6 June 2022
5  min.

Getting into U.S. colleges and universities takes a lot of learning and hard work. There is a long way to go, during the course of which you will experience different moments of life: facing obstacles and finding solutions to problems, enjoying interesting meetings and a feeling of disappointment in some results, experiencing victorious moments and perhaps the bitterness of temporary retreats and mistakes. Many factors define those components that will be more or less predominant on your way to your final destination. In order to tip the balance towards a more favorable outcome by helping to overcome shortcomings, we want to share with you information about five mistakes that applicants commonly make. For this purpose, I have reached out to five students who have finished the application process who have given an example of one mistake they have committed in last year, as well as advice on such mistakes can be avoided.


Late Start in Application Process

Sofia, Moscow, freshman at Northwestern University, IL, journalism:

“I started the application process just four months before the expected date of sending the package of documents to U.S. schools. As a result, I had to do everything in a very short time. I wrote an essay, asked for letters of recommendation, filled out application forms, prepared and passed the exams in a terrible hurry, and experienced a lot of stress as a result. Despite these challenges, I still did get into my dream university. An outstanding student profile that I built up in high school undoubtedly played a decisive role in my success, and, to some extent, compensated for the lack of time, but I really risked be late submitting my application package. Even the strongest student needs time to complete everything in a proper way and showcase his/her strengths to the commission in the best possible way. I think it is unwise to put yourself under such stress, considering that all of it could have been planned far in advance.”

The application process takes time, and strategic planning is very important. We advise high school students to start the process no later than one year before the deadline, which usually takes place in the middle of eleventh grade in high school. It is also obvious that learning English, demonstrating strong academic knowledge, participating in school life, and being involved in other areas of activity is necessary throughout high school, especially in senior year.


Choosing Only High-Tier Schools

Sofia, Odintsovo, freshman at Marietta College, OH, biology:

In the first step of the application process, I made a mistake when choosing universities and colleges for admission. I made a list of nine schools, which consisted mostly of elite, well-known universities. There is nothing wrong with applying to world-famous schools, but is not good when your school list is not balanced and does not include middle range and safety schools. For this reason, the application attempt ended in failure for me. The next year, I changed my strategy and tactics. Firstly, I stopped focusing only on well-known brands, realizing that many universities still offer excellent programs in my specialty (chemistry and biology). Secondly, I spent more time for looking through the websites of my universities of choice. Finally, I increased my school list to 18 names, having diversified the list in general and sub-divided it into three categories. As a result, I was accepted into my safety school – Marietta College – which provided me with sufficient financial assistance.

Yes, it’s no secret that many applicants initially are obsessed with getting into Ivy League schools. Our advice is to focus on finding schools that are good for you, that are a “best fit” for you. We know this is not an easy task as it requires a great deal of preference analysis and research from the applicant. But this work is definitely worth doing! One who does self-awareness work, sets guidelines, determines selection criteria, uses search engines and takes the time to carefully study the information about each selected university will be rewarded in the end with a list that reflects preferences, goals, and priorities.


Misunderstanding U.S. College and University Financial Aid Policies

Ivan, Sochi, Freshman at Oberlin, OH, business:

“I needed full financial assistance and expected to get it from the colleges and universities I had applied to. I spent a lot time researching the schools that offered scholarships in my planned major. Theinitial mistake was misunderstanding financial aid policy in terms of how it applies to international students. At first, when I went to the websites of universities and saw information about full funding, I thought that it applied to all students. Later, I realized that many universities distinguish between funding for American and international students, and began to look for opportunities for the group I belong in. I also remember that at the very beginning, I focused too much time on choosing public universities because they seemed less expensive than private ones. Later, I learned that private schools are more expensive, but they also are more generous to foreigners in terms of providing scholarships and grants.

Indeed, the financial aid policy varies from school to school, and there are differences in terms of the size of international student financial aid packages and the manner of filling out financial aid application forms. Funding for foreigners is very limited and competitive, but there are still a number of HEIs that provide a full ride to strong candidates from other countries.


Unnecessary Pre-Departure Anxiety: Focusing on the Wrong Priorities

Lilia, Junior at Champlain University, VT, game design:

When I started packing for the US, I suddenly panicked. My head was full of questions such as: what clothes to take, where the laundry room is, how I will find my classes, how to make friends, and how will my roommate will treat me. I drove myself into a frenzy, which distracted from my main objectives. I spent so much time on nonsense that I didn’t have time to talk to my parents about my expenses for the first semester, the curriculum and, in the end, made pre-departure much harder than it needed to be. When I came to the classes, it turned out that all my fears had been in vain; I easily coped with daily student life and I was quick to make friends with my dorm neighbors. The moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Think positive and you will succeed!

We encourage all students to attend pre-departure at their respective EducationUSA Centers. These sessions will give them some tips on how to adapt to the new culture, as well as prevent common mistakes that international students can make. There is a chance that they will meet people who go to the same schools.


Overloading Class Credits During the First Semester

Dmitry, Ufa, Senior at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, IN, engineering:

When I started studying at the university, it took me some time to understand how the system of credits and courses works here. I knew that it would good for me to take approximately 5 courses to earn 15 credits. When I began to register for courses, it turned out that some of them were already full. I had to take what was left of my subjects, but I still managed to register for the number of courses that I had planned for myself. When I began to actually take classes, I realized that I overestimated my capabilities, because the courses turned out to be more difficult in terms of their content and in the huge amount of homework given, I had to do to work extremely hard to prepare for them in order to successfully complete the requirements. I would advise all first-year students to read the course descriptions carefully and not to take too many courses in the first semester.

The first semester is very special for all students and especially for international students. This is a time to adapt to a new life, culture, country and you don’t need to take too many academic subjects so that the first half of the year goes more smoothly and is not overly stressful.


Start your journey to gain admission to U.S. colleges and universities with EducationUSA Russia — an official and reliable source of information on U.S. higher education.
Here are simple steps to take:
Register at the EducationUSA Russia website, fill out your profile and check off the activities you would like to attend
Start the self-paced online 120 Credits program for undergraduate students
Learn more
Attend an individual consultation after seven days upon successful program completion with a designated adviser to develop a personal strategic plan to apply to U.S. colleges and universities

Please keep an eye out on our calendar for upcoming events and learn more about all EducationUSA Russia programs for high school and university students, parents, and professionals.

Contact us at adviser@educationusarussia.org if you have any questions on the topic discussed today or any other higher education opportunities in the U.S.

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