Don’t make these mistakes in your college application

🗣 Host: Veronica Lee — Borderless co-founder & CEO, NYU Abu Dhabi alumni

🗓 Date: October 15, 2022


It’s the peak of the college application season! But before you hit Submit, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes that could very easily destroy an amazing application. Not all advice you find on the internet is applicable to international students.

Mistake #1: Applying to too many universities

Every application requires tremendous time, therefore it’s unrealistic to think that you can prepare 50 high-quality applications. Additionally, it costs money to apply and send SAT scores to every additional university. Fee waivers are available, but not always.

Quality > Quantity. Create a balanced College List of 10-15 universities and put maximum effort into every application. Eventually, you will attend one university only.

Mistake #2: Applying only to top universities

Students applying “only to Ivy Leagues” probably don’t know what they want from their education. It’s highly unlikely that only Harvard would satisfy your requirements for the desired university. If your goals are in-depth knowledge, supportive professors, talented community, full-ride scholarship, and travel opportunities — all of this can be found in hundreds of other schools all over the world.

Don’t limit your options based on prestige. Broaden your search and you will be amazed by the variety of options: NYU in the desert, online university with a new location every semester, or English-based university in South Korea.

Mistake #3: Overplaying the “international” card

Being an international student is hard, but also absolutely awesome — we have an interesting background, unique experiences and we speak more than 1 language. Many universities claim to want diversity, but just having a diverse background is not enough. If you write the whole essay about how hard it was to learn English as a foreigner, it will not do the job of impressing the admissions team.

You need to explain what value you can provide as an international student. Speak three languages? Great! Instead of just stating that fact, talk about how you will facilitate language exchange at the university.

Mistake #4: Not talking with your parents enough

Imagine being accepted to a highly selective university with a scholarship only to have your parents not let you go because it’s too far from home? Or preparing 99.9% of documents but not being able to apply on time because your parents didn’t get their tax statement on time?

It happens. And it sucks.

The solution is very simple — make your parents part of the conversation from the very beginning. Walk them through the process, explain your goals, and urge them to assist you in the document collection.

Mistake #5: Doing too much of everything

International students often feel like they need to prove themselves extra hard, and they do so by accumulating tons of (useless) certificates and participating in every single school club they can find.

Just like in mistake #1, Quality > Quantity. Instead of doing multiple extracurriculars, do 1-2 that show your passion, leadership, commitment, and concrete results. Creating a blog around the topic you care about and running it for 2 years with 10k followers is powerful. Creating 3 TikToks and forgetting about it is not.