Match me - Intl student from India in need of advice (lib arts interests)

((this is a repost from a prev deleted one since I tagged incorrectly.)
hi! i’m a hs junior studying in india and completing 11th grade right now. of course, i’m very early in the college search process. to be honest, i’m making this post because i’m very unaware of the college landscape abroad and i thought some advice would be nice. (looking at fall 23)
i would like some recommendations based on my grades and interests - although i know this website primarily discusses colleges in the US, i’m open to suggestions located in other countries as well. i still have a year or so before i have to apply to colleges, so i’d also like input on what would look good on my profile and other extracurriculars that i could do that would align with my interests and strengthen my application.

(this is a long post, so i apologise in advance)

international student
*location: india; more specifically south india

  • type of high school : i changed school recently after clearing my GCSEs and am in a local CBSE school right now. it’s quite competitive but doesn’t really offer much support for going abroad for studies (it focuses more on entrance exams in-country and those are very technical and don’t really appeal to me. i plan on sitting for a few law ones anyway but the specialised tuition required is… extensive.)

  • gender/race/ethnicity : i’m a cisgender female who’s mixed race. i’m unsure if mixed heritage indian parents count as mixed race but i’m aryo-dravidian with different religions and culture on both sides (my mother’s family hails from bangladesh, settled in bengal but my dad is based in south India)

  • other special factors *: i’m a national level swimmer. my parents both did their bachelors in a popular college in india, and my grandfather studied and taught in humboldt for a while. if you can’t tell by now, i’m trying to include whatever detail i can because i’m unsure what would end up being important.

intended major(s)
this is again something i’m not sure about. things that i’m considering/ find interesting include 1) sexuality, women and gender studies, 2) educational studies, 3) creative writing, 4) political science, 5) developmental studies, 6) anthropology and sociology, and 7) journalism. of these, the only ones i’ve done previous work in are 1), 3) and 7). the others have been tangential to my interests at some point, and i keep finding new things i’m passionate about. to be honest, it’s a bit of a mess. any suggestions here would be great. CS is something that’s popular among people my age, and while i like it and even consider myself good at it, it’s not something i could see myself doing unless it meshed with some of the other fields i’m into.

GPA, rank, and test scores

  • unweighted HS GPA: i’m an A*, occasionally A student. i passed my GCSEs with physics, chemistry, intl. math, french and FLE with A* in all subjects and >97% for the maths and sciences. unfortunately, my average class scores are lower than my final exam scores- probably because my work ethic wasn’t, well… the greatest. i still maintained it at As until i entered 11th grade and CBSE where i got depressed and slumped so badly i got 50-60% marks in 3 of my subjects. that’s my latest exam mark, but it’s only one internal midterm. if i get high enough marks in the finals, it hopefully won’t reflect too badly on my report but with COVID one never knows. i’m not sure how to fix this.
  • class rank : we didn’t have class ranks at my old school for some reason, and i’m not the top student at my new one due to my abysmal grades. i was awarded an award for an above 98% overall in the assess 360 marks for 10th grade though. and a lot of useless academic achievement certificates from primary levels.
  • SAT scores : i took my first SAT in November and got a 1530 (780 M, 750 EBW). my math score is decently high in comparison to the practise tests i took, but my English score is significantly lower (i was averaging 780-790 in the practice tests i took). i’m thinking of taking another SAT, maybe i could superscore and get a higher score.

i’m a CBSE student, so there aren’t AP classes offered at my school. i’m planning on taking the English Literature and the Comparative Government and Politics APs through online courses and out of state exams. i’m not sure when to do this, though. are these enough APs to take? are they good choices?
i took an online course on edX, the HarvardX Justice one about political philosophy, and completed it with a 96% score and a certificate. i found it very interesting.
i’m not sure where this goes but i’m fluent in English, literate in my father tongue and conversant in my mother tongue, and i studied french for five years. i know 5 coding languages but i prefer Python.

quite a few best dels for local and national MUNs, and a honourable mention for the HMUN. i’m still a beginner MUNner so i’m planning on doing more.
i have a lot of medals from my swimming, a few individual champions and i hold 6 records for my state right now. i’ve won 2 national medals and multiple zonal medals including golds and was selected to represent my country once for the South Asians but that competition didn’t work out due to political disputes (i was heartbroken).
i won a special mention for a national writing competition. i want to enroll in more writing competitions because objectively, i do feel my writing is good enough for me to take further.
i won a few olympiads back in primary, including international ranks but after moving into middle schools i didn’t have an opportunity to do any others.
i have many in-school essay and science fair awards, if that counts. and interschool swimming ones.
i’m aware this isn’t much, and i do think i should have more certifications for the skills i know i have, but i don’t. it’s probably presumptuous of me to think this way, which is why i’m on the lookout for competitions right now.

