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The basics
THE USA: Applying to University

Understanding admissions at US universities

If you want a stress-free application to study in the USA, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the admissions process and requirements. We can help, with our guide to the key points you need to know.

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One of the best ways to ensure your chances of university application success in the USA is to understand how admissions work and what is required. You need to know what admissions officers are looking for, what documentation to submit and what a successful application is. These insights can be the difference between getting into your preferred institution and not. We give you an exclusive look at what a university admissions office in the USA is like. 


How is an admissions office structured?

A typical admissions department at a US university will have dedicated international student admissions officers. The good thing is that you will have the opportunity to deal with one person throughout the application process. This allows you to build a meaningful and productive relationship. 


The admissions officer is a crucial representative for you on the admission committee. Making sure that you take advice from them on your application is crucial. Generally, a committee consists of a small group of admissions officers and university representatives. The committee wants to ensure that all elements of the application are in order, from test scores to academic records. They consider the opinion of the admissions officer you have been working with to evaluate your application. 


One of the other areas that the admissions office also works in is virtual events and student fairs. These events allow you to discover more about the university and entry requirements and even speak to admissions officers, students and alumni



What do admissions officers do?

The primary role of an admissions officer is to review, evaluate, process and manage student applications. They may process hundreds of applications each over one semester. They have a lot to keep track of, with active and pending applications always requiring attention. 

Admissions officers are looking for very specific elements when evaluating new and pending applications:



One of the ways that you can impress an admissions officer is by making sure that your application is complete and correct. Often, admissions officers spend a significant portion of their day evaluating incomplete applications and contacting students for additional information. Remember, if you don’t understand any part of the process, admissions offices are available on social media, university websites, email and telephonically to resolve queries. 


The busiest times for an admissions office in the USA are early January and early to mid-August. The reason is that this is when admissions close, and the office's role alters from receiving and evaluating applications to helping new students get ready to arrive. This includes help with travel, accommodation and orientation. Constant communication is required to ensure that students are properly supported. 


How do admissions officers evaluate applications?

Admissions officers are highly experienced in evaluating student applications. They understand academic qualifications from countries around the world and whether these are applicable and transfer to the US higher education and grading system


The two biggest challenges facing admissions officers are evaluating the equivalency of your secondary school education and the potential transfer of university credits. These two elements are very important when deciding if you meet the course entry requirements. Sometimes students are asked to use a third-party service to verify their qualifications, so don’t be too worried if this happens to you. Two of the most common services are WES and ECE, with evaluations usually taking about a week. 


Make sure you send a certified copy of your high school equivalency in English when applying. If you need to translate your certificate or qualifications, you can contact Education USA, who can help, or they may recommend a potential translation service to assist you.  


What documents should I include with my application?

The documents you need to include with your application will depend on a few key factors. These are:


  • The university programme you apply for 
  • The level of study you apply for 
  • If you are transferring from another university outside or inside the USA


The best route is to consult an admissions officer before submitting your application so you know what is needed. At the very least, you are going to need proof of:


  • High school equivalency 
  • Academic transcripts 
  • Degree certificates 


Importantly you will need to submit financial statements, including those certified by your bank or by a sponsor/scholarship, to show that you have the means to support yourself while studying. Universities and the US government will usually require this to be the equivalent of one year of full tuition fees. 


Evidence of your financial affairs is required for both your university and visa application. Don’t forget you will also need this evidence on your i20 form application for an F-1 student visa interview once you have confirmed your application will go ahead. 


With your new knowledge of how a US admissions office works, you’re hopefully in a better position to approach your application with confidence. If you need some more information, you may find our guide to what admissions officers want in applications, questions you should ask when applying, and what makes your application stand out helpful. 


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