Wednesday, February 19, 2014

[ADMISSIONS EXPERT] Ms. Mary Kreta – What U.S. Admissions Officers Look for in International Students

WES Student Advisor: Mary, studying abroad in the U.S. can be a big commitment. What are some advantages for international students to study science and engineering in the U.S.?

The United States offers students well-respected degrees that are accepted and recognized all over the world. As a graduate of an American university, you can feel confident that employers worldwide will identify the quality of your education and degree. This quality is maintained through the regional accreditation process, which ensures American universities maintain a minimum standard of quality. This is a contributing factor to why degrees from an American university are so well respected.

The U.S. is also the world’s largest economy in a country that has diverse cultures and a large variety of climates and landscapes. With over four thousand colleges and universities to choose from, you’ll be able to find the college you’re looking for.

WES Student Advisor: What are admissions officers looking for in international students applying to science and engineering programs? What character qualities should students emphasize?

Admissions officers are looking for a solid academic background. They identify this through the grades listed on your transcript, SAT or ACT test scores, and TOEFL or IELTS test scores. Some schools also look at your interests and activities outside of class.

Look at the application requirements of the schools you’re interested in to determine what qualities you should emphasize. Some schools will only require your transcripts and test scores and have a basic application. Others will require you to fill out application essays in addition to the application itself and required documents. You can infer what they are looking for in an applicant based on the questions they ask. Do they want to know what volunteer work you have done? If so, they may place a high value on students committed to social justice or service learning. The bottom line, though, is to emphasize your strengths. What makes you stand apart as a student and as a person? Make sure that is clear in your application.

WES Student Advisor: What are some common mistakes that you see in college applications and how can international students avoid making these same mistakes?

The most common mistake I see is that students do not start the process early enough. Most deadlines are not flexible, so it is important to calculate how much time it will take to complete each section of the application process. For example, if you need to take the TOEFL test, you need to register for the test, take it, and have the results sent to the university before the deadline. You don’t want the only reason you didn’t get accepted to the university to be because you did not give yourself enough time.

Also, make sure to stay organized. Each university you apply to will probably have different required application documents, as well as different deadlines. Make sure you keep all of the information separate so you give yourself the best chance of acceptance.

WES Student Advisor: If students are hoping to gain work experience in the U.S. while studying, what options are available and how should they start searching?

There are two primary ways to gain work experience in the US while an international student. The first is through Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is a visa extension offered after a student graduates from an American university and lasts 12-29 months. Students who graduate in a STEM field are eligible for a 17 month extension. Another option is Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and is completed before a student graduates from university. It is often done in conjunction with courses. The work can be full-time or part-time.

If you’re interested in participating in one of these programs, start investigating the opportunities when you arrive on campus. Talk with your university’s Career Services department, as well as the International Programs office. Faculty that have connections with the industry you’re interested in working in are also great resources for learning about opportunities and making connections. Take advantages of opportunities to network with alumni and the community.

WES Student Advisor: Thank you so much for your advice. Do you have any last words of advice for our students?

My final word of advice is to do your research and find the school that is the best fit for you. I encourage you to reach out to the universities themselves and connect with admissions staff, faculty, alumni, and student ambassadors. This is a complicated process and an important decision – you’re not in it alone. We’re all here to help.


Mary Kreta is Director of Recruitment in the Office of Admissions and the Registrar at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Prior to this, she held several positions in Admissions and was an adjunct writing instructor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a master’s degree in English from Portland State University.

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