7 months ago
Admissions Advice

Application: extracurricular activities


I am Italian and as you may know, the school system does not offer all the requirements for college admission (AP classes, honour classes, extracurricular activities, SAT, ACT...)

Since my dream is to apply to an American university, I'm trying to boost my application with language courses (English and French), volunteer, summer schools. Anyways I still feel like this isn't enough (of course this is not enough for ivy leagues nor any kind of university) so I was wondering if some of you may know a way to improve. For example:

Where can I take AP classes? Are they important in a college application? Do I need to take an exam at the end of these classes?

How much time should I spend studying for the SAT/ACT? Which are the best ways to prepare for them? Keep in mind that I am self-taught as there are none of these exams in Italy.

Which are the best extracurricular activities that I must do if I want to be accepted into an Ivy League?

Thanks so much!!!!


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3 answers

Accepted Answer
7 months ago


I understand the struggle, I'm Colombian and many of the opportunities US kids have are not available to us. However, colleges love international students, they increase diversity and (selfishly) their prestige. Also, especially in the US, the admission process is holistic, so they see your application as a whole, not just a bunch of numbers; your context and upbringing are very important for the colleges, and they understand that life is different in different parts of the world.

So I would say, do the most of what you can, and of what I've seen, you already are.

Now, SAT and ACT. They are very important to do and required in many prestigious colleges, but right now many are going test-optional because of the pandemic. However, if you go to https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat, you can create an account and research test centers near you.

Hope this helped and good luck!

7 months ago[edited]

Hey! American student here, so I think I can offer my 2 cents.

Question 1: If your school doesn't offer any AP classes, then you can't take them at your school. But don't worry! This will not hurt your chances! Colleges look at how many AP classes your school offers and how many you have taken. Since your school does not offer any, then it will not negatively affect you at all. Colleges like to see a rigorous course load, since AP are college level classes, they are pretty rigorous and show you can handle a college-level course load. Since your school does not offer them, I would recommend taking the hardest classes (without sacrificing your mental health or grades) your school offers. You could also look into taking harder classes at a local university/community college over the summer. You do not NEED to take any AP exams at the end of the class, but it can be helpful for 2 reasons: college credit and it shows that your are well educated in that area. Covering the first reason, AP exams are scored from 1-5, with most schools accepting a 3-5 for college credit (since international students usually don't get good financial aid at some American schools, this can be extremely helpful). Buuuuut, this is never a guarantee unfortunately. Some schools only accept a 5 (looking at you Harvard). Some have a limit of credits, some don't accept them at all, some accept certain ones depending on the specific major you are applying to. It really is different for all schools, so I recommend taking as many as you can (and do well) and see where they take you. This brings me to my second reason as to why they are important: they show your skill level. Usually, schools don't really look at AP scores that highly (as compared to an SAT score). But, since your school doesn't offer any APs, but you did well in the exam, it still would show you can do well with college level material. There are a ton of AP exam prep-work online, so you can always self teach yourself (which is not uncommon for students) but it can show that you are really committed. AP exams are around $90 USD, and they are increasing every year. You missed the cutoff date to take any this year (unless you want to pay a $40 late fee). But you can always start next year and begin to prepare over the summer!

