Highlight These Factors in Global University Applications

WHEN PHILIPPINES national Sevi Reyes applied to 15 global universities in Australia, Canada, the U.S. and the Philippines, he made sure to highlight his volunteer work, language abilities and high school academic program.

“I was concerned back then about standing out from the crowd,” says Reyes, who now attends New York University Shanghai.

Experts say prospective international students should present a strong application to global universities to demonstrate their international perspective and preparation to study in another country. In application essays and supplements, students can emphasize soft factors beyond grades and test scores – such as extracurricular activities, language skills and foreign travel experience – to expand their overall profile.

Martha Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest University, says the school values international applicants “who seek and appreciate experiences beyond their own comfort zone and community.”

Here are three aspects prospective international students can highlight in their applications to demonstrate their global aptitude.

• Internationally focused extracurricular activities: One way prospective international students can demonstrate their readiness to study overseas is to highlight their participation in everything from international organizations to competitions and explain how these experiences have shaped them as individuals.

“We value applicants who have sought opportunities to learn about the world through international service, exchange programs and academic experience,” says Allman.

Malaysian Hong Wei Tan, a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says he applied to four universities and also sent a cover letter and resume to further demonstrate who he was. His resume highlighted his involvement in a young entrepreneur program and the Leo Club Program, a youth division of Lions Club International, a global service club organization.

At the National University of Singapore, students are admitted “primarily on their academic and co-curricular achievements,” said R. Rajaram, senior director of the office of admissions, via email. For example, he said achievements in International Olympiads or sustained work in social enterprises “will certainly give advantage to applicants.”

Strong language skills: Prospective international students should also plan to call out any foreign language skills they have, including in a school’s native language, since it shows interest in and a dedication to learning about other cultures. Students can also mention additional language or tutoring courses, such as massive open online courses, commonly called MOOCs, they have taken in a foreign language.

For those applicants with language skills, Rajaram said his university “considers the context of how these students enrich the class learning environment and add value to the student community.”

In his application, Tan highlighted Chinese, English, Malay, Cantonese and Hokkien, along with his Interagency Language Roundtable scale for each language, which denotes skill level. He also noted that he was president of the Toastmasters club and earned achievements in public speaking competitions.

“I was proud to include the wide range of languages that we speak in Malaysia, which are extremely practical when we travel abroad,” says Tan.

Katie Korhonen, director of admissions for NYU Shanghai, says the admissions committee is “particularly impressed” if students have started Chinese language study in high school, since the program is in China and studying the language is an integral part of the liberal arts core curriculum for non-Chinese students. She says the university finds that students with “previous instruction in or connection to Chinese language or culture tend to be strong matches” for the school.

Tim Rogers, vice president and director of enrollment management at the American University of Paris, said via email that “any demonstration of international literacy is welcomed” and that 25 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen had fluency in three or more languages.

International travel experience: Prospective international students should likewise plan to emphasize any international travel or time living in another country to show their adaptability and openness to new cultures. Examples may include attending a high school semester abroad program or spending a gap year traveling.

While travel isn’t required to apply to a global university, prospective students who have visited other countries should detail how these experiences have shaped them as individuals.

For example, David Stevens, University College London’s director of student recruitment marketing, said via email that if a student has spent a gap year in another country, this can be relevant “as long as you can demonstrate that you have done something constructive with your gap, whether volunteering or getting relevant work experience.”

He said the university is interested in how that travel has “informed an applicant’s character, suitability and their desire to study that particular subject.”

Samantha de Leon, associate director of international enrollment at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says international travel “helps us know that the students have experience with travel and new cultures and that perhaps their transition to life in the U.S. might be easier.”

NYU Shanghai student Reyes says students shouldn’t wait until a year or two before the college application process to take on leadership roles, volunteer or achieve academic excellence.

He advises, “Gradually build your identity as an international applicant over a long period of time.”

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