How to apply to a university in USA as an international student

How to apply to a university in The USA

As an International student, choosing a university to study in the United States can be a very difficult and confusing process. There are hundreds of excellent U.S. universities across the country with different admission criteria, English proficiency requirements, and in some cases, standardized exams such as the SAT, ACT, GRE or GMAT; depending on the program you want to study. You must apply to each university separately and each university has its own application deadlines, many of which are different for international students than U.S citizens or residents. This guide will help you begin your application process with any U.S university. This process can be very difficult for some individuals and if you find it challenging, is here to help you with the entire process. 


Steps to apply to a University in USA

Step One (1) Choosing the university and program

You will need to spend some time online and do your research for each of the universities you plan to apply to. Keep in mind that there are differences between state universities and private universities. State universities tend to be larger campus universities and usually cost less than most private universities. It is important that you also look and make sure they have the program degree you wish to study. Many universities may not offer the exact major you wish to study, but they might offer something similar. In some cases, some universities do not use the standard name for some of the majors. For example, George Mason University offers the bachelor’s in Government and International Politics which is most commonly known as Political Science; so do not be discouraged if you do not find the major right away; always look for the study plan of the program you want to study and see if the classes they offer are the ones that fit the program you wish to study.

Once you have an idea of which universities you want to apply to, email their international admissions office. In most cases, universities have an entire department designated to helping International students and you should email them with any questions you were not able to get an answer from the university website. You should always plan to apply to at least three universities since you are not guaranteed to get admission to your first choice.

Step One (2) Sending your application to the university in USA

Universities in the U.S.A use certain criteria to base their admissions decisions on each application. Most universities now do take a holistic approach to each application. You should know that one of the most important factors is the academic record of your last three years in high school, and if you are applying for a Master’s degree, then your Grade Point Average (GPA) from your Bachelor’s degree. The second determining factor is the applicable examinations such as SAT or ACT for students who have access to those exams; and English proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS, Person Versant or Duolingo. The English proficiency exams are required by all universities for international students that come from countries where the official language of that country is not English. Another important factor for some universities is the essay requirement. Some universities require applicants to submit an essay along with their application; these can be short essay answers for some universities while for other universities you are required to write a specific number of characters or pages of a specific topic or question. You must spend some time in writing your essay and put some serious thought into it. Many universities consider the essays a great factor in determining if you are a good prospective international student for the university and program you want to study.

Graduate International students will need the English proficiency exams as well as the GRE or GMAT exams for certain Master’s degree programs. Please note that in the U.S.A you are not able to apply for a Master’s degree unless you have completed a Bachelor’s degree from your home country. In many cases, the GMAT or GRE can be waived if you meet certain criteria, but the criteria vary by university and program; so make sure you do your research.

Most universities in the U.S.A. will charge an application fee, so it is important that as you submit your application you are prepared to pay this fee. Keep in mind that the application fee is not refundable. In most cases, universities have their own application form for their graduate or Master’s degree program, while a great majority of U.S universities use the Common App or Coalition App for their Bachelor’s degrees. Some states such as California or Texas have their own application systems for the universities located in those states.

Step (3) Submitting documents and required exams

Universities in the U.S.A, can vary greatly as to how you should send them your international student documents. The majority of universities will only accept copies of your passport and bank letter via email. Few universities will ask for scanned copies of your high school or Bachelor’s degree transcripts, but will require for you to send official documents upon making an admissions decision. The majority of universities in the U.S.A. will require for you to send official documents from your home country.

What does official documents mean? Well, in the U.S.A. official documents are those documents that are sent to the university directly from the issuing institution. For example, if you graduated from your high school in Panama, they will ask the high school in Panama to send them those documents directly to the university; this can be a problem in countries where this is not a normal procedure such as high schools in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. In these instances, you might need to send your documents through a sponsoring agent or ask your high school to email those directly to the university. Keep in mind that all non-English documents will require an official translation in English.

Graduate students may ask their university to send the official documents directly via mail or email to the universities they are applying to in the U.SA, and you might need to pay for the mailing fees of those official documents to be sent. Sending your official exam results whether from your English proficiency exams or graduate exams such as your GRE or GMAT is usually quite simple, and in all cases you need to submit the request through the website where you register to take the exam; and those entities will send the official scores directly to the universities in the U.S.A. 

Step (4) My application is complete, what do I do next?

This is the easiest part of the process but it requires patience. Once your application is complete, you do not need to worry about taking any additional exams or sending additional documents. Some universities can be quite fast in making decisions and they have rolling admissions where they process applications in the order in which they are received and continue to make decisions each week. Other universities will not review your documents until a specific date. This can be quite frustrating if you were able to complete your application early on. Waiting on your decision from the university can be very difficult for many people since they would like to know as soon as possible, so that they can start making arrangements for the visa application and other travel arrangements. Use this time to complete other university applications which you may still be working on, and keep an eye on your email for any communications and emails sent to you from the university.

Once the university decides on your application, you will receive an email with a notification to login to your school portal; or they will email you the decision. Some universities might notify you and then mail the official documents directly to your home country. You must always enter your complete home address to avoid any mailing issues with the documents sent to you from the university. If you are accepted, you usually have a couple of months of grace period to decide if you will attend the university or not.

Step (5) I have been admitted, now what?

Now that you are admitted and you have decided which university you want to attend, you must begin your confirmation and immigration process as soon as possible. Usually, the confirmation process requires the student to pay a deposit payment and submit a confirmation through the university portal. Most universities will ask for a small deposit such as 200 dollars, while others may require you to pay a larger deposit. Make sure you finish the confirmation process as soon as possible, so you can begin your immigration process.

As an international student in the U.S.A, you are required to have an F-1 Student Visa; which you need to apply for from your country of origin. In order to apply for the student visa, the university needs to issue an I-20 form. Once you receive this form, you will need to submit your application for the student visa, submit your Student Exchange and Visa Information System (SEVIS) fee payment, and pay for your visa appointment in your country. Once you have done both of these steps, you will be able to schedule your visa appointment in the U.S consulate in your country.

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