A Note of introduction from Admissions Daniel: This entry is the first in a series of guest entries written by my Admissions colleagues. I asked some of my colleagues to compose entries that can assist prospective students as they complete their applications for admission. This first entry is dedicated to international students and is written by Rachel Cowan Jacobs, our resident expert on all things international in our office. Enjoy, and thanks Rachel.
Are you an international student living in the USA? Do you attend a school outside of the USA? If, yes than you should read this!
In our office, there are two ways to define an international student. To reduce confusion, we use two different terms. INTERNATIONAL APPLICANT is defined as someone who is not a US citizen and not a US Permanent Resident (green card holder). In other words, this person needs a visa to be in the United States. An international applicant could be attending high school anywhere in the world.
APPLICANT APPLYING FROM OUTSIDE THE USA is our other term. It applies to any person who goes to school outside of the USA, regardless of that person’s citizenship, immigration status, or the school attended.
Which one are you? If neither, you are welcome to read this blog but it might not have too much relevant information for you in the application process.
The purpose of this blog is to clarify some issues and questions that international applicants and applicants applying from outside the USA often ask me. As the International Admissions Coordinator, I am usually the person who gets these questions, although I do not read every international student application. I have a team who helps me read certain countries; our volume is so great that I would never be able to read all of the international files plus my own domestic territory (NC, SC, GA, AL, FL, USVI, Guam, CNMI) by our internal deadline. So let's answer some of those most frequently asked questions:
I go to a school that doesn’t grade on a US scale. How do you convert my GPA?
Reviewing applications from students who go to non-US curriculum schools is a normal part of our job. We evaluate your transcript based on your school’s curriculum and grading scale. We never convert non-US grades to a US 4.0 scale.
I have attended more than one school outside of the USA. Is that a problem? How do you handle me?
We handle you like everyone else – with care and attention to detail. Your situation is not uncommon. I see lots of applicants who change schools as many as four times in four years of high school. (I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone attend more than four schools in four years – I think I’d remember that poor person.) If the schools you attended offer the same curriculum, there is probably continuity in your coursework, and we can evaluate you over the years easily. If you changed systems, though, we will review each curriculum separately. For example, if you attended an American school for 9-10th grades and a local school teaching the national curriculum for 11-12th, we’ll look at 9-10th as one block and 11-12th as a second block. We won’t try to compute an overall GPA for you. We will also take into account any difficulties you might have experienced making the transition to a new educational system.
I did part of high school in the US and part in another country. Am I at a disadvantage?
You are not at a disadvantage in our applicant pool, although I do recognize that some teens adjust better than others to big changes. Moving to another country in the middle of high school can be a huge transition for some people, and such a move can take a toll on your ability to remain focused in school. Hopefully, you will be able to roll with the punches and jump right into this very exciting time of your life. As much as you might miss people, places, and things back home, they will all be waiting for you when you return for college. So try to make the most of your lucky opportunity to experience a new country, culture, cuisine, climate, and chatter (give me a break, please. “Language” doesn’t start with the letter C.).
I’m an American who lives abroad. Does anyone care about that?
Of course we do! We value any student’s international experience, including the non-American who lives in the USA. As an American living abroad, you have a unique life experience that most of your fellow Americans do not have. We would love to read about how your years abroad (be it one, 18, or somewhere in between) have influenced the person you are and the person you want to become. HINT: writing about this in an essay would be a good idea.
My school does not have a guidance counselor. How do I send a transcript?
Some of you attend schools that do not have an administrative/staff/faculty position of guidance counselor, but there might be someone who has the same role but with a different title. Does your school have a University Counselor or a Careers Counselor? That is the person you want to give your Secondary School Report (SSR) form to. If there’s no one like that in your school, who is the person/office responsible for creating report cards and transcripts? That’s the place to take the SSR. Still no one like that in your school? Then take the SSR to your principal. Even if your principal doesn’t know you that well, the principal can get the transcript issued.
What is a transcript?
A transcript is an official school document that lists all of the classes/courses you have taken during secondary school (the last four years of school are the years we are interested in), the date you took each class, and the grades/marks you have earned in each one. Sometimes transcripts also list the name of the teacher for each class, the ID number for the class, and/or the credit hours or number of hours per week the class meets. All of this information is acceptable for the transcript.
In my country, secondary school lasts 13 years. Can I enter JHU after 12 years in my school?
