a student for regular 4-year enrollment with a TOEFL of 80—if the student also has B or better grades in regular high school courses.
TOEFL Sub-Scores
Colleges often insist that no TOEFL sub-score (listening, reading, and writing) is below a certain level—this can be anywhere from 14 to 22.
Very Selective Liberal Arts Colleges
Harvard, Bates, UCLA and the rest expect international students to have very high TOEFL scores—above 100, preferably closer to 120—as well as high SAT/ACT scores. 
In the United States, colleges want students who are “the right fit.” This means students have to do their part to figure out which of 2500 colleges best fit their interests and needs. Please review the chart above.
Notice the graphic above. Three categories dominate the admissions process: academic record, test scores, and extracurricular activities. In the US, it is possible that a student with perfect test scores, but not much else, might not be accepted at Yale or the University of Washington. Why? Because colleges are interested in putting together a strong class of students that represent a variety of interests and backgrounds.
Colleges look to create a happy and engaged student community in and out of the classroom. Exposure to a diversity of experience and opinion helps students think deeply, learn more, and develop leadership skills, including collaboration skills. These are the skills for a globalized workplace.
How do college admissions officers learn about students’ lives and whether they are a good fit for the college? They look at a student’s whole history—grades, classes, tests, and extracurricular activities at or after school over the four years of high school. The student essay, teacher recommendations, counselor’s report, and college interview complete a student’s application.
You can discover more about the college search process and other college details in other Spotlight issues. I hope this issue clarifies the role of TOEFL as well as non-academic activities in an international student’s college application.
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One Response to SSIS College Spotlight: For International Students

  1. Jun says:

    Hi Caroline, thank you for the post. I think it’s very well done and explains how important it is to look at the whole picture instead of just TOEFL scores. That’s such a critical message and I can’t wait to share it with our international students.

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