Case Study: International Admissions

Case Study: International Admissions


An international student from China, Suzanne was in the middle of a gap year when she contacted Signet for help applying to colleges in the United States. Suzanne had excellent grades, impressive volunteer experience, and a rare determination for directing her own education. She had actually turned down an early acceptance to one of China’s best universities because of her desire to study in the US. Her test scores, however, were not competitive in the pool of international applicants to US colleges.

The Challenge

Because of her international status, Suzanne would likely be considered in a pool separate from domestic applicants at most of the colleges to which she was applying. The international pool is highly competitive for several reasons, ranging from the lack of need-blind admissions at many schools to the sheer number of talented students worldwide. Suzanne’s admissions consultant had to make sure Suzanne’s application stood apart from the rest of these strong applications. Fortunately, Suzanne’s exceptional intellectual curiosity and her proactiveness about pursuing volunteer and educational experiences provided her with a very interesting application narrative. However, because she had such compelling and varied experiences, Suzanne was having trouble deciding which ones to highlight in her essay. Her personal statement drafts were several thousand words too long, and the image that she painted of herself ended up being muddled by the overabundance of information. 

The Signet Solution

Suzanne did not realize that her take-charge quality was probably her biggest asset against the competition, but her admissions consultant, who had spent nearly a decade as an admissions officer at two top schools in the Northeast, saw it right away. While Suzanne and her admissions consultant were getting to know each other, it became apparent that Suzanne’s self-motivation, determination, and unique interests and experience in public health and obscure foreign languages would be the determining factors in the success of her applications. Instead of attending a university in China, Suzanne had challenged her family’s expectations and the standard Chinese educational path to single-handedly pursue an opportunity to volunteer doing AIDS education in an African country. She rounded out her gap year with a language program at a large university in New England in order to familiarize herself with the American educational system and improve her English. 

Suzanne thought little of this, but her admissions consultant helped her recognize how impressive her self-directed study, and how the sophisticated planning and execution of such a robust program for herself reflected maturity. Suzanne’s admissions consultant encouraged her to orient her personal statement around her extraordinary self-determination, and to use highlights from her experiences to illustrate this quality. In addition, Suzanne’s commitment to studying two esoteric foreign languages, Sanskrit and Swahili, led her to a very clear program of study. Suzanne’s admissions consultant and analyst were able to identify the best US programs in this field and target her applications so that she was a clear candidate for acceptance. 

Because Signet was able to help Suzanne prioritize and highlight her most relevant experiences, and then pinpoint schools that aligned with her academic interests, Suzanne was accepted to Brandeis University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Virginia, three of the world’s best programs in her intended field of study.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

More Resources