How to Apply to U.S. Universities

by Juliet Terrill | In Academic Advising, Career Development, Guides and Tools | 8 December 2020 | Updated on: March 24th, 2021

As an international student, you are likely to have questions about how to apply to study abroad in the U.S. It can be confusing to follow the procedures if you’re not familiar with them. MPOWER is here to help you through your student journey and apply to universities in the U.S.! 

Introduction to Education in the U.S.

Choosing to study abroad in the U.S. is an important decision. Most universities recommend that international students contact admissions about a year prior to their expected program start. So if you’re hoping to study abroad starting in Fall 2022, plan to reach out to universities by Fall 2021. This year should give you plenty of time to prepare. Here are 5 steps to get started: 

  1. Choose Your University and Program 

Aspiring students should apply to multiple universities to increase their chances of admission. Many recommend having a ‘safety’ option, a university where your chances of admission are high. Then having a best ‘fit’ university, where your grades, test scores, and profile match or ‘fit’ the expectations and past admission trends of the university. Lastly, you can apply for a ‘reach’ university. This university might be your dream choice, and a little bit out of reach based on your test scores and profile, but you never know! 

Research and develop a list of universities to apply to that that matches your profile as a student (grades, scores, etc.) and your ideal learning environment. Narrow down your list based on such factors as cost, financial aid options, job placement, university size, and location.


  1. Prepare for Standardized Test Requirements

In addition to your academic record of grades from your home country, universities may look closely at your test scores. Depending on the degree you’re pursuing and based on each university, there can be  a few different standardized tests required in the U.S. These include:

  • SAT or ACT: This is the standardized test for undergraduate studies. Some universities prefer one exam over the other, but each exam tests your general comprehension of what you need to know and be able to do before attending a U.S. university, such as writing, reading, and math. Check your university’s requirements first and look for SAT or ACT guides.
  • GRE or GMAT: These are the exams required for most graduate programs (i.e. Masters) in the U.S. The GRE is more general for Masters or other graduate programs, while the GMAT is more focused for admission to programs like an MBA.


  1. Understand Language Test Requirements

If you’re coming from a country or university where English is not the primary language, you may be required to take an English language exam such as the TOEFL, to prove your fluency and ability to study in English. Each university will have a minimum score you must reach to prove your proficiency. Be sure to research which test is recommended, minimum required test score, and how to best prepare.


  1. Compile Required Documents

Each university will have its own specific requirements that you should check on their website first. Most U.S. universities will ask for the following documents:

  • Transcripts from undergraduate program or high school (or equivalent)
  • Résumé or CV
  • Test scores
  • Proof of English language proficiency
  • Admissions Essay or Statement of Purpose
  • Recommendation letters
  • Other writing sample
  • Application fee
  • Identification (i.e. passport photo)


  1. Start the Application Process

Once you’ve researched universities and courses, make a plan with each university’s deadlines and requirements. Make sure you have the required documents, test scores, and essays ready for your application. If you need to, register for standardized tests and prepare for them. There are many in-person or online courses for exam preparation. Be sure to ask for your recommendation letters in advance, review your essays, and look into the requirements for a student visa (something you’ll need after acceptance!)


Study Abroad Assistance with MPOWER!

In need of more assistance throughout the university search and application process? MPOWER is now offering more comprehensive services to international students to help them find their best fit university in the U.S. or Canada, immigration tips, and financing options. To learn more, visit our website.

Author: View all post by Juliet Terrill

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