The international students we work with frequently come to us with rumors of how much harder it is for them to get into college than it is for their domestic counterparts. For that we reason, we undertook a research project using existing data and found that on average, admission rates at top US universities are 2–3x lower for international students than for domestic, depending on the type of school.
Our numbers are based on very limited data and are far from perfect. Rather, they can be used as a rough estimate to get a better idea of what you as an international student are up against.
To clarify, an international student is a foreign-born student who does not have a US passport or citizenship. If you have a US passport, you count as a domestic student, even if you grew up in a foreign country. However, be aware that some of the challenges that face international students may still exist for domestic students who were raised abroad. If you’re a foreign citizen and you go to school in the US, you still count as an international student.
Below, you’ll find a table with modifiers that explain how much harder it as based on each different category of school (depending on how they handle international financial aid). For example, at MIT is 3x harder for international students than domestic. At Cornell, it’s an estimated 2.5x.
Here is what this looks like in terms of the projected acceptance rates at some schools:
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from these findings that we have been passing on to our students:
Know your family’s financial situation. If there are any doubts about your family’s ability to fully finance your college education as an international student, focus your application on schools that meet full need, whether need-blind or need-aware, and consider top Canadian universities like McGill or Toronto, which are cheaper. If you know that you will need aid, factor that in to your calculations when applying to need-aware schools and know that you could be rejected because of your family’s inability to pay.