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How To Apply To A U.S. University as an International Student

Tuesday | January 10, 2023 | by WES Advisor

A young female student stands with her books on campus.

For many students around the world, the dream of studying in the United States lives on. Higher education in the U.S. is still highly coveted and remains very popular among international students.  According to U.S. News and World Report, half of the world’s top universities are in the U.S., and 15 of those rank in the Top 20. While you may face tough competition from other international applicants, you can give yourself an advantage if you know how to apply to a U.S. university as an international student.  

From taking English language tests and completing the Common Application to learning about financial aid and scholarships, navigating the U.S. college application process doesn’t need to be as complicated as it may seem. 

Benefits of Pursuing Higher Education in the U.S. 

International student enrollment at U.S. universities declined by 15 percent in the 2020/21 school year because of COVID-19. However, according to the Open Doors 2022 report released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, new international student enrollments have increased by 80 percent. Pursuing higher education in the U.S. can be advantageous when you enter the workplace. Many international students want to study in the U.S. for the following reasons: 

  • Access to a diverse array of academic majors and programs 
  • Potential advantages in gaining job prospects 
  • Internship opportunities at global companies  
  • World-class facilities and student resources 

How to Apply to a U.S. University 

Navigating the university application process is easier if you know what to expect. Most U.S. university websites include application instructions and requirements. The usual requirements are an academic transcript, test scores, statement of purpose, résumé, and payment of the application fee. 

Planning is essential for a smooth and successful university application process. Below are some of the most important considerations when you are applying to a U.S. university as an international student. 

Application Deadlines 

In some cases, U.S. universities have different deadlines for international students and U.S. residents. Each university has its own application deadlines, but most accept applications for either spring or fall admission. Refer to the university website for specific deadline details.   

You might also check to see if the U.S. university you’re applying to offers options for early action or early decision. This means you can get an early admission decision. However, make sure to confirm the details with the university. Early decisions are generally binding; that is, if you are accepted, then you are required to enroll in that institution. Early action allows more flexibility, and you can consider offers from other schools. Read more about the difference between early action and early decision.   

Common Application 

Most U.S. universities require applicants to complete the Common Application. The Common Application (also called the Common App) is a centralized application form that you need to fill out only once, even if you’re applying to multiple universities. This saves you time and effort as you consider different U.S. study options. 

Obtain a Credential Evaluation 

When applying to a U.S. university, you will be required to provide an evaluation of your international education and credentials. A credential evaluation assesses your academic records according to U.S. standards.  

It’s a good idea to begin the credential evaluation process early—even before you know which U.S. universities you will apply to. Obtaining your credential evaluation report early will help you avoid delays and allow you to focus on all the other application requirements. 

Standardized Tests and Language Requirements 

As you apply to U.S. universities or colleges, you will need to show proof that you passed standardized tests and met language requirements. If you plan to enter an undergraduate program in the U.S., you should submit your SAT or ACT scores. For graduate programs, you need to take the GRE or GMAT, depending on the program you’re applying to. 

International applicants also need to show proficiency in the English language. You can comply with this requirement by passing one of the commonly accepted English language tests, such as IELTS Academic, PTE Academic, TOEFL iBT, and C1 Advanced. 

Student Visa 

You need to be accepted by a U.S. university in order to apply for a student visa, so this is usually one of the final steps in the application process. The university will provide you with the acceptance letter usually as a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 —which you will present to the U.S. embassy when you apply for your student visa.  

Financial Aid and Scholarships 

The cost of living in the U.S. and your tuition fees could be higher than you expected, so it is common for international students to apply for scholarships or financial aid. Visit the Education USA website to search for financial aid opportunities or contact your institution directly and ask about any scholarships, grants, or other aid it may offer. 

Ready to take the next steps in your educational journey? Let WES support your dreams of studying in the U.S.! Create your WES account and get started today. 

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WES Advisor is an initiative of World Education Services, a non-profit organization with over 45 years of experience in international education. We provide advice and resources for international students and skilled immigrants to help them make informed decisions about education, employment, immigration, and integration opportunities in the U.S. and Canada.