We’ve reached the sixth post in this series on applying to an American college or university as an international student. You’ve learned how to decide what degree and major are right for you and which schools to apply to. You know exams you need to take, how to get transcripts sent, and how to prepare admissions essays. In our final post, we’ll tell you about other paperwork you must prepare.

When you apply to American colleges and universities, some may require recommendations from former teachers. This is another way for the admissions staff to learn about you and what kind of student you are. You can get recommendations from high school teachers or college professors (as long as they can write in English). Of course, your teachers at IEI are always happy to write a recommendation for a student who has worked hard in their classes.

For your references, choose teachers and professors who know you well, preferably ones who have taught you in more than one course. It’s smart to ask at least one more person than required (for example, four if the school asks for three references). Whenever possible, ask people in person if they are willing to provide references. Only list their names on your application after getting their permission.

When someone agrees to be a reference for your application(s), give them the following:

  • A description of what you are applying for (university name, degree level [bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral], and the field of study)
  • A short description of your academic goals (Include your resume if you have one.)
  • University recommendation forms (if the school offers one; some just require a letter.)
  • Information about where the recommendation should be sent (If it needs to be mailed, provide stamped and addressed envelops to the people writing the recommendation.)

Try to give the person at least three weeks to complete the recommendation. Do not ask them repeatedly if they have finished. However, it’s acceptable to send a short and polite reminder email about 10 days before the recommendation is due.

After the recommendation letter has been sent, write a thank you note to each person who wrote a recommendation for you.


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We hope that this series has been useful to you. Applying to a college or university in your second language is not always easy, but we’ve helped hundreds of students to achieve their dreams of earning a degree in the U.S. Read a few of their stories here, and if you’re ready to take the first step in preparing to reach your goal, find out how we can help you!

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