Immigrating to the US; a pathway to top U.S. universities

By Ben Batt

For some families, the primary goal of immigrating to the United States is to gain admission to a top ranked U.S. university. The current trend is that acceptance rates to highly selective U.S. universities have been declining steadily each year. The decrease in acceptance rates is correlated to an increase in applications, especially from international students, and a relatively minimal change in the number of available spaces.

In some countries like China, the statistics for students gaining admission to top universities out of high school is low and decreasing. The reason for the decrease in acceptance rates is that many universities have observed a general lack of reliability in terms of high school transcripts from students coming from China. In addition, unscrupulous agents are well known to U.S. universities in doctoring student personal statements; the combination of which results in a less publicized trend of many students leaving, or being asked to leave by the universities in their first year. Lastly, the educational system in China is more specialized, focusing on either an academic, athletic or artistic pathway. U.S. universities are looking for students that can demonstrate academic excellence as well as passion and achievement in extra-curricular activities. The confluence of these factors results in a low rate of acceptance to top universities from students applying from China.

These recent results have initiated a shift in China-based familys’ strategies to gain admission to these schools. An increasingly popular pathway recommended by experienced consultants is to attend a U.S. or Canadian boarding or day school. University Admissions’ Directors say that they like to select students from school where they have a long standing and trusted relationship with respect to the school administrators, teachers, and a track record of sending quality students to their school. As a result, students who attend a reputable private school in North America have a better chance of gaining admission due to the university’s familiarity with their high school institution. As such, some overseas families are now moving to the U.S. or sending their children to boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada to gain an edge. However, they might lack knowledge about the process of gaining admissions to top US private schools, which is also incredibly competitive.

Here are some of the most common questions from parents applying to boarding and day schools in the US:


Depending on the location, students are best served to apply during school intake years when more spaces will be available. For many boarding schools in the U.S., that would be Grade 9. Many families decide to apply to feeder middle schools in the US, which have a track record of sending many students to the most competitive high schools. 


The right school depends on the fit for your child. There is no best school, there is only a best school for your child. It is important to visit schools to see what is the ideal environment for your child and to get a better feeling for the campus. It can also be helpful to work with a consultant who has a broad knowledge of schools to help narrow down your search and to manage the family’s expectations accordingly. Most school applications are due in December/January prior to the next school year, which begins in September. 


After you have submitted an application, here are some general requirements for getting into top American schools:

Standardized test

Most schools will ask students to take either the SSAT or ISEE.

It is recommended that students write in the fall prior to submitting their application. Many students will be challenged by the SSAT because it requires a high level of English language understanding. For overseas students, it is advisable to consider preparing for this exam from a reputable provider. The main components of these exams are a reading comprehension section, a vocabulary based verbal section, a math section and a writing section.

Application statements

Generally, both parents and students will need to write statements for the application that reflect their intentions, values and reasons for applying.  


Some schools do not grant an interview to all students; they would only interview students that have met the requirements in the previous steps.

Schools will want to interview both the students and the parents to make sure that they are the right fit for their school and that their presentation matches what was written on the application. This process helps to screen parents and students that did not write their own application.

Where does a family begin?

It can be very helpful for families to receive trusted advice when going through this process as this can help save time and focus their efforts in the most influential areas.

There are consultants who make dubious or misleading claims about their connections and capabilities. Working with the wrong consultant can hurt an applicant's chance by focusing on the wrong areas of preparation and making a negative impression with the school. Families can also contact schools directly as they will often travel to Asia as part of their student recruiting effort. As more families are realizing that this strategy yields better results, the competition for competitive U.S. private schools is now becoming more competitive. 


According to an analysis published in December 2016, the acceptance rate for top U.S. universities has been declining over the past few years. Experts predict that U.S. university application will be more competitive and difficult in 2017.

Statistics show the trend of declining acceptance rates. Experts have explained this trend using the following reasons:

  1. There are numerous Chinese applicants, but there are only limited seats for international students.
  2. The application criteria have become more strict. Chinese students have no obvious advantage in oral speaking and extra curricular experience.
  3. Many universities ask applicants to write essays about various topics. Chinese students might have difficulties finding the right direction and writing a good essay.
  4. Many top universities request an interview with applicants to evaluate their communication and critical thinking skills. Chinese students have difficulties preparing for the interview.
  5. The immigration policy in Canada and the United Kingdom (the United States’ main competitors) has changed, which affects U.S. university application.

Meanwhile, experts found several trends in Chinese students studying abroad:

  1. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors are getting more popular amongst Chinese applicants.
  2. An increasing number of younger students go to the United States for education. Parents take initiative and send their children to the United States prior to university, in order to gain a comparative advantage for U.S. university application.
Ben Batt

Ben Batt


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