US College for Dual Citizen from Finland?

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Question: Hi, I’m a dual citizen from Finland and the US. I’m planning on studying my whole degree in the US and I’m having trouble finding information about applying to universities with my situation. Any help would be appreciated. I have signed up for an SAT test in my country and I’m doing the test in the start of May. My boyfriend is from America and I’m planning on moving in with him after graduating in June and having a gap year looking for scholarships in the mean time while working.

 So the main question I have is where do I start? Am I eligible for applying for scholarships meant for US students? What do I put to the part where they ask for my GPA? In my country GPA is reported 4 to 10 (4 being the worst, 10 the best).

Being an American citizen but living in Finland might give you a “best of both worlds” situation when aiming for US colleges.  If you are applying for financial aid, your US citizenship will make a huge difference since you will be eligible for US Federal grants and loans. When colleges provide aid to non-citizens, they must use only their own resources and don’t have access to government funds. So, as a result, the colleges set the bar extremely high for non-citizens, meaning that international applicants must typically be far stronger than their American counterparts in order to be admitted. But, as a US citizen, you will not only be eligible for Federal aid but also won’t be subject to international-candidate admission standards. Of course, the most selective US colleges and universities are extremely competitive for everyone. But the majority of US schools give a break to American citizens that foreigners don’t get. It should work to your advantage that you are Finnish, too, because Finland is not “over-represented” in US college applicant pools, so this half of you could help you to stand out among similarly qualified candidates.

When it comes time to actually apply to colleges, you will be able to indicate your dual citizenship on your application. You will also be able to enter your GPA on the 10-point scale. I’ll write more about that in a minute. Many colleges will ask you to follow the instructions for international applicants because you were educated in Finland. But some will not. For instance, if you are viewed as an international applicant, you may have to submit a TOEFL score to prove your proficiency in English. But if you have been speaking English all your life, you can probably get permission to bypass the test … even if your language of instruction in high school is Finnish.

Only rarely do college Web sites provide specific application information for dual citizens like you. Thus, the only way to know which colleges will expect you to adhere to all “International Student” instructions will be to write to each college on your list, once you’ve developed it. While this may be a minor hassle, it’s ultimately a good plan because it will not only provide you with the answers you need without guesswork, but also it will allow you to establish an email “relationship” with an admission official, which could be helpful later on.  Most college admission offices assign a staff representative to oversee applicants from high schools outside of the U.S. (Some colleges assign several staff members to international duties, which means you would have to find who works with applicants from Finland.)  Commonly the international rep information is right on the college Web site, but you may have to phone or email admission offices to ask, if you can’t locate the name and contact information easily.

When it comes to getting scholarships, you’ll probably discover that the best ones come from the colleges themselves. Some colleges award financial aid based only on “need,” which is determined by your family’s income and assets. You and your parents would fill out the FAFSA form (and, in many cases, a CSS PROFILE form) that will determine how much need-based aid you might receive. Many colleges also award “merit aid” which is usually not based on need. Colleges use merit scholarships to entice strong students (or athletes, artists, etc.) to apply and enroll. Often, the merit scholarships that come from colleges do not require separate applications, although the largest ones usually do. Once you have created a college list, you will need to read Web sites carefully to see if your schools offer merit aid and, if so, what you would need to do to try to get it. Typically, the best way to land merit money is to apply to colleges where your GPA and your SAT scores put you above the accepted-student medians. You can find most of the medians on the College Board Web site at https://www.collegeboard.org/  (Use the Search option in the upper right hand corner to find colleges that interest you and then choose “Applying” from the left-hand menu to find medians.)

As I noted above, as a US citizen you will be eligible for scholarships that international students wouldn’t get, so that’s good news.  Although the best scholarship money usually comes right from colleges, once you have your SAT scores you can fill out the questionnaire on www.fastweb.com that will help you locate “Outside scholarships” for which you might be eligible. Each of these will require an application, with some of the applications more cumbersome and annoying than others. If the scholarship application requests your GPA, you can try using an online calculator like this one to do a conversion: https://www.foreigncredits.com/Resources/GPA-Calculator/Finland

As I also noted above, your college applications will ask you for your Finnish GPA, and—at least in theory—the staff member who oversees international applicants will be able to understand how it can be translated to a US equivalent.  Most American high schools also send a “School Profile” to admission offices along with each applicant’s transcript. The school profile provides an overview of the curriculum (e.g., which classes are required, which honors courses are offered; what the median GPA is; how the grading scale works … ). The school profile might also include school demographics such as the socioeconomic background of students, the percentage who attend university, etc.   If your school in Finland doesn’t have a document like this available to go to your US colleges, you should feel free to prepare one on your own, if you think it will help your US colleges to interpret your educational experience.

So where do you start? Because you do not attend a US high school, you may find it valuable to seek paid professional assistance as you compile your college list. And for this, I recommend a “Stats Evaluation” from College Karma, although you should definitely wait until you have your SAT scores before you order it.

The Stats Evaluation costs $150, and you should find that your money is well spent. Once you place your order, you will receive a form to complete and return. Within a week of returning that form, you will receive an assessment of your admission chances at any colleges you are already considering (which you listed on the form) along with specific tips on how to improve your chances, where possible.  You will also receive a list of other colleges to consider that fit your profile and preferences.

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: College Karma is a consulting firm that I founded with my College Confidential partner, Dave Berry, in 2008. However, I am no longer involved with the Stats Evaluations. Instead, yours will be done by Ann Playe—former associate director of admission and financial aid at Smith College. Ann is an expert at evaluating admission chances and at recommending colleges to students who aren’t sure where to apply or who have specific needs (such as financial aid and scholarships).

To order the Eval, go to: https://www.collegekarma.com/college_counseling/college_counseling.htm

Then scroll down until you see “Stats Eval” near the top of the page and click on “Order.”

Ordinarily “The Dean” does not respond to queries by recommending a paid service but, in your case, I really think that this is the smart route to take, since you live far from the US and from the typical college-application “buzz” that helps many teenagers identify the schools they might want to attend.

Because you’re taking a gap year, there’s no rush to order the Stats Eval.  You may even want to wait until you’ve moved in with your boyfriend and have started working in the US because this might give you a stronger sense of where you want to be once you begin college.

Whatever you decide, you should rest assured that, although the US college selection and application process is confusing (unnecessarily so, in my opinion!), it’s not a lot more complicated for you than it would be for a student without dual nationalities, and you should even find that your uncommon background is a plus. 🙂

(posted 1/16/2018)