Applying to university in the US is quite a long and complex process. If you’re considering studying in the US, then you’re going to have to be prepared to do a bit more research and spend even more time on your applications.
Your best starting point
We highly recommend heading over the US Embassy website to start your planning.
There are over 4,700 universities and colleges in the States, with over 1,000,000 international students landing there each year, so the US Government is all over the international student market and there’s tonnes of information out there to help you.
(Note: the terms ‘college’ and ‘university’ are interchangeable terms in the US tertiary education system).
You can also contact the US Consulate offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth who’ll be able to help you with student visas and all the other official paperwork.
Step 1 – Research all your options
Find out where you can study, what course options are on offer, and start making a list so you can narrow down all your options. Location and costs might also play a role.
Register and attend any information sessions about studying in the USA or virtual open days. Remember you can always contact the unis directly with any questions or queries too.
It’s recommended that you start this as early as Year 11 to give yourself plenty of time to make the best choice for you.
Using a spreadsheet is a great way to keep track of all your research. You could include columns for:
- Admission dates – for all decision types (Early Decision, Early Action and Regular Decision)
- Standardized tests – which test(s) are required; what are the minimum score(s)?
- Costs – both tuition and accommodation
- Scholarships – include deadlines and application links
- Application type – which application is used (e.g. CommonApp)
- Application requirements – e.g. personal statement; letter of recommendation; five adjectives that best describe you, etc.
- International admissions department – record a contact person/email address for any queries
- Financial aid deadlines
For student-athletes you’ll also need to include:
- Coach – name and contact information
- Team roster information
You’ll need 5-8 universities on your Shortlist
Because there are so many universities in the US, we recommend that you narrow down your options to avoid confusion. It’s recommended you narrow your list down to:
- 1-2 dream colleges
- 2-4 competitive colleges
- 2 safe colleges
Step 2 – Apply
Unlike here in Australia, there is no centralised application centre for university applications (such as UAC). This means you need to apply to each university or college individually.
We recommend that you get in touch with the international admissions department of the university or college you’re interested in ASAP. This way you can ask about admission requirements and dates so you don’t miss out.
Prepare your documents
Each college and university in the US might ask for different documents for admission, but most typically require:
- Standardized scores: including SAT and ACT test scores. Check if it’s a requirement where you want to apply and make sure you register and prepare for the test. You can take the test more than once, so if you don’t get a great score the first time around, don’t fret.
- Letters of recommendation: Many colleges require two or three letters of recommendation, which must be from trusted adults who know you. These typically come from recent teachers or careers advisors, but can also come from club or team coaches, members of organisations you’re a part of outside of school, or employers.
- Personal statements and essays: institutions in America look beyond your exam results. Your personal statement and other essays provide you with an opportunity to highlight all your good bits and achievements, particularly any extra-curricular activities you take part in.
- Academic transcripts: You’ll need your transcripts from high school, and any other academic institutions you might have been enrolled in like TAFE or MOOCs. They should list your qualifications, grades, and other achievements.
- Application form: You’ll probably have to complete an application form for each university you’re applying for. This will usually include your personal details as well as parent or legal guardian information.
- Financial information: You might have to provide information about your family’s financial situation to see if you qualify for scholarships and so they can make sure you’ll be able to pay the bill if not. The deadline for financial information might be later than the application deadline, but it’s always good to double-check.
Keep track of any key dates
Just like uni applications here in Australia, it’s vital that you keep a close eye on any key dates and ensure you get all your paperwork in on time.
Application dates vary by university, but most generally close around the beginning of January.
- Applications open for most US universities in early August.
- SAT and ACT Tests are run throughout the year with several dates.
- Early Action/Early Decision Deadlines are early November for most universities.
- Final Deadlines are in early January for most universities.
- You will need to accept your offer by 1 May.
See the below timeline – we recommend sticking it up on your wall to help you keep on track.
Early Action vs Early Decision
If you’d like to get your application in early, you have two options: early action and early decision. But what’s the difference?
Put simply, if you apply for early decision, you must accept any offer you’re given. If you reject the offer then change your mind, you must go through the application process all over again.
Through early action, you may receive an early offer, but you don’t necessarily need to accept it. You’re free to wait as long as you need to accept, even until you’ve received other regular offers. However, there are very few universities in the US that take early action applications.
There are no conditional offers to study in the US – you will either be offered a place, which means you’re in as long as you accept, or rejected, which means you now have a couple of options.
If you are sent an offer, all you need to do now is accept. Make sure you do this before the deadline (usually 1 May for the Fall/Autumn semester) or your offer will lapse and you will need to reapply. Keep in mind that you can reject an offer if you don’t want it, or have received an offer from a different university.
If your application is rejected, you might be put on a waitlist. This means if other students have been offered a place but don’t accept, there could be a place free for you. It’s not a guarantee, but might be worth waiting it out to see if you can grab a spot.
If your application is rejected and you’re not offered a spot on a waitlist, this means you’ll need to reapply in the next admissions cycle.
Complete a free application course
To help you really get to grips with the application systems, EducationUSA recommends you complete this free online course. It’s a four-week online course especially developed for international students, regardless of which US institution you want to attend.
Step 3 – Find out about Student Visa requirements
To live and study in the US, you’ll need to obtain a Student Visa. This can be quite a complex process with a lot of paperwork involved, so we recommend you start doing your research as soon as possible.
Once you’re accepted into a university, they will start sending you the paperwork to begin the Visa application process.
Here are some things to keep in mind with your Visa application:
- You might need to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your study to be approved.
- Be prepared to fill out a lot of paperwork, both before and after you arrive in the US.
- You will need to attend an interview at a US Consulate. The interview must be attended in-person, as fingerprint scans are taken.
- There are costs involved.
Step 4 – Research and apply for any Scholarships, grants, and bursaries for international students
Just like here in Australia, universities and other providers in the US offer a variety of scholarships and grants to help you fund your studies.
To find scholarships, the best place to look is on the website of the university you’re interested in or contact them directly.
See more about scholarships and financial support: https://educationusa.state.gov/your-5-steps-us-study/finance-your-studies
Step 5 – Plan where you’ll be living
If you get into a uni in the US, the next thing you’ll need to do is find accommodation. Like here in Australia, you can choose between on-campus accommodation at the university, or private accommodation somewhere else.
Read more about the types of accommodation available in the US here: https://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/accommodation/
Check out these websites for more information and resources on studying in the US: