Last fall, I invited readers to suggest topics for the blog. I think I covered them, more or less, except for one. An applicant asked whether there are aspects of international applicants’ backgrounds that the Admissions Committee finds difficult to understand. I would say that there are, fortunately, few issues that fall under that heading, though we certainly benefit from having Committee members who bring geographic diversity to our conversations.
Though I missed my chance to answer the question last year, I’m here with a response for this year’s applicants. If I were to tell readers what element of an application is likely to tie us up for a little extra time, it would be the undergraduate transcripts. Most, but not all (I’m looking at you, Hampshire College), U.S. colleges and universities issue a similar looking document, generally grading on a four-point scale. Even for those few colleges that use a different system, we’re familiar enough with them that we can easily make the adjustment. Transcripts from Japan, France, Korea, and China are equally straightforward, even if they don’t use the four-point scale.
But that still leaves many countries to confuse us, which is why we ask applicants to explain their university’s grading system. Not everyone does a good job with the explanation. In that case, we might do some research, possibly going as far as contacting the applicant to ask. In any event, we won’t make a decision on the application until we’re confident we know what we’re looking at. Even with some grading systems we see frequently, such as that commonly used in the U.K. and universities worldwide that follow the same system, we need your explanations! Guide us to a thorough understanding of one of the most important elements in your application.