How to Stand Out
as an International
College Applicant

By Faith Walessa

To distinguish oneself within a single school may be no small feat; how does one do it between countries or continents?

It seems to me that one of the most artfully propagated lies in modern civilization is that the human mind has not the willpower to resist the three high school standard essay hooks. Does a mildly interesting question truly have that much power over a reader? “Surely,” I’d ask you darkly, “an out-of-context quotation isn’t that compelling?” And–well, I hardly dare attempt a statistic.  You see the problem. Yet many students are forced to rely heavily on these dubious first twenty words of an essay for college acceptance and scholarships, especially those who wish to study internationally, like myself.

When you apply to a college outside your own country, you become something of an unknown commodity. Your school is almost certainly unfamiliar to the college, and they cannot truly judge your grades without knowing what standard they were measured against. As such, international students are encouraged to emphasize essays and standardized test scores on our applications, as an objective way of validating previous achievements. But the trouble with essays is their length, and the high probability that some poor admissions counselor will crumple at the faintest indication of a “startling statistic” coupled with a “riveting quotation.” The truth is, hundreds of essays will have passed before yours, so you need yours to stand out—and ideally, you want a way to ensure that your opening sentence falls on eyes predisposed to read it favorably. The solution, of course, is standardized test results—a few numbers that set you apart in seconds as someone whose ideas are worth reading. 

Lately, however, the issue has been with the tests themselves. I long dreamt of attending a classical or liberal arts college; however, they simply don’t exist in Canada, so the SAT and ACT became my idea of a perfect solution to earning acceptance at an American liberal arts college—until I saw the standard they judged by. In substance, they test preparedness for their own tests: a student’s ability to memorize a number of question types and learn their typical trick questions. As someone previously educated classically and aspiring to a classical post-secondary education, I did not see these tests as the proper way to show my values, talents, or training to my preferred colleges. A high score on the SAT or ACT proves an ability to memorize and comply with instructions, and while those are useful skills in and of themselves, I would far rather have a standardized test whose score indicated competence in analytic and critical thought, skills that are relevant to a classical or liberal arts education.

"Logic!" said the Professor, half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"

Because of this, for me, the CLT has become the ultimate college admissions aid. I’ve taken the test since it was administered at my school in grade 8—I then took the CLT10 three times, and the official CLT twice. Consequently, I have had plenty of experience with the test content, and been incredibly impressed. The passages chosen for the reading and grammar sections were genuinely engaging across a variety of subjects. More than once, I would scribble down the name of an author or text for future reference, because I had found myself reading quite happily, regardless of the fact that I was taking a test! Even the math section was not the run-of-the-mill “use your formula, follow steps a, b, c—and success!” version. Thinking logically and understanding patterns were essential to a high score, encouraging mathematical creativity and problem-solving.

Accordingly, when I submit my CLT score to a college, I know I am accurately represented as a student, and that my prior experience and skills will be clear to a college admissions officer. Nor is this restricted to students with a classical background; the CLT showcases your reasoning and logical abilities regardless. It is the difference between showing you know what to think, and showing you know how to think to reach that conclusion. That is all the difference in the world.

It is endlessly discouraging to be a modern student—surrounded by the self-fulfilling low expectations of institutions whose dull assignments demand attention without earning it. A test that inspires and challenges students, offering them a breath of fresh air through meaningful questions and readings that merit not only attention but admiration, is worth advocating for. A high CLT score on a college application is exactly the distinction students need, especially international ones, to make an application stand out quickly, without needing a thousand words of an essay. It distinguishes genuine ability in the liberal arts, and therefore indicates that the student who earned it is capable of succeeding in post-secondary education with a wonderful certainty. If you or someone you know is considering future international education at a liberal arts or classical college, look into the CLT. It allows you to prove your capability to a future college, without worrying about your school and grading system being unknown.

Now according to the laws which govern high school papers, I should leave you with some manufactured personal touch—so here it is: I hate writing conclusions.

Best of luck applying to college, everyone!


Faith Walessa is a rising senior from Ontario, Canada. She hopes to study English at Hillsdale College, write books, and someday travel to England. She loves fanciful poetry, theater, reading by flashlight, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

For more tips on getting the most out of the college entry process, take a look at these simple ways to cut down on stress during exams; you might also be interested in this reflection on the role of the CLT and other standardized tests in light of the test-optional movement. And don’t forget to check out our podcast, Anchored. Thank you for reading the Journal!

Published on 19th July, 2023.

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