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Articles / Applying to College / How Can International Student Convey Accomplishments to Admission Committees?
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 15, 2010

How Can International Student Convey Accomplishments to Admission Committees?

Question: I live in Africa. I am in ninth grade and am currently writing a novel and I am helping out at church and NGO organizations. I have seen poverty, and I am working hard to make my family and country proud. Will I ask someone at school or at an organization to write about what I'm doing when I apply to college in the USA?

Your applications will require you to provide a list of your "extracurricular activities." In addition, the "Common Application" (as well as some others) will ask you to write a brief statement elaborating on one of these activities. Many applications also give you the opportunity to write a full-length essay about a meaningful experience, if you so choose.


If you feel that the space on the application doesn't allow you a chance to completely explain what you're doing, there is an "Additional Information" section on most applications, too, or you can write a supplemental letter to provide more details. Students often submit separate resumes/curriculum vitae to colleges as well to provide more information about their undertakings.

In addition, an administrator from your high school will write a recommendation that will go to all the colleges on your list. For U.S. students, it is almost always the "guidance counselor" who writes these references. In overseas schools, where the system may be different, it could be the head of school or some other school official. This letter gives the school official a place to describe the candidate's strengths and achievements--both in the classroom and beyond.

For most of the U.S. colleges on your list, you will also have to provide a similar letter of reference from one or two of your teachers. So here, too, is a way for colleges to learn more about your talents and accomplishments. Although colleges don't like to receive piles of unsolicited references, it's often appropriate to ask for one or two extra references from adults outside of your school who know you well. So, in your case, a supervisor from the NGO or a leader at your church might want to write on your behalf. Most colleges also permit the submission of "supplementary materials" that the application process does not specifically require. So you can send an excerpt from your novel.

Nonetheless, no matter how much you have excelled outside of class, it will be your grades and course selection and (usually) your standardized test scores (SAT or ACT and TOEFL, if appropriate) that will play the most critical part in your admission outcomes.

I hope I answered your question. Good luck with all of your undertakings and with your college process.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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