The most competitive applicant will complete the entire secondary school curriculum over the intended number of years. You could apply in your 12th year but it would be highly unusual for us to admit you. Think about your competition. Your competition is completing secondary school in its entirety, earning the school credential that is required to enter university in their home countries. Your wanting to leave school a year early does not demonstrate a desire to take advantage of ALL of the education available to you. In the end, you’d really just be short-changing yourself. We do not advocate students skipping their 13th year of school.
In my country, I take national exams. Do you want the results?
Yes! Your exam results are a fundamental part of your application, and without them, your application will be incomplete. Your school counselor or official should send an official copy of your results with your school transcript. Given the academic calendar in many countries in the southern hemisphere, some applicants will take their last set of national exams before our application deadline. Please be sure to have your results sent to us as soon as you get them. They are part of your application. For those students who won’t take their last set of exams until after our January 1 deadline, we make an admissions decision based on the exam results you have from previous years, internal school marks, predictions for your upcoming exams, and all of the other parts of the application. Your last set of exam results will probably be available in the May-August time frame. If you will be matriculating at JHU, you are required to send a copy of your results to the Admissions Office as soon as you get them.
Do I have to take TOEFL?
The way to figure this out is to ask yourself these three questions:
1) Is English my first language? (No)
2) Do I live in an English speaking country? (No)
3) Have I attended a school for five years or more where the language of instruction is English? (No)
If the answer to these questions is NO, you are required to take TOEFL. If the answer to question 3 is “Yes, but it was during elementary school”, you are strongly advised to take TOEFL.
If the first two answers are YES and the third is NO, you do not have to take TOEFL.
A) If you have studied your entire school life in English but do not speak English at home, you do not have to take TOEFL.
B) If you grew up in an English speaking country, did not speak English at home, moved back to your native country before beginning high school, and have attended a non-English speaking school, you are required to take TOEFL.
C) If English is your first language and you speak it at home but live in a non-English speaking country and attend a non-English speaking school, you are required to take TOEFL.
I am a US citizen. Do I have to take TOEFL?
Please read the above question. Citizenship does not affect the TOEFL requirement.
Can TOEFL be waived?
Yes it can be waived. If your SAT Critical Reading score is 670 or higher, your TOEFL requirement is waived.
Do you accept IELTS?
We will take IELTS from applicants who live in a country where TOEFL is not offered. If you have taken TOEFL and IELTS, send us both scores. One part of IELTS might boost a lower TOEFL section. In no way are we suggesting that applicants take both tests. Our requirement is TOEFL.
SATs and ACT aren’t offered in my country of residence. Do I have to take them?
Out of fairness to all applicants, SAT or ACT is required of everyone, even if the test isn’t offered where you live. You may apply without submitting test scores, and we will consider your application, but your application will be missing information that most applicants will have. To that end, you will be providing us with less information than other applicants, and this could put you at a disadvantage in the application process.
What is this Certification of Finance (COF) form? Why do I have to do it?
The Certification of Finance (COF) form is required of all international applicants (people who need a visa to be in the USA), regardless of country of residence (so, if you live in the US and are here on a visa, you are also required to submit the COF with your application). The COF collects financial information that is used to issue you the I-20 form and your student visa. The information on this COF is used by the US Embassy or Consulate when you go for a visa interview. It’s also used by Department of Homeland Security for those students already living in the USA. We collect this information at the start of the application process to insure there is no delay in issuing you an I-20 in May. Some colleges and universities don’t ask you for this information until after you are admitted, but that’s not the timetable JHU employs.
Is it okay to send supplemental information?
Although we do not ask for supplemental information, you may send it if you feel it will significantly impact your application. Usually, applicants send information by cd/dvd or memory stick. If you want to send a copy of a research paper you’ve written, it is sufficient to send only the abstract. We are not scientists and are probably not going to understand a technical paper. You might even be able to upload the abstract with your application, thereby saving yourself the trouble of mailing us an envelope. PLEASE NOTE: it is NOT necessary for you to send copies of awards and certificates of participation you have received at school. In fact, we request that you do not send these papers to us. We do not need proof of your extra-curricular involvement. By writing it on your application form, you are pledging to be telling the truth, so we will take you at your word.
Okay, folks. That’s the end of the blog. Please don’t forget that there is more information for international applicants on our FAQ on our web site. If, after reading this blog and the FAQ, you have more questions, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). It could be that I’ve neglected to discuss a major issue. Also, if you are in school in Canada, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Philippines, or Vietnam, you should email Mark Butt (email@example.com). He is in charge of those countries.
And yes, the pictures are from my previous travels abroad.
Editor's Note: For even more answers to questions about applying as an international student, and an opportunity for you to ask your own questions check out the International Student Discussion Thread on our Hopkins Forums.