We talk international admissions in America with Sam Skinner, Director of International Admission at the University of Hartford. Sam covers the perfect application journey; differences between undergrad and postgrad admissions; and much more...
Can you give the “perfect timeline” for an international student thinking of applying to the US?
'When I’m speaking with students I recommend that they begin 10-15 months prior to when they actually want to start their university programme. That might sound like a long time but when we speak to students on arrival we ask them how they did their research, the students who feel most confident began in their final year of high school/secondary school or even a little bit before that. What’s important is that the students really develop their own calendar and put items on the calendar for when things are due for universities, when taking the TOEFL or ACT etc.
The thing about starting early is students need to give themselves time to change their mind or to refine what their qualifications are for the right university. And this process can’t be rushed. The refinements come after many conversations with parents, counsellors, admissions people.... and the students who do the best job with this are the students who listen to people; they question people; they do a self-inventory; and they adapt which university really fits them the best over time. So a full 12-15 month calendar is what we recommend.
You can listen to this portion of the interview yourself now, below:
We recommend students apply in October or November to begin in the following September.We do make conditional offers of admission before the student completes their final year of secondary school based on their performance of their previous years. Typically we go out with our decisions 2-4 weeks after an application becomes complete. So if a student ‘becomes complete’ end of October, the student will be notified by the end of November and then they can confirm their deadline up until the deadline of May 1st. So they have those months to continue their research and to talk to students who are currently enrolled or our alumni who are living near them. It’s our job to try and connect them so they can feel comfortable about the decision that they make.
We would be issuing their I-20 immigration documents by February/March so they can begin the process of applying for the F1 student visa in April/May. They can arrive up to 60 days prior to the beginning of school; most students arrive in the last week of August. So that summer period is for booking flights; communicating with their assigned roommates; and taking advantage of whatever social media platforms they can to feel comfortable with the university by the time they arrive.’
Are there any differences between undergraduate and postgraduate application deadlines?
‘The main difference would be that decisions typically take a little bit longer when students are applying for masters and doctorates. The 15 month research period still applies; but from when an application is submitted to when a decision is made and provided to the student, this would be longer. So if the waiting period was 2-4 weeks for an undergrad applicant, it might 4-8 weeks for graduate applicants. So [graduate] applicants have to be a little more patient.
There are more exams that are required at the graduate level which has to be accounted for by students when they’re developing their character.’
Do international students have to take the SAT or ACT?
‘The SAT and ACT are optional exams for undergraduate admission. Students can be admitted (and are very often) on the basis of their secondary school results, pre-university. The SAT can serve to support a student’s application and enhance their candidacy for a scholarship (though a scholarship can be awarded solely on the basis of secondary school results).
The SAT isn’t a required test for the University of Hartford. There are many universities in the US who do require the SAT or ACT of international students. All universities will give you the option of the SAT or ACT. Most state universities will be requiring the SAT, while the rest would make this an optional test.’
Are there any subject-specific tests which international students can expect to take?
‘For the University of Hartford, no. But many universities, particularly the more selective ones, will be requiring SAT subject tests for advanced placement or specific subject tests if the student is doing the International Baccalaureate curriculum.’
What essential documents should international applicants have ready as they prepare to apply?
‘The most essential would be their secondary school results which may include their record in the class, their transcripts and their accumulative reports. This is the document which is considered most important. Students are most often accepted or denied based on that one item. After that, to some institutions, testing is important such as SAT, ACT or subject tests. At the University of Hartford we rely almost entirely on secondary school results. Now letters of recommendation from counsellors and teachers are helpful; they add some depth to the application. What the student says in an essay, while not a requirement for the University of Hartford, is very helpful to learn what has shaped a student’s thinking, whether a voluntary experience, travel, being a member of an athletic team. A letter from a counsellor or a teacher is very helpful in explaining a year where a student hasn’t performed at their best; something may have happened outside the school environment which affected them.’
And what financial documentation does a student have to provide?
