College Admissions for US Citizens and Permanent Residents Living Abroad

College Admissions for US Citizens and Permanent Residents Living Abroad

Whether born in the US and just applying to college from a high school overseas or having been born to American parents and lived abroad our entire lives, US citizens and permanent residents living abroad straddle the domestic/international student divide in ways that make us a unique group that doesn’t quite fall into either category, but is often too small to get specialized attention from college admissions offices.

During the Application Process

If you hold a US passport or a green card, you’re eligible to apply to colleges and universities as a domestic student. That means that when you’re entering the country to come to college, you won’t need any documents beyond your passport or green card. Plus, you won’t have to fill out those pesky, time-consuming student visa forms.

US citizens and permanent residents are also eligible for federal and institutional financial aid, and aren’t subject to the need-based admissions policies that many colleges still have for regular international students. Important: remember, though, that you’re going to need a Social Security Number to apply for financial aid and any jobs you might want to have during or after college, so if you don’t have one already, apply for one as soon as possible at your local embassy or consulate.

The prior two points give you a leg up over straight-up international students, while your long-term experiences overseas make you much more interesting to admissions committees than the average domestic student who has the same grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities as you.

Don’t let these advantages get to your head, though! Keep in mind that if you’re a last-minute type of person, you’re going to have to be a lot more careful about time differences. Double- or even triple-check the application deadline and the equivalent time in your home time zone so that you don’t turn your application in late and jeopardize it.

Also, if you’re living in a country with unreliable mail service, make sure to alert admissions offices to this fact. Hopefully most of them will send you admissions notifications by email. Be warned, however, that this doesn’t always work. Mea, who now attends a liberal arts college in California after going to high school in Dubai, said that “[s]ome schools still sent [her] acceptance letter by snail mail which was frustrating.”

When You Get on Campus

After actually getting to college, though, Americans abroad are liable to be subject to as much culture shock as other international students, having to deal with learning the conversion between home currencies and US dollars, how to tell temperatures in Fahrenheit, and people not understanding your slang, along with the constant confusion from domestic and international students alike about why your English is so good and why you’re from where you’re from. As Mea puts it, “I felt like I had to explain my whole life story to someone I just met two minutes ago.”

Plus, if you attended an international school, you’re probably used to all of your classmates having lived in or at least having had experiences in a variety of countries. Getting to college, you might have “a hard time adjusting to people that have never moved in their life,” like Mea did. They might think it’s weird that you go on vacation to Okinawa every year, while you might be completely lost when it comes to the nuanced appeal of “Jersey Shore”.

It can be strange going through international orientation if you choose to do so, given that spending so much time around other international students leads to a sort of identity crisis. After all, the question of what an international student is a hard one to answer. Given that I was born in Hong Kong and lived there my entire life before coming to college, I do consider myself an international student whose passport just happens to be an American one. More importantly,  my own first experience at college was at the three-day international orientation before regular orientation started. While my good friends now are mostly domestic students, I still have a closer bond with the other international students in my year than I do with most other sophomores.

Got any questions or comments about international admissions or admissions for Americans abroad? Let us know in the comment box below or email Joyce at!