International Student Guide: How to Apply to College in the United States


Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education



11 min read

International Student Guide: How to Apply to College in the United States

What Are the Advantages of Attending a College in the United States?

Colleges and universities in the United States are known for their world-class liberal arts degree programs, cutting-edge research facilities, and skilled faculty. Many US colleges and universities have programs that have been accredited by worldwide education agencies such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). These prominent credentials reflect the caliber of your degree immediately and help you stand out to worldwide employers.

Many US colleges also provide flexible curricula and teaching techniques, allowing international students like you to explore other subjects, begin your degree program remotely, and/or engage in internships. Internships, co-ops, and externships allow you to get professional experience, increase your network of contacts, and diversify your skill set. Furthermore, certain US colleges offer expedited degree programs that allow you to earn your degree faster!

The US is known for its diverse and multicultural population. No matter where they're from, foreign students who apply to American universities can easily find a welcoming and understanding community, making the US feel like a second home.

Timeline for International Students' Applications

To understand the various application schedules and the process of applying to college in the United States for international students, it's important to get to know the different academic terms used by US universities and colleges.

If you'd rather kick off your term later in the year, you can go for Fall terms that start in September (or sometimes August) and wrap up in December. But if you want to start your term earlier, you can join the Spring term that starts in January and finishes in May. Oh, and some colleges might even have a Summer term in July for certain degrees, but keep in mind, these are typically pretty short.

To begin, you will need time to investigate the programs that interest you, which will most likely involve a number of universities and schools. Once you've acquired enough information about the programs and institutions, you may narrow down your selection of universities to apply to based on the characteristics that are most important to you and your long-term objectives.

Once you've acquired enough information about the programs and institutions, you may narrow down your selection of universities to apply to based on the characteristics that are most important to you and your long-term objectives.

This schedule for overseas students' college application process varies by student and is mainly dependent on the application deadlines of your top-choice colleges. Always begin the US university application process well ahead of deadlines to prepare for unanticipated delays. Visit for additional information on applying to American universities as an international student.

Finding Universities and Research Colleges

When figuring out how to apply for college in the US, the first thing to think about is the kind of program you're interested in and the field you'd like to work in. If you're sure about the field you want to study, you can start to focus on the colleges that have great degrees in that area. Checking out university rankings can be a big help in finding the perfect college for you. For instance, if you're aiming to be an accountant, you can take a look at the rankings for university accounting programs and make a list of the top ones. As you get to know more about the programs each college offers, you can narrow down your choices.

Several private organizations, including Forbes and Times Higher Education, rank institutions in the United States, and their rankings give you a good notion of which universities and schools to explore. The websites of university departments are excellent resources for learning more about their programs, including curriculum, opportunities, outcomes, and alumni testimonials.

Once you've narrowed down your list of prospective universities, begin contacting admissions personnel to discover more about how to apply for college in the United States as an international student. It's worth looking into foreign student admittance, projected expenses, and how to obtain required documentation. Always check to see if your university charges an international student application fee.

Decide on a College Major or Degree

Think about your future goals and what you want to achieve to figure out which programs you should apply to. Picking a college major might take some time, but it's super important because the knowledge and experiences you gain in college play a big role in your future career. Plus, it's a major investment in terms of both money and time.

Consider your particular interests and strengths when deciding on a major. By pursuing a degree centered on your life's interest, you will naturally have a stronger affinity for it and will appreciate what you study much more.

You can also choose your degree or major based on the career you intend to pursue. Speak with an advisor about researching your career alternatives, employability, and pay rates, since this can help you determine whether your initial job plan was a good fit or if you should reevaluate your options.

Speak with an advisor about researching your career alternatives, employability, and pay rates, since this can help you determine whether your initial job plan was a good fit or if you should reevaluate your options.

Many institutions enable you to begin your studies as an undeclared major if you want to enroll as an undergraduate. This allows you to explore several topics of study, which will help you decide on your major after obtaining more experience at university.

What Types of Standardized Testing Do I Require?

When applying to American universities as an overseas student, the needed tests vary depending on the program and whether you are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree. Undergraduate programs typically require only one of two tests:

While both assess a student's college preparation and academic performance, there are some important distinctions: The SAT emphasizes analytical skills such as mathematics, whereas the ACT emphasizes verbal skills.

