What Are International School Counsellors’ Views on the US Application Process?

How do international schools worldwide rate the US applications process? And how do these perceptions vary regionally? 

Why are applications to the USA from Asia going down? 

Is Brexit the reason why more European students are choosing to apply to US higher ed institutions. 

These are the macro-trends we tend to talk about when we think about the current state of US international applications. 

There’s nothing wrong with this, but such quantitative analysis risks overlooking the more nuanced, localised trends in selected countries, cities - and even at individual international schools. 

As US institutions face increased competition from other international destinations, it will become more important for admissions teams to understand why international students are making the decisions they are. 

These decisions are often informed by a range of cultural, social and personal factors that no quantitative dataset can truly capture. 

The best observers of these anecdotal trends? International school counsellors. 

As part of our most recent US applications report, ‘The State of US International  Applications 2022’, we interviewed a number of BridgeU international school counsellors and asked them for their insights into why their students choose a US higher education and the challenges their students face during the application process. 

Get more insights from international school counsellors

Download our latest State of US Internationa Applications report and get more international school counsellor insights to inform your international student recruitment.

These insights also give the US admissions team a snapshot of the localised needs of international students in key markets. 

 College counsellors’ observations on their students’ US application preferences vary depending on a number of academic, cultural and economic factors. These include: 

  • The school curriculum
  • The students’ academic preferences. 
  • Family and/or cultural ties to the USA. 
  • The perceived affordability of a US higher education. 

We interviewed counsellors from every global region in which we operate, encompassing a broad range of views from across BridgeU's international school community, encompassing 138 countries. Below are some of the key themes that arose in our interviews. 

Financial aid is a deciding factor in students’ decision-making

For many of the counsellors we interviewed, one of the key attractions of a US higher education was the promise and prestige of either a partial, or full-ride scholarship. International schools in regions such as South America and Africa have seen students apply to selected US institutions because of the strength of their scholarship offer. 

 

Spotlight on Saint Andrews International High School, Malawi

For Khethiwe Hove, the strength of US institutions’ financial aid package has been a big draw for her students. 

Saint Andrews International High School (SAINTS), Malawi teaches a UK curriculum adapted to a Malawian context. Students take the IGCSE in years 10 and 11 (grades 9 & 10), before moving on to study A-levels and BTECs in their final two years of school. 

This year, Khethiwe told us that her students received either full ride or partial scholarships from colleges including: 

  • Cornell University ($86 266.00 renewable), 
  • NYU Abu Dhabi (full ride including pocket money and air tickets), 
  • Miami University (full tuition fees) 
  • Florida University ($20,000 part scholarships) and 
  • North Carolina University (full sports scholarship) 

Khethiwe highly rated the levels of communication and support she received from US institutions, as well as the financial aid that colleges are willing to offer international school students. 

US universities are facing increased competition from other countries

Counsellors in schools across Europe and Asia reported that their students are increasingly considering, and applying to, universities in other countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and South Korea. 

Once again, affordability was a factor here. The offer of lower fees or free tuition in other destination countries has proved more attractive to international school students in 2022. 

Counsellors also reported that their students were considering other countries where there was a proliferation of English-language speaking courses (again, Sweden and the Netherlands were notable examples). 

 

Spotlight on American School of Milan

The American School of Milan has experienced a slight dip in applications to the USA this year. Logan Westmoreland, University and High School Counsellor for Grades 11-12, notes that the number of US applicants has dropped from 42 students in 2021, to 39 in 2022. 

Logan told us that COVID-19 is still causing residual uncertainty about the USA as a study destination. Other popular destinations for students at ASM include Italy, UK, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Korea and Japan. 

Logan cites the cost of tuition as a reason more students are considering a wider range of destination countries, telling us that “parents don't want to pay US prices for their child's education”. 

In terms of building relationships with US institutions, Logan rates the quality of communications that she receives from colleges as excellent. It’s been Logan’s experience that the pandemic has forced US institutions to be more creative in terms of how they engage with her students virtually. 

She also credits admissions reps for always being fast and prompt in their responses whenever she emails them with a question. 

The quality of universities’ engagement with schools varies internationally

We asked counsellors to rate the overall quality of the engagement and communications they received from US higher ed institutions. The responses we received varied wildly. 

In some countries, for example Vietnam, counsellors felt that universities could do more to support students in the application process, with more information on things like entry requirements and better communication for students who were waitlisted. 

This contrasts with feedback from our counsellors in South America and East Africa, who praised US admissions offices for being responsive, collaborative and helpful through every step of the application process. 

Spotlight on American School of Milan

Simon Finnigan is the University Guidance Counselor for the British International School, Ho Chi Minh City. This year, Simon reports that 47 out of the 121 students in his 2022 graduating class have applied to an institution in the USA. 

At BIS Ho Chi Minh City, the most popular destination states for students are New York and California. Simon notes that many students will apply to California due to family links in the state. 

In terms of specific institutions, Simon reports that the University of California system attracts a lot of applications from his students, with UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Davis  and UC Berkeley being especially popular. Meanwhile in New York, a lot of students are drawn to NYU and Fordham. 

In the 2022 cycle, Simon told us that he’s noticing an increasing number of his students are being waitlisted by US institutions. 

Simon cautions that some students who are waitlisted too long will often accept an offer from an institution in another country, for example the UK or South Korea. These decisions are often driven by the  uncertainty felt by students who are, naturally, less familiar with the nuances of the US application system. 

Simon predicts that, at BIS Ho Chi Minh City, the increase in waitlisting will lead to more of his students applying by Early Decision and Early Action in the next application cycle. 

Simon’s advice to US institutions for the coming application cycles is to improve transparency and advice about entry requirements for IB students, and to give more clarity over the ‘holistic admissions’ criteria used by the Common App and colleges overall. 

So how do counsellors rate the current US international admissions process?

Our counsellors’ had varying opinions on the quality of information and support that their students received from US admissions offices. 

But there were common themes too. Many of our counsellors felt there could be more tailored guidance for students who were trying to understand the complexities of the US admissions system. 

And counsellors like Simon Finnigan noted that this complexity, coupled with the increased cost of US tuition fees, was sometimes an influencing factor in students choosing to take up a university offer in another country. 

So if US institutions are to grow and diversify their international enrollment in the years to come, it will be crucial for admissions offices to be as transparent and collaborative with international schools and students as possible. 

Counsellors will not respond to colleges that only offer them a one-way, transactional relationship. 

They are more likely to respond to admissions reps who take the time and effort to listen to the needs of their students, and to tailor their recruitment strategies to these students’ academic and personal ambitions. 

If you want to read more examples of our counsellors’ views on the US application trends that they’re witnessing at international schools across the world, then download our free US applications report. 

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