Applying to study in the U.S. is a long process. Here we provide some guidelines and tips to make it as easy as possible.
In order to submit a successful application to a U.S. university or college, students should begin planning more than a year in advance. Following this suggested timeline will mitigate the stress level and will make the admissions and visa processes smoother. Read schools’ specific admissions requirements and deadlines to construct your own specific timeline.
18 months before start of study
- Gather information about schools
- Prepare or admission and language tests
- Plan finances
15 months before start of study
- Finalize list of schools to apply
- Compile admissions materials
- Request Transcripts
- Take admissions and/or language tests
10 months before start of study
- Complete application materials
- Write application essays
- Write personal statement
- Request letters of recommendation
9 months before start of study
- Request friends/family/teachers/advisors to review your application materials
- Submit applications
- Familiarize yourself with U.S. news
6 months before start of study
- Celebrate your acceptance to study in your university of choice!
- Complete school-specific paperwork as requested
3 months before start of study
- Apply for Student Visa
- Finalize travel plans
Most applications for U.S. colleges and universities require the following information:
- Application Form: Typically includes personal and academic information, essay questions, and a personal statement. Often applications are completed and submitted online.
- Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose: A crucial part of your application, this essay allows you to express your individuality, special accomplishments, and areas of interest. You should take plenty of time to focus on writing a strong statement. More information on writing Your Personal Statement Essay.
- Official Academic Transcripts: If in a language other than English, official transcripts will usually need to be translated by your school or an official translation service. U.S. institutions may require BOTH original and official translated records.
- Exam Results: Exam requirements may vary for different schools but you may be asked to submit scores from a standardized test and an test that measures your English language ability. When you take required exams, you will receive information on sending scores to schools. More information on Exams.
- Letters of Recommendation: Request your letters early to give your recommenders enough time to write your letter. Sometimes recommenders must complete a form online. More information on Letters of Recommendation.
- Financial Aid Application Form: Find out if your application will be reviewed for financial aid opportunities or if an additional application is required. Be sure to ask if specific scholarships or financial aid packages are available for international students.
- Financial/Bank Statements: Only send these if required. Some schools look at your financial records to determine your eligibility for financial aid and to ensure compliance with your visa requirements. Questions can always be sent to admissions office if you are uncertain if this information is required.
- Application Fee: Consider the application fees when thinking about costs. Each school will have a fee somewhere around US$50-100. Occasionally fees can be waived, so review admissions requirements or ask the admissions office. Keep in mind that you will also have to pay fees for your tests, including sending scores to each school. Other costs may include transcript fees, translation fees, or postage.
The Common Application
The Common Application Membership Association provides a standardized undergraduate application form for use with 488 member institutions in 46 states and the District of Columbia. A variety of public and private, large and small, highly selective and modestly selective, and geographically diverse institutions accept the Common Application. To find the list of universities accepting the common application, please visit their website.
The Common Application is highly beneficial for applicants because once it is completed, the Application for Undergraduate Admission can be sent to all participating colleges and universities, allowing the applicant to focus on writing one good general application, rather than spending time filling out the same information over and over again for different universities.
A holistic process incorporates subjective as well as objective criteria, including at least one recommendation, at least one untimed essay and broader campus diversity considerations. As part of the application process, schools require a variety of information to be provided by teachers and guidance counselors who have interacted with the applicant in the high school environment. The teacher and counselor will have the option to complete the forms online via the Common Application Online School Forms system if they desire.
It is important to note that some colleges and universities have additional requirements to the common application; they might, for example, request an extra essay or recommendation form. You may still have to pay separate fees and send transcripts and test scores separately to each school.
18 Tips for a Successful Application
Your application to U.S. colleges and universities is the key for your admission process. It talks on your behalf and therefore you must take utmost care when completing it. Below are a few useful tips for an impressive application.
1. Come to university fairs prepared to ask questions that reflect your interests and goals. Suggested questions to as university representatives.
2. Follow up with the person you met during the university fair or recruitment activity; send a Thank You Email or ask any follow up questions you may have. They will remember you and will talk to the admissions committee about you and your interests. Make sure you leave this person with a good impression.
3. Follow directions exactly: deadlines, guidelines and requirements should be strictly followed. Do not send more information than is asked for by the institution.
4. Edit your application. Make sure your documents do not have any mistakes and/or typos. Make sure you do not accidentally reference one university while writing an application for another one.
5. Know your college. Unless completing the Common Application, mention specifics about the school that influenced your decision to apply. Even with the Common Application, you can write specific personal statements for each college, if you so choose.
6. Provide a professional email address that is easy to recognize and associate with you, for example: firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com.
7. Facebook is for recreation. It is not a professional connection. Make sure that if universities search your name they will not find anything on you that could put you in a bad light. If you do want to have a professional way of connecting with professors or advisors, then LinkedIn is a very popular professional social networking site in the U.S.
8. Do not over-exaggerate your extracurricular activities. Schools want to know the real you; representing yourself accurately will also help you find an institution that will be the best fit for your interests.
9. Always remember to indicate what acronyms stand for.
10. Take the effort to explain changes in your resume or academic record. If you have a less than desirable record (you missed a semester or have low grades etc.), accept responsibility and explain lessons learned.
11. Attempt the optional essays. These provide the scope to explain anything in your application and are another opportunity for the selection committee to get to know you as a person, not just another application. Remember, most schools look for unique individuals.
12. Be specific and creative. Do not conclude your essay by writing, “And so, I would love to join your university.”
13. Limit sorrowful emotions. Show your enthusiasm for the university, but remain professional. There is no need to apologize for any actual or perceived shortcomings; highlight your strengths and accomplishments.
14. Write professionally. Avoid slang or colloquialisms and do not use “text-speak.” Profane words are also not a good way to be noticed. Instead, write professionally and, when in doubt, lean towards more formal writing.
15. Most applications are online, be tech-savvy and click the SUBMIT button.
16. Confirm with any contacts you may have made at the university that you have submitted your entire application and look forward to its review.
17. Instead of leaving any items blank, write “not applicable”. Do not leave missing information on your application.
18. Every achievement is important. Don’t belittle or under serve your accomplishments and merits but be sure it is relevant to your application.