Apply to Study in America

The United States has the world's largest and most versatile system of higher education. Any student willing and able to study will find a suitable place to study abroad at one of more than 3000 American colleges and universities – the key is finding the right institution

Apply to Study in America

How do I find out about American universities and colleges?
The best source of information today is the Internet. Most institutions have web pages that contain a wealth of information and instructions on how to submit an application for admission, including special instructions for international students. (See College Search) If you cannot find information for international students on a web page, contact the university and ask for it. Alternatively, you can find information on American higher education by visiting the nearest US embassy or consulate. They will direct you to a US Information Service Office, or the local agency that offers information on study in the United States.

An excellent starting point for information on study options in the US is the Educational Advisory Service (EAS:, which receives a grant from the US Government to provide free, objective information on all aspects of US education.

How do I find the right university for me?
First, you must have a clear idea of what you wish to study and where in the US you would like to be located. There are also financial considerations to take into account, as study in the US is costly and the amount can vary enormously from institution to institution. Field of study, geography and cost will help you narrow your selection.

The next step is to contact the universities that appeal to you and obtain information from them. As it can take some time to complete the application process, the earlier you begin the better it is for you. Start your search at least 12-18 months in advance; if you are planning to begin your studies in the autumn of 2010 you should start contacting universities in the spring of 2009. American universities admit new students twice a year. Although the largest intake is usually in the autumn, students are also admitted in the spring semester which starts in January, therefore if you want to start in January of the year 2011, begin your search in July 2009.

Courses and course providers

American degrees are based on a Liberal Arts philosophy, which requires that students take a wide variety of courses in the arts and sciences before concentrating on one academic
area so that they gain a well-rounded education. The American Bachelor degree consists of:

  • a major, which is a concentrated field of study
  • general education courses in a wide range of subjects
  • supporting courses for the major
  • electives, which are a student's free choice

A degree is designed to be completed in four years, although there is no fixed timescale. Instead, a degree is awarded after a student has completed a required amount of coursework, expressed in terms known as credits/units or semester hours. Usually a student will need to accumulate approximately 110 to 130 credits in order to graduate, with each course on average earning 3-4 credits. Continuous assessment is a feature and each course (class) per term is graded and then converted into a numeric equivalent called a Grade Point Average on a scale of 0 - 4.0 which indicates how well a student is performing. Colleges and universities both award undergraduate degrees and colleges are in no way inferior to universities. Indeed, the terms 'colleges' and 'universities' tend to be used interchangeably. You should note that medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and law are not subjects studied at undergraduate level in the United States.

Each institution has its own application deadlines and procedures, although nearly 300 American colleges and universities subscribe to a Common Application Form in order to simplify the undergraduate applications process.

Qualifications needed
American colleges expect you to hold secondary school qualifications that would admit you to higher education in your own country. Colleges expect students to have English, mathematics, a language, a science subject and one other subject, plus an aptitude test. This is most often the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The Application Review
The admissions office is responsible for receiving applications, credentials, test results, letters of recommendation and application fees. When a file is complete, it is reviewed and a decision taken on admission. For postgraduate admission, the file is referred to the department to be reviewed by professors who make the final decision.

The review has several steps. In the first stage, credentials are compared to American credentials to determine whether the candidate meets minimum requirements and deserves further consideration. In the second stage grades, test results and letters of recommendations are closely examined to determine the quality of the application and how it compares with the rest of the applicant pool. It is more difficult to gain admission at a university of very high standing because of the intense competition for places. Even if you are not admitted to one university, do not despair, because there may be others that would be willing to admit you It is best to apply to more than one institution and in different locations.

My Educational Qualifications
The most important element in your application package is your educational qualifications, including degrees, diplomas, certificates and the corresponding statement of marks or examination results. The requirements of American institutions are very specific in this regard: final degree and diploma certificates alone are not sufficient, as detailed records of the subjects studied and annual examination results are essential and must be submitted. Take great care in gathering those documents, and do not overlook anything because it will only delay your application. If your documents are not in English, you must have them translated and submit both the translation and the original language documents.

How are foreign qualifications reviewed?
Many universities employ specialists in foreign educational systems and credentials to review documents submitted by international students. Others will instruct applicants to have their credentials evaluated by an independent organization that specializes in foreign credential evaluation, and will provide them with a list of organizations whose evaluations they accept. You can find the right evaluation services by asking the university for instructions. If they offer no special information and you are on your own, you should select a service that is a member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES:, which has strict professional standards. The evaluation is a written report that contains both a description and an interpretation of foreign education qualifications in US terms. There are two types of evaluation: the simple document-by-document evaluation and the comprehensive course-by-course evaluation. The document-by-document report describes each credential and gives it a US equivalent. A course-by-course report also includes a list of all post-secondary coursework converted in equivalent US semester credits and grades. There is a fee for this service, and you will find that each evaluation has different rates depending on the type of evaluation that is sought.

