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The basics
THE USA: Applying to University

Guide on how to apply to American universities

Want to study in the US? We’ve come up with a simple guide on how to apply to American universities here.

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Applying to universities in the US is not as complicated as it is in the UK, but it can be a longer process. There is no central organisation such as the UCAS (Undergraduate Courses at University and College), so you will need to apply for each university or college individually. All American universities are separate from one another, with no central body overlooking the entire application process, which means application deadlines might differ from one university to another.


Choosing a university that fits you best

Applications can be done either online through the respective university’s website or via post. Be sure to do the proper research into the kinds of university of college that you’re keen on. Begin your search at least 12-18 months in advance to give yourself ample time and reduce stress. Universities are inundated with questions from prospective students daily, so it might take them awhile to get back to you. Giving yourself a little over a year ensures that you will have all of your facts and questions answered in order to make an informed decision (not a rushed, malinformed one).


Not sure which universities you should go to? Start by looking for all the universities that teach your subject and then separate them by the location that is the most appealing to you. The US News website is a good place for you to kick off your search.


Shortlist about 20 colleges or universities, write to all of them to ask the admissions office if you are eligible to apply as an international student. This will help you decide if it’s worth applying and helps you get noticed through your correspondence with the international admissions office at an early stage.


Did you know that there’s no maximum number of American universities that you can apply for? You can apply to as many universities or colleges as you want! However, we suggest that you apply to 8 out of the original 20 to give yourself the best chance.


Write a mission statement

Once you’ve got a list of the universities or colleges that you intend to apply to, there are a few things that you will need to consolidate for the application process itself. You will need to write a “mission statement” and have copies of your previous work (such as your coursework) on hand. The more you can show a prospective American university your work, experience and eligibility, the higher the chance of you being awarded a place.


The mission statement is where you can differentiate yourself from other international students looking to apply for the same universities.Don’t just include generic information about yourself, but carefully show how committed you are to your subject and what you intend to do with it upon graduation.


Obtain written references

You are also required to provide three written references as well as official records of your exam results (sent directly from your school/college).


Ace your SATs

Either a pass SAT or ACT test is compulsory to show how rounded you are as a student. These tests will have questions covering an array of subjects such as mathematics, science and English. Universities usually have a minimum SAT or ACT test score, so be sure to have lots of practice to ace this test!

You can always check online for websites that have SAT or ACT resources- past year questions, how to answer them etc. You can also try out the practice tests here.


Ensure that you have sufficient funds

As with most universities that take in international students, applicants need to prove that they have sufficient funds to pay the fees (as they can get quite expensive). This is important not just for your university application, but for your visa application as well.


Apply for your American student visa

Once you’ve been offered a place in the university, your university should send you all of the relevant information required for you to start applying for your visa.

These items include the I-20 form and your acceptance letter. In order to apply for an international student visa (F-1), you will need to fill up the I-20 form and prove to the immigration office that you are planning to leave after your time of study.


Deadlines and more deadlines

Remember that the application deadline for universities in the US for their Autumn semester is generally between 1st-15th January. There are some American universities that have an earlier intake of students. As with most aspects of applying to American universities, it differs from institution to institution and we suggest that you contact the universities directly to find out.


Application costs

Bear in mind that each university application costs approximately $30-$90 and the fee is non-refundable. We highly suggest that you narrow down the your list to the ones that you are really keen on to save time, money and effort.


Feel more confident about attending an American university? Check out the courses available here!


Useful links

3 key fields to study in the US

Apps, maps and finding your way around in the US

Visa conditions for working and studying in the US

City guide: Chicago, Illinois

Top 5 things to do in the US

Study in the USA


'Study in the USA' eBook

Enjoy what you’ve read? We’ve condensed the above popular topics about studying in the USA into one handy digital book.

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