MUN => i’ve been trying to specialise in committees about gender issues/education or more broadly human rights type things.
writing => i’ve had a blog for about 8 years now. i’m not a regular poster but i’m trying to compile it as a sort of portfolio. i mostly do short stories and poems but i’m working on a full length play right now (and several novellas that i most certainly won’t ever complete).
reading => i do book reviews but i don’t ever post them. i’m planning to, in the future.
social project i’m in the midst of about LGBTQIA+ in my country and especially teenagers in regard to it. i’ve collected data already and am working on putting it together. i do have a team that i’m leading.
i have 60 volunteer hours for flood relief work and do monthly volunteer work with a local NGO which works on gender and child welfare. i’m not sure how many hours that would be, since i’m dumb and didn’t think it’d be important to log them when i first started. i have been doing that since this year, though and hope to figure it out?
this is hard esp. because schools don’t really mandate and offer guidance on social work here, because it isn’t really required for colleges in country.
i’m doing an unpaid internship on sexual assault legislature.
i was an editor and a journalist for a national children’s newspaper back in primary.

i can obtain a few LORs from my middle school teachers and my middle school principal too, and i think they’d have good recommendations about me- i did engage in class and was on good terms with them + was a topper. they all like me. i don’t know abt my high school teachers since i’m in a new school and am still working on building relationships.
i’m a good essay writer, i think? i can probably figure that out.

cost constraints / budget

this is probably where my expectations are the most unrealistic. my parents can’t afford much + i have a younger brother. at most, maybe $8K per year. if i get admission at a really good college maybe they could stretch out another 5K but i’d feel really guilty about it. this is why i’m also looking at germany. the cheaper, the better.
i’d have to get a large amount from scholarships/grants, but i’m not sure if i’m accomplished enough for that. a lot of people that i know do say i’m smart enough, but they’re probably biased, and besides, accomplishments count more.

i’m early in my college search still. i’ve placed amherst and vassar on my very high reach longlist, but i’m overwhelmed with the number of options. i’m particularly taken with amherst - the small classes and the open curriculum is exactly the kind of learning atmosphere i like. but these choices are highly unrealistic. i’d really like your help figuring out some safetys/targets from in US and out of it. any other advice is also highly appreciated.

thank you for your help.

Check out Berea College, I believe it offers free tuition for everyone including international students.

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thank you! i’ve just looked at it, and you’re right - it does offer free tuition. it does also offer quite a few of the majors i’m looking at.
this is a huge help.

Since you like Amherst’s academic flexibility, also look into Hamilton, Grinnell and Smith, which offer similarly flexible curricula.

If you would like to continue in swimming, consider submitting sport-specific recruiting forms as soon as possible, which you will find through individual college websites.

You do not have to retake SAT’s. The difference between a 750 and 800, for instance, is negligible in admissions.

The schools that are need-blind and meet full need without loans are few: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT and Amherst. I think you are right in considering Amherst. Vassar is also a good choice, and is need-blind.

Otherwise you can look at various scholarships for international students. I think some of your activities might make for a pretty good scholarship application.

I would try to avoid loans, especially if you want to study liberal arts.

Vassar is not need blind for international students.

“Yes, Vassar does offer significant need-based financial aid to international students applying as first-year students. … Since Vassar is not need-blind in the admission of non-US citizens, financial need may be a factor in the evaluation process for admission.”

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Sorry and thanks. I meant this: (and note that meeting full need includes loans, which Vassar says they try to eliminate or reduce, but is something to consider. For need-aware schools for internationals, financial aid is competitive.)

Through a generous financial aid program, Vassar meets 100% of the full demonstrated need of all admitted students, international or domestic, for all four years. Financial aid is awarded exclusively on the basis of need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile.

and as @thumper1 posted:

Yes, Vassar does offer significant need-based financial aid to international students applying as first-year students. Vassar is not need-blind in the evaluation of international students. However, if admitted, Vassar meets 100% of the candidate’s demonstrated financial need for all four years.