What else can an evaluation report do for me?
If you obtain an independent evaluation of your educational qualifications early on, it will give you some idea of what your educational background is worth in the US, and what to expect when you apply to American universities. That information can be very helpful when you make preparations for study in the United States, especially in estimating the amount of time and cost that it will take to earn a degree.

Getting a visa

While international students have always been welcome in the United States, the events of 9/11 led to a total review national security, which had the effect of discouraging many legitimate would-be students.

Students are subject to the same law as other temporary visitors, who must convince a consular officer they intend to return to their home country after they finish their course of study. You must also show that you are able to pay for your education, either from family funds or from grants or other sources, and that you truly intend to pursue a course of study.

All US embassies and consulates worldwide follow a uniform policy about who may be excused from a visa interview. There are few exceptions, and this procedure applies to all non-immigrant visa applicants, not just to students. Although visa interviews are brief, they are an important step in ensuring security and integrity in visa issuance. All visa applicants must provide a biometric identifier that can be encrypted on the visas that are issued.

Funding opportunities are available from US universities for international students, but you should note that full funding is rare unless you have academic, athletic or artistic talent. You can approach the university you plan to attend to ask about potential scholarship options. This should be done prior to actually submitting your application, so that you will know what scholarships you might be eligible for.

Cost is clearly a major consideration. International students must prove that they have sufficient funding to cover all costs for at least the first year in order to receive a student visa. Tuition fees may run anywhere from $1,500 to approximately $35,000 per academic year (nine months). In addition, books and other supplies have to be purchased and living expenses met. You will need to include transportation between the US and home, health insurance and personal expenses. Your family will be expected to contribute as much as they can afford towards the cost of your education.

Five steps to success

  1. Obtain information about institutions offering the subject you want to pursue. You will probably need to spend some online for this, conducting your research through search engines such as Peterson's (, College Board (, US News ( or The Princeton Review ( There are excellent colleges all over the US, some of which you may never have heard of before.
  2. Write to the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at each of the colleges you are interested in for an application form and a catalog (prospectus). Contact more than one institution: at this stage, you are writing for information/application form, and you should write to 12 – 15 colleges. When you decide which institutions to target, your letter of application should include the following information: name, age, address and nationality, the qualifications you will hold by the time you begin your studies, proposed major (if undecided it's OK), when you want to begin the course and finally how you plan to finance your education. The letter should be prepared carefully and legibly. Always give your name in exactly the same way on the application and in all correspondence.
  3. Register to take the SAT and ask the Educational Testing Service to forward your scores to the institutions to which you are applying. For online sample questions and preparation materials, visit the SAT Preparation Centre at  The SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of the critical thinking skills you will need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well you analyse and solve problems—skills you learned in school that you will need in college. The SAT has three scores, each on the scale of 200 to 800, and will include writing (W 200-800), mathematics (M 200-800), and critical reading (CR 200-800). The total testing time for the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Most institutions will require the SAT in addition to school qualifications. Some may also require SAT 2, to measure your knowledge in specific subjects. If English is not your native language, you will also be required to register for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and you should again ask the Educational Testing Service to forward your scores to the institutions to which you are applying.
  4. Read carefully through all the application forms you receive and complete carefully. Incomplete information will cause delay. After you have selected the colleges to which you would like to apply, complete and return the applications forms direct to each college before their individual deadline dates. There is no limit to the number of colleges you can apply to; however, most students apply to between three and eight to keep costs down. An application fee is required with each application form. Submit the appropriate amount in US currency with your application. Most institutions will not process your application without the fee. The information accompanying the application forms will give you the college's deadline for admission, required tests, required documents (such as school records), possible essay questions and the application fee (non-refundable, ranging from $30 to $90 per university) for processing the application. There is no clearing house in US higher education. Colleges usually notify their applicants between April and June. Note the deadlines by which you have to reply if you are accepted. If you are accepted by more than one institution, write to the one you decide to accept (pay a deposit if required) and also write to those whose offers you wish to decline.
  5. Once accepted by a college, you will receive a letter of admission and the form you require to apply for a visa: the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant F-1 Status. Remember that the Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or IAP-66) cannot be issued until you have been admitted, your level of English proficiency has been determined and your funding has been established as a sufficient amount to meet the institution's expenses. A Certificate of Eligibility is valid only for study in the institution which issued it - and only for the dates stated.

The key to submitting a competitive application is to allow plenty of time to complete all the steps of the process, especially concentrating on essays and personal statements.

Suggested reading

The Official SAT Study Guide, College Board, 2004

Getting into American Universities, James Burnett, Trotman, 2004

Uni in the USA: the UK Guide to US Universities, Stephen Baldock, Alice Fishburn and Anthony Nemecek, Lucas Publications, 2005

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