Question 2: SAT has two main parts: reading and math. The reading is English and it covers a lot of grammar, analysis, vocab and other parts of English. The math section is up to a pre-calc level covering geometry and such (there are detailed lists out there that are more specific on what it covers). These 2 sections have a max of 800 points, making the total exam worth 1600. Now remember, most schools went test optional this year, this means that if you don't submit a score, it won't hurt you. This makes it easier to apply to these schools which means acceptance rates will drop (due to an increase in applicants). If you really want to stand out from other international applicants, taking the SAT can really give your application a boost (only if you're applying for fall 2022 admissions, SAT scores will probably become required when COVID ends, but who knows?). To be competing against top American students (and possibly other international students), you should score at least a 1500 (and if you're majoring in a STEM field or applying to a tech school, make sure your math score is high) and ideally 1550+. Now this is no easy feat and undoubtedly take many hours of practice. I recommend taking a practice SAT test to see where you stand and what you need to improve in. You can find them on Khan Academy for free. They got rid of the SAT essay this year (and will be permanently gone), which means you don't need to study for that one. Jumping from a 1200 to a 1400 is a lot different from jumping to a 1400 to a 1600, despite them both being a 200 point increase. I would create a study plan targeting the areas you need to improve on and taking a lot of practice tests, since this will get you comfortable with how College Board writes their exams. Also analysis why you got certain questions wrong and what area where they in (was it vocabulary? in geometry?) and really focus on common mistakes you keep making. There are a lot of great resources out there such as prep-books, classes, and videos. If you really want to, you can always invest in an SAT tutor/class (which is not uncommon in America) But you do not need one to do well, just a suggestion. In terms of time, it all depend on how many points you need to increase and how you are studying (maybe like 50-100 hours?) as I said, you really need to be committed and start prepping many months before. But if you do well on the first practice test, you may not need to study as hard, as I said, it all depend on your level. (I'm planning on taking my SAT this year, so apologizes if this isn't super in depth, since I haven't taken it yet).

Question 3: My favorite! Extracurriculars! Now pertaining to the Ivy Leagues, I have seen some really accomplished people get accepted (I mean like, researching cures for things, starting a multi-million business and other crazy stuff like that). Not to scare you, just letting you know what caliber some of these students are, and this obviously isn't the majority of students I'm sure, but I can also guarantee you they all have impressive extracurriculars. Now I would consider there to be 2 top level Extracurriculars that look super impressive. One is work experience related to your intended major (think about internships/researching/volunteering, etc.) This shows you are already building your experience, working with adults, and are already making a name for yourself in the field (which shows you are committed). The other one is a passion project/event that you have created/helped to create. This could be a website, an event, a business, a YouTube channel, whatever! When you do this, look for awards or media coverage so that you can get some validation for your work. Of course whatever you do for extracurriculars, I would make sure you are actually passionate in it and it helps make a positive impact on the community. The more leadership/outreach you can create from this extracurricular the better. I cannot say what specifically you can do because I do not know your intended major/passions or what is available locally to you. But I would look into what extracurriculars other people have done to get in and take the inspiration from that (there are a lot of YouTube videos out there).

Addressing some things you have not mentioned but I think are important:

-Financial aid. It can be reallllly expensive for international students to study in the US, especially since you cannot apply for US federal aid. Some universities don't offer any aid to international students! Also, some universities are not need-blind, which means they factor in if you need aid or not (for example, applying for aid may hurt your chances, since they know you may not be able to pay). This is a MAJOR flaw in the American education system, private schools like the Ivy Leagues are crazy expensive (think like 50k+ a year). I personally have not done a lot of researching in international scholarships, but I know they are out there and there are a lot of organizations rooting for you!

-If you are not that good at math, and better at science, then the ACT may be better for you. I would take a practice test as well and see how you do. It is scored out of 36 and I would aim for a 34+. SAT and ACT are both weighted the same, so it doesn't matter what you take.

Ooookay, this is 100% my longest reply EVER!! But I hope this answered all of your questions (and any other international students who are lurking). I know I dropped a lot of stuff onto you and it may all feel overwhelming and you may feel helpless, but I promise you it will be alright and you will get into the university that's the best fit for you. If anyone wants to reach out if they have any additional questions just lmk! I really truly wish you (and any other international students) a good luck because American college admissions is crazy and I cannot imagine moving across the world. Y'all are troopers and I hope to see you all in the states one day :D

Hope this helps! :)

7 months ago

I understand the trouble of trying to find advanced courses. I am a student in the US, but I am homeschooled so it can feel difficult getting all the credits and extracurriculars I need. There are many online academies, however, that offer online AP courses. Pennsylvania homeschoolers is an example of one. In my AP human geography course, we have classmates all over the world! If you look hard enough, I bet you could find the courses you need online!


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