College is all about exploring yourself and the world around you, and determining the type of person you’d like to become. Your time at university is not only meant to help you acquire the education and skills you need for a professional career, it’s also meant to make you into a well-informed, well-rounded individual.
Doing so in the US is not only an opportunity to benefit from a very well-rounded education system (and a very rigorous one), it’s a chance to see and experience a part of the world that might be very different from your own.
The process of applying to a university in the US is actually very straightforward, but it can be a bit difficult to know where to begin and which things to focus on. We’ve put together a 10-step guide to getting into a top US university to help you out. Good luck!
1. Think about your dream school
There are plenty of great universities in the US, including superstar schools like Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, and Yale, so it’s not difficult to find one that will suit your unique goals and aligns with the location and type of education you’d like.
Some will offer that movie-worthy college experience you may be looking for – think big, prestigious campus schools like Harvard and Princeton – others offer a smaller, close-knit community atmosphere, like Amherst College in Massachusetts.
2. Do your homework (and make sure you have options)
Every future college student has that one dream school in mind, but as the old saying goes, dreams don’t work unless you do! Now is the time to put in the research. You’ve probably already thought about the schools you feel fit your personal and professional goals, now it’s time to see which ones will actually get you there.
Remember, it’s possible that you might not get into your first choice or that the one you’ve been thinking about doesn’t offer what you thought it would. So make sure you have a few options in mind.
3. Find a mentor
Once you’ve narrowed down the schools you’d like to attend, find someone who has some experience with the US college application process. Schedule some time to sit down and talk with them. It could be somebody who’s attended a school you’re interested in or someone who’s knowledgeable and successful in your chosen field.
4. Work on your extracurricular activities
While studying and making good grades is crucial, a key part of the American university experience are the things you do outside of class. Schools are looking for students who are passionate, curious, forward-thinking and even a bit altruistic.
Extracurricular activities are a great way to prove that you’re the type of well-rounded individual schools are looking for. Whether it’s a sport you’re passionate about, a musical instrument you have mastered, or weekends you spent volunteering in your community, it’s crucial to highlight a passion of yours that takes place outside of the classroom in your application.
5. Learn the requirements
So, you’ve got a list of schools you’re interested in and a handle on the extracurricular side of things. Perfect! The next thing you need to do is contact each school’s admissions office and learn more about their admission process and what they’d require.
Higher education institutes in the US regulate their own admission requirements. Some might ask for aspecific exam or essay and others might have a more formal interview process.
6. Gather your paperwork
In addition to any entrance exams, the admissions office of your chosen school will require some key documents. They’ll want to review all of your grades during secondary school. You’ll have to have your high school mail your transcripts to the university you’re applying to. They’ll also look into your results from your country’s standardized secondary school exam. You can read about further requirements here.
7. Brush up on your English (and take the right exam)
In order to attend a university in the US, you need to have reached a certain level of English. This ensures you get the most out of your studies and can contribute to your program effectively. Not sure what your level is? Do the quick and free EF Standard English Test. Think you might need to brush up on your skills? Consider doing a university-prep focused English language program with us.
The next step is to do an English test that gets you certified. As a good rule of thumb, the most common language exam requirement for an American university is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Canadian universities tend to require the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). While most schools would accept a score from either exam, it’s important to make sure you know which one they want.
If you feel ready to take the exam, you can do so at a testing center in your country. Speak to your school’s guidance center for more information.
8. Send in your applications
Once you’re up to speed on all the requirements, you’ve taken your exams, and you’ve requested an application form, it’s time to fill it out and send it in. Note that there will be a nonrefundable fee for each application sent in. These fees range between USD35-100 and must be paid regardless of whether or not you’re accepted into the school.
9. Start early
Keep in mind that when you want to send in your applications, you should always try to account for some delay in the process. Figure out the application deadline early and try to send it in well before. It would be a shame to miss your chance just because the mail was delayed that week!
10. Visas and other paperwork
Since you will need a student visa to study at an American university, it’s never too early to start working on it. This is also the perfect time to learn about health insurance options for your time abroad. While your student visa might not require you to have health insurance, it’s very likely that your school will, so don’t neglect this information. Your insurance provider at home might offer a good policy for time abroad, but you might also need to look into other options.