Challenges for International/Latin American Students

The United States receives the most international students applicants in the world, enrolling students from all over the world. It is no surprise, then, to see that the number of Latin American students applying to US colleges has increased in recent years. Even though American universities see the need to improve their outreach within the region, the difficulties of applying to universities abroad remain for Latin American students. The admissions process for international students has many components and requirements that call for careful consideration and planning.

International and Latin American students face additional challenges. 

The US college admissions process for international students is more involved. Besides the unfamiliarity of the process, international students must handle more requirements with fewer opportunities for financial assistance.

1. International students have more requirements.

On top of the difficulty of junior and senior year coursework and whatever standardized tests are needed for admissions at home, international students will likely need to take the ACT or SAT to apply to American universities. International students whose first language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). While not every school requires a proficiency exam, the many that do have varying required and recommended scores. This is another factor international students have to look out for in their college search. 

Admissions officers also need to be able to understand how international students’ transcript compares to students in the US. For this reason, international students may also need credential evaluation services. Many colleges have their own system for evaluating international transcripts. Others will require students to seek a third-party service. Which services are allowed varies between institutions. International students will need to take credential evaluation policy into account as well.

2. Most international students are not applying in their first language.

Applying for schools both home and abroad and working with two admissions processes is time-consuming and convoluted. Native English speakers know that there is much to learn in developing the proper voice and tone for admissions essays. Students with less proficiency and exposure to English may not have the experience to evaluate their essay writing in these terms. In some Latin American countries, like Mexico, adult English proficiency rates are declining. This challenge might be more prevalent for Latin American students.

American universities may have different expectations for applications than the admissions process at home. For example, applications to institutions in the United Kingdom are reviewed less holistically and more for academic achievement. In countries where post-secondary education rates are lower, students may not have guidance from parents or guardians and are left to figure out US college admissions alone.

3. Legal and immigration issues must be sorted out.

After being accepted into a college, the international students must acquire an F-1 visa that allows for four-year study. This is a multi-stage process. If students want to take a gap year or need more than four years to graduate, things could get more complicated.

4. Financial assistance is less streamlined.

International students are not eligible for federal financial aid, and so completing the FAFSA will not offer any financial benefit. Financial aid for international students must come from scholarships, loans, or universities. While some schools are very generous with the aid provided to international students, other universities are quite the opposite and offer little to no financial assistance to international students. Most US scholarships restrict their applicant pool to residents, so international students often seek out more competitive scholarships made exclusively for them. Lower-income students living outside the US will find their options for American colleges limited.