The basics
THE USA: Applying to University

Applying to an American university- a guide for international students

Want to apply to an American university? Not sure where to start? Check out our guide now.

We’ve consolidated a few handy tips for those of you who are interested in applying to an American university here.


Start early

Don’t wait till you’ve already your result slip in hand to wonder which university would be the best fit for you. It’s best to start exploring what exactly you want out of a university, your goals, dreams and start researching which universities fit the bill. We suggest that you learn more about the university admissions process a year or two before graduating.


Look around

There are more than 4000 institutions in America that issues degrees. Thus it’s essential that you do your research. Visit university websites, college guides, student blogs and ask your seniors. Don’t forget to seek advice from your teachers and guidance counsellors. Understand what exactly a liberal arts college can offer you as compared to a research-based university. What are the pros and cons of a city and rural campus?


Assess yourself

Don’t base your university choices off what your best friend or a relative’s. Everyone is different, with different needs, learning capabilities, and varying goals in life. Take out a piece of paper and start jotting down the features of a university that you see yourself most comfortable in. Smaller class sizes? Countryside campus? More flexibility in choosing your modules? Ability to work part-time during your studies? The kinds of scholarships available? Are they strong in the subject areas that you intend to pursue? These are all pertinent questions that you need to consider in order to find the right university for you.


Keep track of your thoughts

Keep a journal to record your progress, what your likes and dislikes are, reactions and questions that you have about your future education. It’s natural that your needs and interests might change or evolve into something else completely as you move closer to graduating. Having a journal will allow to see how you thought in the past and what you now think and will give you a better understanding of which universities to apply to.


Plan ahead

The American university application process is a comprehensive endeavour that can take months to even years to complete. You will be required to take a set of tests that will vary depending on the kind of course that you’re interested in, you will need to plan summer activities to strengthen your application you’ll also need to finalise your list of universities and strategize how best to apply to these institutions. The amount of work that needs to be done can get quite overwhelming, so pacing is key. Set out a schedule of the things that need to be done and by when. That way you can keep track of your progress.


Harvard is not the be all and end all

While attending a prestigious university like Harvard, MIT or even Stanford would help you boost your CV in the future, these are not the only institutions in America, nor are they necessarily the best fit for you. Be sure that you know what you want and which institutions can cater to those needs. Universities are not just looking for a contributor to their community for the duration of your study on campus, but also for a loyal alumnus that will continue to stay involved with their university throughout the rest of their lives.


Standardised tests are still valid, but not for everything

Standardised tests- SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests; are used widely in America. You can choose to only take one or all of them, but before you do, seek advice on each test, practice before going for the tests. University requirements are changing and some institutions no longer require you to have sat for either the ACTs or SATs for international applicants.


Deriving that LIST

This list is your final shortlist of the universities that meet your needs, hopes, dreams and aspirations. You need to be honest with yourself when shortlisting and not just choose a university based on someone else’s motivations. Find out who the admissions officer is at each university and develop an appropriate relationship with them. Draft out your applications letter and double-check it for any errors, typos and get someone else to help you proofread it as well.


Visit the campus

As an international applicant it can be a little pricey, a great alternative would be to take advantage of the virtual open days that most universities conduct. All you need is a good internet connection and you will be able to view the campus, explore all of their different facilities, ask questions with the admissions panel, professors and even current students, as if you were physically there!


Have fun

The university application is a long and occasionally tedious one. It will take time and effort, but the results are worth it. You will come out of it more self-aware of who you are, what you want and the direction that you intend to take in life and these will help you to decide on a career choice, graduate school and beyond.


Check out the courses available in America here.

Or download a university’s prospectus now!


Useful links

More about applying to an American university

Common cultural misconceptions about Americans

Travel advice for students

Immigration reform in America

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About Author

A fan of anime and all things Japanese, Khai has been writing professionally since 2010 and “unofficially” for much longer. In her free time, you will often find her baking, reading, travelling and doing everything else in between.


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