Time and time again my painstaking college search process, I came to the dismal realization that the vast majority of universities in the United States do not offer need-blind admissions to international students like myself.
Though the definition varies slightly among institutions, the term “international students” refers to foreign visa holders who do not possess U.S. citizenship or permanent residencies. Born and raised in South Korea but having attended high school in Pennsylvania, I belonged to a peculiar category even within the elusive blanket designation of international students.
In addition to battling the information shortages that arose from my status as the only international college applicant in my graduating class, I grappled with the gravest issue of all: affordability. Since my parents did not command the resources to pay for a notoriously expensive U.S. college education, I was naturally intrigued by the six institutions in the nation, including Dartmouth, that guarantee need-blind and full-need admissions to not only American applicants but their international counterparts.
These admirable admission policies promise to evaluate all applicants solely on their credentials and fully meet their needs if admitted. This policy, combined with Dartmouth’s excellent undergraduate teaching, small size and scenic location lend an incomparable charm to the College on the Hill. Thus sprang my decision to apply early.
If my admission saga seems too convoluted for you, imagine applying to Dartmouth from countries thousands of miles away from the U.S.
June Yuan ’13 attended a girls’ high school in Singapore that operated under the British A-Level system. She first heard of Dartmouth through her roommate, who in turn had learned about the College after perusing an autobiography by Wall Street financier-turned popular Chinese TV show anchor Zimo Zeng ’96.
At the behest of her roommate, Yuan read Zeng’s autobiography, “Traces of Ink,” and discovered that Dartmouth might just be a perfect fit.
“I always wanted to go abroad to explore something different,” she said. “I didn’t want to stay in Singapore for sure.”
While Zeng’s famous autobiography molded a faraway, dreamlike image of Dartmouth in Yuan’s mind, her high school counselor confirmed her strong attraction to the College by informing her of its broad fields of study.
“I started college hoping to major in math, physics and philosophy, but now I’m interested in German and theater,” she said. “What attracted me most to Dartmouth is its diversity of academic programs and its flexibility to allow students to change fields.”
Her other top university choices required her to choose a major before matriculation, and this policy drew her away and instead toward Dartmouth. Its need-blind and full-need admission policies were appealing as well.
“I’m very satisfied with my financial aid here, and I’ll donate a lot of money after I graduate,” she said with an appreciative chuckle.
During her application process, she was able to locate all the necessary application materials on Dartmouth’s website, but found its layout and structure were not effective. She said that a more clear-cut and condensed, common database for prospective students would have been much more helpful. The Admissions Office could also benefit from having current students send information about various aspects of campus life to prospective international students.
Dari Seo ’16, who attended a British high school in Costa Rica under the International Baccalaureate curriculum, agreed that admissions could use greater outreach to international students throughout the long, often frustrating application process.
“It gets to be very overwhelming when you’re just navigating from website to website,” he said. “It’s really hard to make sense of what you’re looking for.”
Seo gathered information about U.S. colleges primarily through his independent searches, with limited guidance from his high school counselor. He mentioned that the lack of promotional materials about Dartmouth in the counselor’s office can be explained by the fact that his high school was chiefly geared toward European universities.
The lack of first-hand support from admissions, however, did not deter him from committing to Dartmouth. The College’s liberal arts tradition, quarter system, the D-Plan and need-blind admission policy stood out in particular.
Though Dartmouth is not at all well-known in Costa Rica and he was not even aware of its Ivy League status prior to his research, Seo simply did not care about the College’s low visibility at home.
“It was not about name or reputation,” he said. “It was really about what matched my interest.”
Seo said that the International Students Association and the Office of Pluralism and Leadership’s international student programs, which range from the international orientation to a student mentorship program, have provided him with an “essential” welcome and support networks.
Soccer player Elijah Soko ’16, who hails from Zimbabwe, finished his last two years of high school in Massachusetts. He decided to attend high school in the U.S. after speaking with former head coach Jeff Cook at a Grassroots Soccer talent showcase near his hometown several years ago. After seeing Soko play, Cook suggested that he finish high school in the U.S. and connected him to a few boarding schools on the East Coast.
After arriving in the States, Soko stayed in touch with Cook, and a formal recruiting process began near the end of his junior year.
Though his family could not afford to send him to an American university, they wanted him to apply regardless.
“I found out about the need-blind policy only after deciding I would apply to Dartmouth,” he said. “What attracted me to the school was mainly the faith that Cook had in me, and when I visited, I liked it here.”
International student mentor program coordinator Pavel Bacovsky ’13, who attended the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway before applying early, said his love of everything Dartmouth dwarfed his concern about financial aid, especially because he had already secured some outside funding.
Bacovsky did not receive any specific international student outreach materials from admissions before his acceptance.
“That said, for regular decision students, there might be a real value in Dartmouth’s international student outreach, mainly through the emailing sessions,” he said. “It probably makes a lot of difference getting a warm and friendly email from someone other than admissions.”
My first arrival in the U.S. and enrollment in an American school about five years ago originated entirely from my father’s appointment as a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. When my whole family accompanied him on a 13-hour flight to the mythical “land of opportunity,” we had no idea that his research would continue for much longer than the initial two years.
During the summer of 2011, I visited my home country for the first time since moving to the U.S., and my parents gave me the choice of either finishing high school in South Korea or returning to Pennsylvania to apply to American colleges. In one of the most momentous decisions of my life, I opted for the latter and subsequently took the risk of applying to Dartmouth through its early decision program.
Not enough international students know about the hidden gem that is Dartmouth, a green haven for those with amazing talents all the world over that remains one of six American universities with need-blind and full-need admissions for all applicants.
Though I encountered an incredible group of helpful, reasonable and considerate admissions officers in my agonizing yet rewarding application process, there exists a great need for admissions to expand its outreach efforts for international students making college decisions.
Representatives from admissions could not be reached by press time.