Each college or university in the United States determines its own admission standards and decides which applicants meet those standards. You must apply separately to each college or university.

Even if you have selected the institution where you are sure you want to study, you should apply to others - because your "first choice" may not accept you. At least one or two of your choices should be institutions where you and your director of studies are certain you will be admitted. Remember that you are competing with students from all over the world for a small number of places.

Most U.S. institutions invite international students to contact them at least one year prior to admission.

Follow these steps when applying to colleges and universities in the USA:

Write to several institutions.

After you have chosen the institutions you wish to attend, contact each one to receive more information about international student admissions and an application form. You can use the announcements from various institutions in this magazine and on the Web site,, as a source of information to help you make decisions. On the Web site, you can contact institutions directly to request information.

If you wish to apply to a graduate program, check the admission requirements at the specific graduate school of the university. Admission requirements for many graduate programs are more stringent and some require you to send your application directly to their department. Your academic achievements must be good if you expect to be admitted. Contact the graduate school's admissions office or department chair.

When contacting an institution, please mention that you heard about it through Study in the USA®.

Submit application forms.

U.S. colleges and universities generally base their admissions decisions on a student's academic record and the results of relevant tests, such as the TOEFL or SAT. If you are applying to graduate school, other test scores, such as the GRE or GMAT, will be required.

Admissions offices or graduate school departments will send you information about their academic programs and an application form. (You should be able to obtain institution-specific application forms from the Internet or your local educational advising center). The application fee ranges from US$35 to US$100. This fee covers the cost of your application and is non-refundable, even if you are not admitted by the institution. If you mail your application, be sure to contact the admissions office to confirm receipt.

The admissions office will review your grades for the last four years of high school and their value based on the national standards for high school in your country. If you are applying to graduate school, your college grades will be taken into account. Ask your current or most recent school to send official transcripts to the institutions to which you are applying. Before taking the entrance exams, ask that the results be sent to the colleges and universities you are interested in.

Most applications require the following information:
  • Personal information: include your name, age, address, family details, place of birth, nationality, and so on.
  • Activities: List any clubs you have belonged to, awards received, sports team experience, or leadership roles you have assumed.
  • Academic Project: Write a brief essay explaining why you want to apply to the institution, what type of courses you plan to take, your career goals, and your research projects.
  • Essay: Some institutions request a personal essay on a topic of your choice.
  • Letters of recommendation: The application form will include some blank pages for letters of recommendation. Ask some of your professors to write and mail these letters directly to the admissions offices of each institution you have chosen.
Be sure to send your application to each college or university well before the deadline. This will give you some extra time to work out any possible delays.

Register for entrance exams.

Students applying to U.S. colleges and universities must take tests, such as the SAT, ACT, or GMAT, that measure their ability and achievement. International students must also take a test that measures their English proficiency. These tests can be taken at testing centers around the world. They are "standardized" so students take the same test at all testing centers. The results give the admissions office a uniform international standard to measure your ability in comparison to other students.

Take the admissions exams.

Your scores are sent directly to the colleges and universities to which you are applying. You will be asked to indicate the name of these institutions when you register to take some tests, such as the SAT or ACT. In the case of computer-based tests, you will designate the institutions on test day. The agencies that administer the tests will send your scores directly to them. There is a fee for the scores you request at a later date.

Receive acceptance letters.

If you have applied to a college or university with continuous enrollment systems, you may receive an acceptance letter shortly after you submit your application. These schools inform applicants of their admissions decisions on a rolling basis, not on set dates, as they receive applications. Other schools have specific application deadlines and review all applicants' materials before making a decision. In this case you will have to wait a few months after the application deadline to receive your acceptance letter.

Pay your deposit.

Many institutions require students to pay a deposit by a certain deadline if they want to reserve their tuition. For international students, this deposit may be equivalent to one semester or year's academic fees.

You should send your deposit immediately if you are applying for financial aid or if you are applying for college housing. Since many institutions do not have enough college housing for all students, you will have a better chance of getting a place on campus if you send in your housing application and deposit as soon as possible.

The school you choose may also ask you to provide a statement of how much money you will have available during your college years. If your government or an institution is sponsoring you, you will need to send details.

Once your place has been officially reserved, your institution will send you an I-20 form or the DS-2019 form for exchange visitors. With either of these, you can apply for a visa to study in the US.