ip target image
You are currently browsing our site with content tailored to students in your country

Our cookies

We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience with personalized content, relevant ads and enhanced functionalities. By allowing all you agree to the use of cookies as per the cookie policy and remember you can manage your preferences anytime.
The basics
THE USA: Applying to University - Must read

Top tips on how to apply to universities in the USA

With top tips from professionals working in the university admissions system, this is the place to come for help applying to USA institutions.

share image

The application system for universities in America is unique in several ways and can be quite hard to grasp. But don’t worry, we’ve spoken to international students and professionals from within the industry, to give you all the information you need. After reading this, you’ll know everything about how to put together the best application to universities, so that you can make your dream of a study abroad adventure in America finally come true!


We’ve been told that the initial application that will go to a university is actually quite simple. You’ll either go direct to the university’s unique online admissions system, or you can use generic websites such as the Common Application, to complete some checklists and details about yourself.


There will be questions for you to answer which will guide you through the application process. For our guide to the application process, have a look at this article. As you can see, the application form itself is not the complicated part. It is what you should include throughout the application as a whole which is the difficult bit.


However, we have found that there are a few things that you can do to set yourself apart from the crowd of applications that each American university will receive every year. Here they are, with advice from Assistant Vice President of Enrolment at Maryville University, Melissa Mace, and international student Callum Squires who went on to work at the admissions department in Trinity University, Texas:



Get good grades


This one may seem obvious, but you can’t underestimate how important it is to obtain impressive grades before university.


You may also have to take an entrance exam, or an ACT/SAT, depending on which university you would like to go to. As Callum says, “Your average international student applying to the university would just have to take one of the exams and get as good a score as possible. It is common to take them more than once, so don’t worry if you have to do that. It does cost some money though, so you have to be aware of that.”



Write a brilliant entrance essay


You may often hear characters in American sitcoms or films talk about their ‘college essay’. Well, now it’s your turn.


But what should you put in your essay? How should it be written? “The essay question really gets into the heart of what the student is thinking and what they want out of their US education”, says Melissa, “Why did they want to come to school here? Why did they choose the subject they’re studying? They really need to answer the question honestly… The spelling, the grammar, the sentence structure, the complete thoughts, it’s about being able to tell a story about themselves.”


If writing isn’t your strong point, do not, I repeat DO NOT, get somebody else to write your essay for you! As Melissa says, “It’s very easy to tell when someone else has written the essay. A lot of prospective students will get worried about the essay question and they might have someone else write it for them. We don’t want to see that, we want to see the student’s own work.”


Apply early


Another one that may sound obvious. However, this is particularly crucial for USA universities because of the sheer volume of applications they get per year.


We recommend starting your application process at least a year before the deadline so that you have enough time to put together your perfect application after finding your universities of choice.


Callum says, “Most students try and get their applications finished by Christmas, so I’d recommend getting it done by then, although the overall application deadline is usually in February.” This means you are ahead of the crowd, and you are not submitting a rushed application at the last minute.


Essentially, this is important because it gives you more time to start up a dialogue with the university of your choice.



Admissions teams at different universities are usually available for prospective students to go in and see them whenever they need to. So, make sure to make the most of that! If you are serious about the prospect of going to a certain college, try to go in and visit. Or get in contact via phone or email. Introducing yourself to the admissions team could make an impact on your application. They much prefer it if they can match a face (or voice) to the name.


Callum agrees with this, “Make sure you meet as many people as possible.” He says, “At my college, the admissions department is open six days a week so that you can come in, have a campus tour and meet someone from the department to get advice about your application.”


Think carefully about what universities you apply to


You need to be wary of what types of university you apply to. The USA is a bit different to other countries as there is no limit to the number of universities that you can apply to. This means that some people can end up applying to too many and not submitting good enough applications. Be wise, apply to a variety of institutions.


Melissa goes into a bit more detail, “What I recommend any prospective student to do is to apply to at least 3 – 5 schools. What we tell students is to apply to a safety net school which is a school with lower admission standards, it’s a pretty safe bet, you could probably get into that school. Secondly, a school that is right at your level and then a stretch school [which is above your level, just in case you get better results than expected].”



Get involved in activities outside of school


One thing that shows you will be an asset to the university is that you can take part in activities outside of your studies, that contribute to your development as a person.


Melissa says, “We look at the activities the prospective student was involved in high school. And that’s important to be able to let us know what you have done. As a high school student, we want to know what were you involved in outside of your academic courses. Sports can be included, volunteer activities outside of school can be included.”



“Extracurricular activities can be very important… These are all examples of leadership and involvement and they’re really important, they really round out a prospective student’s experiences and leadership skills.”


So, there you have it! Follow these top tips and your application will be the best of the bunch. Excited? Well then, start your study abroad adventure in the USA now with our course search.

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.

Get your eBook