SAT and International Students

SAT and Internationals, SAT Testing, SAT Test

International students applying to highly selective U.S. colleges tend to have high SAT scores. But they can sometimes lack fluency in English.

International students admitted to highly selective colleges – like Ivy League colleges – tend to have higher standardized test scores as compared to applicants from the United States. Does this surprise you that they often have higher SAT scores? It shouldn’t. It’s one of the advantages that international students bring to the table in highly selective college admissions. Sure, they’ve got their disadvantages, too. Their writing is often subpar. Their understanding of English can range dramatically. Their college essays are frequently written by others (rather than themselves) and college admissions counselors quite often look the other way. So their ethics aren’t exactly an advantage.

But those high SAT scores boost the school’s mean score. They boost their ranking in “US News & World Report.” And the international students aren’t getting financial aid. They’re paying the full cost of tuition (a.k.a. “full freight”). That makes up for a whole bunch of students from within the United States who need financial aid. Money doesn’t grow on trees for universities. But money sure does grow on trees when it comes to international students as they’ve got it to spend. A college doesn’t have to dip into its endowment when it admits international applicants.

There are pluses and minuses when a highly selective university admits many applicants. The football player with low ACT scores hurts the mean for “US News & World Report” but he helps the football team win games. And that leads to more donations and a bigger endowment — which is all good for a university. The international student often helps boost the university’s mean standardized testing scores. But when they get into college classrooms, their lack of fluency can be problematic to say the least! What happens when they have to write that first fifteen or twenty page paper? Oh boy.


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  • AJ says:

    Hi. Thank you so much for this website. I’ll be applying to US universities this year and it’s extremely helpful!

    However, as an international applicant, I felt offended when I read this particular article. Yes, it may be true that, on average, our SAT scores are higher because you have statistics to back that. But stereotyping all international applicants as having questionable ethics is unfair, as is saying that most of their essays are written by others. Trust me, if they have high scores on the SAT, they must have done well on the Critical Reading and Writing sections which is very hard to do well on if you don’t have superb English.

    Sure, some do struggle with English as it’s not their first language and it’s ok if you point that out. But please don’t make sweeping statements of how they cheat and mostly get their essays written by others (which many American applicants do too) because this hurts those (the vast majority!) who work hard on theirs.

    • Bev Taylor says:


      Please reread the article. It does not in any way state that all international applicants have questionable ethics. Of course that’s not the case. But the fact remains that a major percentage of international applicants do indeed submit essays that are written by others. Do Americans submit essays that are also written by others? Yes — but not to the extent that international applicants do. We’re sorry that you’re offended in any case.

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