ONLY those 5 listed schools are need-blind and meet full need without loans.

Irrespective of stated policies, it may be less challenging for an international applicant to get into Vassar (20% overall acceptance rate) than into Amherst (8% overall acceptance rate).


This article might be helpful: Top Colleges That Are Generous To International Students

This list is not particular to international students, but it provides a list of schools from which you can do additional research to see your options. And at schools where your SAT scores are above the 75th percentile, I think you would likely stand a good chance of admission.

Even for schools that don’t offer swimming scholarships (many of the need-met schools are D3 which aren’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships), it can offer increased chances of admission. If you are interested in swimming in college, I would definitely reach out to coaches. The links below offer additional information on the various leagues/divisions and what you think might work best for you.

Colleges with Men’s Swimming Programs
Colleges with Women’s Swimming Programs

I would cross-reference the schools with swimming programs (many would be D3) with the schools that meet full need and reach out to those coaches first, if your swimming times seem to be in line with what the times are for their current swim team members.

We have another college in the need blind for internationals group, Dartmouth!


I agree no need to take SAT again.

Regarding your $8K budget does that include travel, books, incidental expenses, and mandatory health insurance? Just those expenses can reach $8K per year.

Germany could make sense as you state, but I would also look in other EU countries too, as well as the UK, and Canada.

Do you have an affordable safety school in India?

To help determine if you are recruitable for swimming, look here: Recruiting Standards

Hi @scrowxox,
as an international applicant it’s important to be aware of the challenges you’ll be up against so you can plan accordingly:

  1. The number of seats available to international students are relatively limited, so that’s going to be your first hurdle.
  2. The vast majority of colleges are not need-blind, which means your need for financial aid will negatively impact your admission chances.
  3. There is very little aid available for international students, and it typically goes to students with exceptional accomplishments. So financing your US education is going to be a significant challenge you need to address. (Have you looked at how much colleges cost?)
    I would strongly discourage you from trying to get a loan as it will be very hard to pay off, particularly with a liberal arts degree. And you will need to secure such a loan in India as you won’t be eligible for loans in the US.

So, the main question I’d ask is: why exactly are you looking to pursue an undergraduate degree abroad? What specific goal are you looking to achieve? It’s important to answer these questions so that a) you can take a hard look at whether this is the right path for you b) you can narrow down your choices and c) you can mention these points in your essays.

I work for a large international firm with offices in multiple countries including in India, with whom I have regular contact. Therefore, I know for a fact that there are excellent educational institutions in India where you could get a good undergraduate education at a fraction of the cost of coming here to the US. So I encourage you to consider those options carefully. As @Mwfan1921 mentioned, you need to have a good safety school in India that you’re prepared to go to if things don’t work out with your US college applications.

Let us know the answer to my question above and we can provide you additional guidance accordingly.

But Dartmouth includes loans. I listed the 5 schools that meet full need, are need-blind and don’t inlcude loans in the package.

Dartmouth College has scholarships and loans available to international students, which includes an allowance for travel to the U.S. We understand that your circumstances may be unique and our office will help in any way we can.

Dartmouth has expanded its longstanding need-blind admissions policy to include all international citizens, beginning with the Class of 2026.

Maybe people can suggest scholarships to apply for. I would look at Indiana, Michigan State, Lafayette and Clark to start. I don’t know for sure but off the top of my head.

IU and MSU don’t give need based aid to international students (they do give limited merit aid). OP should also look for scholarship money in their home country.

It is big news that Dartmouth has gone need blind for international students (even though they may include loans for some).

Note that Amherst, although need blind and meets full need for internationals, may in fact include loans in their FA packages:

The College has a comprehensive program of financial aid that provides assistance in the form of scholarships and grants, loans, and student employment; Amherst meets the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted applicants.

Amherst “financial aid packages” usually include scholarship and work. The first $2,400 of need is met with a work opportunity. Amherst College does not initially package any need-based student loans. Students may still borrow student loans to purchase a computer, to replace a summer savings expectation shortfall, or to replace work. Need-based student loans are interest-free while you are in school and low-interest during repayment after graduation. Any remaining need is met with scholarship - aid that does not have to be repaid.

The OP would not be limited at all to a handful of schools. Dozens of U.S. colleges meet the demonstrated financial need of all accepted international applicants.

But they are unlikely to be need-blind in admissions (for international students). So OP would have a much higher bar to get in.