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Suniti's Advice Corner

Advice from a Parent: Helping the Expat Student Navigate the College Selection and Application Process

Posted by Suniti Mathur on Wed, Apr 08, 2015


We are very excited about this blog post. While most of our entries are advice from our perspective here at TestRocker, this one is truly unique. Alison Cuozzo, a parent of one of our students, shares seven useful tips for students and parents living outside the United States during the college application process.


While students studying abroad follow a similar routine in the college selection and application process as their US counterparts, there are a few adjustments that need to be made for the international student. Following is a list of tips for successful planning:

  1. Know your SAT/ACT test-dates

    While all international applicants take the SAT and/or ACT on the same dates as in the States, not all test dates are offered overseas. It is important to look at the CollegeBoard website and identify which SAT test dates are offered in your host country. Likewise, the ACT test dates should be investigated well in advance.

  2. Plan ahead for college visits

    Living abroad limits students’ abilities to visit colleges throughout the school year. Therefore, it is important to plan summer college visits as early as possible to maximize your time in the States. The timetable that worked best for our daughter in 11th grade was to take her first SAT in January, thus allowing her to retake the test in May if necessary, and still getting her scores back before going on college tours. While standardized tests are only one component of an application, there is no point in spending half of the summer and a lot of money travelling to schools where your test scores are well below the average of accepted students at that school. Additionally, June is an ideal time to take any of the SAT subject tests since they will have completed most of the coursework by that time (and possibly have taken the AP exams in May).

  3. Prepare in advance for standardized tests

    To prepare for the January exam, our daughter started with TestRocker during the summer before the 11th grade. This allowed her plenty of time to learn any content that she was lacking for the exam. After completing the program and finishing the sample tests on the program, she practiced taking written SAT exams over her winter break. While the mastering the content is the most crucial component of doing well on the SAT or ACT, it is really beneficial to practice physically writing the exam using the College Board’s book of practice SATs (or ACT) and timing oneself. Taking two or three practice exams will help prepare you for the pace at which you will have to answer all questions in each section.

  4. Make your college essay meaningful!

    Choose your Common Application topic wisely so that it separates you from all of the other applicants your admissions officer is reviewing. It is often tempting to want to write about your experience as an expat, or a meaningful service trip you have participated in Cambodia, etc. Remember, the admissions officer that reviews your application ONLY reviews international students. There are probably thousands of essays written from students in international schools about overcoming culture shock, being a third culture kid, performing service in a third world country, or being a global citizen. While these are all meaningful topics, they are also very common in the international applicant pool.

  5. Complete your Common Application beginning 12th grade
    Finish the Common Application essay over the summer prior to the start of 12th grade! By the time the students enter 12th grade, they often feel they have finished the hardest part of taking multiple standardized tests and ensuring good grades through the 11th grade. However, the course load during senior year is usually very rigorous with multiple AP or upper level classes. Additionally, many seniors hold leadership positions in many clubs, play a varsity sport, play in advanced band, or any number of time intensive activities. It is very challenging to maintain heavy involvement in numerous extra curricular activities, focus on high academic achievement, write several supplemental essays, and complete college applications. Since the Common Application essay will be sent to most schools, this needs to be written really well which often includes multiple drafts and rewrites. Students should at least complete this essay over the summer because many or most colleges require additional supplemental essays that will demand a lot of time during first semester of senior year.

  6. Take notes during college visits

    During the summer college visits, make sure to write down notes immediately after visiting each school. They often will run together in your mind after you spend three weeks listening to numerous college talks. Most supplemental essays required for each school will ask why you are interested in that particular school. The notes taken during your college tours will help personalize why that particular college interests you beyond what can be researched online.

  7. Submit your applications well in advance

    While most college applications are not due for the “regular decision” round until January 1st, try to submit them earlier in December to increase the likelihood of an alumni interview. Living so far from the States poses a challenge with interviews. There are a few colleges which a student can request an interview during the summer before applying. Most, however, do not and getting an interview often depends on how many active alumni from that particular school are in your area. Do NOT panic if you are not offered an interview. Colleges understand international students are at a disadvantage for having an interview and will not hold it against them.


About Alison

Ali-pictureAlison Cuozzo moved to Singapore six years ago with her husband and three children who are currently in 12th, 10th and 8th grades at an American international school. Having lived in four countries, Alison’s family most recently moved from Fairfax, VA where she was highly involved in the PTA at her children’s public school. In Singapore, Alison volunteers as a coordinator for a speaker series that hosts experts from around the world who address important and timely topics on parenting, child development and family life. Last year, the organizers introduced “tech talks” specifically to tackle issues regarding the rapidly changing role of technology in students’ lives. Alison received a B.A. in psychology from UNC Chapel Hill and a masters degree in social policy and administration from University of Chicago.


You might also like:

6 Things to Consider When Applying to US Colleges as an International Student

10 Steps to College Acceptance in the US

An International Student Guide to Admissions in the US

Tags: For Students, For Parents

About Suniti

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Suniti is the creator of TestRocker, an online learning platform that helps you unlock your dream SAT and ACT scores. TestRocker is based on Suniti’s highly successful and proven method of teaching students how to maximize their SAT and ACT scores, a method she has perfected through tutoring thousands of students globally for more than a decade. 

TestRocker is a one of a kind online SAT/ACT program that empowers students to take control of their test preparation. After taking our diagnostic test a customized study plan, individualized to students' strengths/weaknesses, allows them to track progress as they work through the program. Each of the 1,200 SAT & 2000 ACT questions on TestRocker are accompanied by video explanations from Suniti. Parents are able to track their child’s progress through biweekly reports.

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