Are you planning to study in the United States? As an international student, the application process can be quite overwhelming. Every U.S. university has specific standards when it comes to its admissions. Therefore, all applications must be made separately to the schools in which you are interested. You should also remember that you are competing with other students for limited spaces in those institutions. As such, before settling on two or three universities, make sure that you meet all the requirements. In this article, we will show you all you need to know about the process of applying for undergraduate and postgraduate programs in any U.S. university.

There are some general rules to consider in the application process regardless of the level. First, does the university offer the subject on which you want to major? Remember that every institution has specific areas of specialization. Therefore, as you prepare yourself, start by shortlisting all the U.S. universities offering your preferred course.

The second factor that you must consider is the financial side. From the list you have created above, go through the fee structures of each university, and compare them with your budget. Will you be able to pay the fees without struggling? If the answer is “no,” consider searching for other affordable institutions. Conversely, you can also check if they have scholarships. Finding financial aid from governmental and non-governmental organizations will help you pursue your career without many hurdles.

Finally, is the location of the school favorable to you? As a student, you might have a part-time (or full-time in the case of graduates) job that you’ve already started. Therefore, as you make your decision, consider the time you will spend traveling and see if it is worth it.

These factors are not specific to either undergraduates or postgraduates. After making up your mind about the universities you want to select, you can now move on to the next step. The following processes will depend on whether you are applying for an undergrad, master’s, or doctoral degree. Let us first look at the undergraduate programs.

University Application Process at Universities in the USA

1. Applying For Undergraduate Programs

To be in a better position, make sure that you start the application early enough. This way, you will have enough time to select the university that perfectly fits your needs. After listing all your preferred institutions, you can now go on and start sending your applications. Remember, not all universities follow the same procedures. Therefore, before you begin, you might want to contact your preferred schools directly so that they can clarify to you whatever you need to know. That is the reason why we insist that you begin the process early enough.

Many U.S. universities require applicants to submit their test scores during the application process. SAT/ACT, SAT Subject (dependent on course selection), and TOEFL tests are meant to measure your readiness and predict future academic success. You need to register for these exams in advance and take them before you can move to the next step. The dates for these tests are spread through several months of each academic year so that you can make plans according to your current schedule. Contrary to popular belief that the SAT is the most preferred, all colleges accept either SAT or ACT scores. Therefore, it will all depend on your performance in either of the exams.

If you score below 1400/30 on the SAT/ACT, you can take the test more than once to give you a better chance of being selected during evaluations. Also, strive to score anywhere above 100 in TOEFL. Please note that these average scores are based on recent statistics, but they do not guarantee you a successful application. Some universities require a letter of recommendation from your previous teachers. Other documents that you may need include a passport, statement of purpose, transcripts, and financial documents.

The next step is the official application to the universities you selected earlier. Fill out the common application form. If you do not know how you should check How to Fill the Common App. If the universities which you are applying do not use the Common App, you will need to submit separate applications. The major ones are MIT and UC’s. Attach all your documents and send them to their respective universities. If you are successful after evaluation by the admission committee, you will be contacted by the university. Take this opportunity to inquire about accommodation services as you prepare to travel. Good luck!

2. Applying for Master’s Programs

You have completed your Bachelor’s degree and looking to further your studies in the United States. What is the procedure? Well, first, congratulations on your academic achievements so far! On average, the cost of pursuing a master’s degree in the United States will be between $30,000 and $120,000 depending on your field of specialization. The fees are quite high if you compare them with universities in other countries. Nonetheless, the quality of education you will receive is worth the sacrifice.

After you have selected your preferred universities, you can now begin the process. Application requirements vary, which is why you will need to research on each university you choose. Most institutions will require you to complete standardized tests such as GRE and submit their scores while others will ask for materials like writing samples. Whatever the requirement, make sure you exhaust the list. C1, IELTS, or TOEFL certificates may be required as proof of English language proficiency for international students.

Some of the documents that you will need to submit are your resume, transcripts (for the most recent degree), test scores, and a passport photo. It is recommended that you apply to at least three universities to increase your chances of success. Most importantly, though, remember that each university requires you to pay about $75 application fee.

Check Also: Available Programs for International Students

3. Applying for Ph.D. Programs

You have probably been thinking through the idea of pursuing a doctoral program for months now. Being regarded as “Dr. …” is the dream of most students, but it is even better when you gain that title from a reputable university. The U.S. universities top the list of the most-searched schools on the Google search engine. This statistic shows that many people trust and would like to be a part of these institutions. Therefore, as you begin your application, be ready to face stiff competition from other students across the world.

Unlike when applying for undergraduate programs, at this level, you already know what you want to study. You have already gained some experience in your field. As such, all you need to do is choose the university that best suits your research interests. Some universities will even give you a chance to find the best professors in a particular faculty with whom you can work effectively. When you align yourself with an expert scholar in your area of specialization, you will benefit from their experience and knowledge.

Most application deadlines are in the fall, meaning your preparation should start as early as the spring. For instance, a program that you would like to pursue in August 2020 will require you to complete the process before November 2019. Ask for recommendation letters from your previous professors in advance. You will also need to be well-prepared for the GRE test as this is your chance to convince the evaluators that you are up to the task.

For Your Information:

  • A master’s degree is not mandatory when applying to a Ph.D. program in many fields.


We hope that this article on the application procedure for US universities was helpful. If you are interested in studying abroad, check out the Available Programs for International Students!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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