First and foremost, international applicants are assessed very differently than US applicants. The country of origin is a consideration, and some countries become more attractive to schools than others. The financial situation of the applicant is also relevant, yet you may be surprised that the financial situation of the school is also relevant. Many schools are very keen on attracting foreign students for diversity value, but also for financial reasons - ~60% of US students only pay partial tuition, while foreign students pay full tuition and very few get scholarships directly from the schools.
Though these considerations are relevant, their weight is relatively small. The main factor they will consider is - are you a good fit for their program, both academically and personally.
But how will they know if you are a good fit for the program?
US schools (same goes for US employers), tend to look for proxies that will help them make decisions. Since there are hundreds or thousands of applicants each year for each program - they need to use a filter. Yet, for foreign applicants, all of the standard proxies do not work. It is hard for US schools to know the quality of all of the schools in all of the countries in the world, and to understand extracurricular activities that are very different from what is standard in the US culture. There are even some unwritten policies in certain US graduate programs to give a negative weight to a certain origin because of an overflow of students from that country. It is not viewed as discrimination - the schools would claim that they are trying to avoid a situation where there is no diversity in their international student body.
So - what are the factors that can work in your favor?
1. Portray a strong and leading background. Every person who applies for school abroad has some strong points in their background that show some leadership capabilities: e.g., if you were at the top of your class, a leader and initiator of a business or social initiative, a - make sure to mention it. Don't be shy - the committee needs to know about your outstanding achievements.
These 5 points can make a big difference in your chances of acceptance to the programs of your choice. You will need to emphasize them in your application package and specifically in your essay / personal statement. Take a look at our previous blog: How to write your statement of purpose, personal statement and essay for American graduate programs for more information.