‘In order to issue the Form I-20 so the student can apply for the F1 student visa, students are required to present a statement from their parents’ bank, their sponsors’ bank or whoever is paying their fees (often a student will be sponsored by a government scholarship). We need evidence that the entire cost of attendance can be paid. If a student applies without this information they can certainly be considered for admission but we cannot grant the I-20 until we this document. So we recommend that the student provides their academic results and their proof of financial support at the point of application so that ensures that they’re getting their confirmation of admission plus their documents to apply for their student visa [at the same time].’
Approximately how much does a student need to show that they have in their/their parents’/their sponsor’s bank account?
‘The University of Hartford either require a bank statement or a letter that indicates a balance that is equal to or greater to $52,500. If they are privately sponsored through a parent or relative then the dollar figure does have to be indicated. If they are receiving a government scholarship then the actual dollar figure does not have to be indicated.’
What are the mistakes which students make year-on-year in their application?
'Students don’t actually take the time to fully research an institution. They may not take into account things like weather or location. And these really do impact you a great deal. If you’re not used to cold temperatures, that can be difficult. If you’re used to being in a city environment and being able to choose from 15 Vietnamese restaurants; but then you find yourself in a rural area in the United States, it can lead to feelings of isolation and it can really impact the academic experience, so students really need to think place a great deal.
Students also need to think how they fit academically in an institution: can they be admitted? It really doesn’t make much sense to make an application if you really don’t have a great chance. How do they expect to pay their educational fees? Many students come from places where they do not have to pay anything for their university education so they’re not used to that. So that’s something they need to keep in mind.
Not only do they have to pay for this first year; but if it’s a four year degree they need to have a conversation with their parents and ask them: ‘Is $50,000 for 4 years reasonable?’ And if they can’t: ‘How much scholarship will I need to get to make it possible?’They also have to be upfront with admissions officers and say: ‘My budget is $30,000 per year. Is it reasonable for me to believe that I can be considered for scholarship based on my results?’ and they have to be clear about what their results at that point.
Admissions officers don’t like to make a lot of false starts so we will let students know: ‘No, we are not the right place for you; you need to apply to universities which are less expensive.’ Or ‘No, the fit academically is not right; you need to apply to a place to begin to develop an academic record and then transfer to us after you have proven yourself.’
I think students, if they take the time, to speak to our enrolled students and to our alumni, we can help them.’
You can listen to this portion of the interview yourself now, below:
The mistakes in applications are usually just careless errors. Every year we read essays that state the University of Connecticut is their dream school when they’re applying to the University of Hartford. It’s pretty clear that they haven’t had someone else look at their essay. We recommend that for anything they’ve written, they get 4 or 5 other people read it not just for content but also for errors they may have made. Does it really describe them? A question I put to students is: if someone was reading this (who didn’t know you), is this an accurate portrayal of who you are?
In terms of filling out an application [students] just need to take their time.They need to read through things methodically and make sure they’ve read through instructions carefully. There are schools that will deny students who simply do not fill out their applications correctly so students need to be aware of that. If they can’t fill out an application, there are admissions officers who’ll say, ‘We can’t work with students who can’t take the time to do that’, because they’re reading a lot of applications. That’s something a student should always keep in mind: the person on the other end of that application who is reading all day. When you force them to stop and retrace steps because something hasn’t been done correctly, you don’t look well because of that.’
What sorts of questions should international students be asking when they get in touch with you?
'Questions you might want to ask an admissions officer may include: "Who is available to assist me when I’m struggling academically?"; "What is the classroom experience like?"; "Can I speak with a student who is like me (same country, sex, major)?"; "Is there anyone living nearby to me that I can contact for application assistance?"; and "Can you connect me with an alum?"'
Do students need to translate their academic scripts when they send them?
'Yes, if the medium of instruction is NOT English then all academic records must be translated by a third party. Start early to do this. See if the Education USA office near to you provides this service as their fees will probably be less.'
Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience.
When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.