Graduate students must take additional specialized tests. These may include:

  • GRE—Most liberal arts degrees in the humanities or sciences need the GRE.
  • GMAT—for business school.
  • DAT—for dental school.
  • LSAT—for law school.
  • MCAT—for medical school.

International Students' Language Requirements

Most colleges demand a minimum score in any English language test for both undergraduate and graduate students, however others may prefer a specific test. The minimal score varies by university and program, so verify the prerequisites before applying.

You can take the following English language tests:

  • International English Language Testing System exam (IELTS)
  • English as a Foreign Language Test (TOEFL)
  • Advanced C1

Each assesses your English reading and writing abilities, as well as your speaking and listening talents. These tests are normally available in your nation at English language testing centers. You may discover more about each test by visiting its own website, such as

Inquire with your counselor or admissions officer if the university to which you are applying provides assistance with English language acquisition. Some colleges may allow you to improve your English abilities while studying.

Evaluation of a Foreign Student's Transcript

A few colleges might ask for your academic transcripts to be assessed when you're an international student applying for college in the United States. This is because the names of subjects can vary between your home country and the US. By checking your transcripts, the admissions staff can make sure that the subjects you've studied are valid and acknowledged by the universities you're considering.

Transcripts are evaluated by third-party organizations. (Keep in mind that the agency you select must be certified to evaluate transcripts.) Check to see if the agency is a member of a respected organization, such as the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) or the Association of International Credential Evaluators Inc. (AICE).

Course-by-course evaluation is one form of evaluation service offered by agencies. The agency examines your school transcripts and any previous diplomas or certifications before compiling a report on your credit hours and performance (such as your grades).

The other service accessible is educational evaluation, in which the agency documents all of the schools and other educational institutions you have attended, as well as any certifications or credentials you have obtained. The relevant qualifications in the United States are then listed for universities to reference.

International Students and Visas

To study in the United States as an international student, you must first get a student visa. To begin, you must be accepted by one of the colleges to which you have applied, since they will provide you a vital document known as the I-20 or DS-2019, depending on your visa type. The paperwork you receive is determined on the sort of program you applied to and identifies the type of student visa you require: F-1, J-1, or M-1. After receiving your I-20 or DS-2019 form, you must submit an application for a student visa. Here's how the procedure works:

  1. Pay a $350 SEVIS I-901 charge online (save the electronic SEVIS fee receipt!).
  2. Submit an application for a student visa.
  3. Schedule your visa interview at the nearest US embassy or consulate.
  4. Finish the interview

Deadlines for University Applications

When applying to college as an international student, each institution and program has a separate deadline for international student applications, and this might also vary depending on whether you apply early or regular decision. You can apply to one college far earlier in the year for your preferred start date with early admission. You will also receive a prompt response. There is a requirement for early admission: if admitted by your early admission university, you must attend that university and withdraw all other applications.

Applying for regular admission means you'll submit your application by the regular deadline and be evaluated with the majority of other applicants. The cool thing about regular admission is that you can keep other applications open even if you don't get a response right away. Just remember, regular admissions may have specific criteria for the university or program you're applying to, so don't forget to check all the details!

It's always a good idea to plan ahead, especially when it comes to unexpected delays. Just to play it safe, make sure to send in your applications way before the deadlines.

Apply to Colleges of Interest

When your applications are complete, it is time to start applying! Foreign student admission procedures at US institutions and colleges typically permit you to submit your international student application and supporting documentation online.

Before submitting your applications, double-check that you have included all required information and that you are sending them to the correct recipient or via the official admissions website for each university.

Accepting an Offer from a University as an International Student

You may receive admissions offers from more than one university to which you have applied. If this occurs, carefully analyze each of your alternatives and select the one that best meets your personal goals, desired lifestyle in the United States, and long-term career aspirations. It's also a good idea to evaluate which colleges provide the best opportunities for overseas students to lower their tuition costs through scholarships or other forms of financial aid.

When you've settled on an institution in the United States, you can confirm your acceptance by following the procedures in your admissions letter or package. After you submit your reply, your university will contact you to discuss the next steps. You may also be required to make a deposit fee to secure your enrollment, depending on the university or program.

After you have completed these steps, you can begin the process of obtaining a student visa to travel to the United States. It's time to rejoice with your friends and family once you've received your visa! Your new life in the United States begins shortly, and you may begin your university studies in the United States with confidence.

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