5 Basics of the U.S. University Application Process

Your university application is the most critical aspect of getting admitted to a U.S. University. Given the large number of universities in the U.S. and the varying admission requirements, the thought of getting started with your U.S. university applications can seem daunting.

Here are five things you must know about the U.S. university application process.

  1. It’s important to start early

Most international students underestimate the time needed to apply for admission to a U.S. university. When applying to U.S. universities, you must set aside enough time to do the following-

  • Research the various U.S. universities and colleges
  • Identify the programs that are the best match for your existing qualifications and future goals
  • Prepare for English language proficiency and other standardized exams
  • Write the numerous application essays
  • Gather your supplemental documents such as transcripts, and letters of recommendations from teachers, coaches, and previous employers.
  • Liaise with the admissions staff at your shortlisted universities

To do all this, you need to begin the U.S. university application process at least 18 months ahead of the time you intend to start studying in the U.S. Broadly, this is what your application strategy should look like:

18 months before

  • Start researching the U.S. universities and college programs that might be interesting to you. Look at the profiles for previously admitted students (their test scores, grades, etc.).
  • Register with standardized testing programs (described below) and start preparing for them. Develop a testing strategy (which exams to take and when) to maximize your admissions prospects.
  • Consider your personal development and leadership profile. American students spend years developing and documenting those attributes, so you should spend time on them too. Eagle Pathway’s LEAD personal development program focuses specifically on developing and documenting the kinds of skills and attributes that U.S. universities look for in successful applicants.
  • Stay focused at school so your grades don’t drop.

12- 14 months before

  • Shortlist at least eight to ten U.S. universities that you want to apply to. Apart from deciding which universities to apply to, also think about which universities you want to apply to first. Once again, this is best done by working with an experienced school counselor or American education consultant with direct experience with U.S. university admissions.
  • View the shortlisted universities’ websites to understand their admissions requirements, testing requirements, etc. If necessary, contact the universities for the application forms and any other information that can help you make the right choice
  • Take the standardized tests as per your application strategy.
  • Begin preparing for university admission interviews.

Many university interviews now include a scored assessment of the applicant’s spoken English ability (separate from TOEFL). Consider participating in specialized interview training to build skills. Eagle Pathway’s preVIEW program provides personalized training, plus a scored mock interview to help you see how a U.S. university might score your spoken English ability.

10 to 12 months before

  • Begin writing your application essays
  • Focus on developing a robust university application. Contact your references and request them to fill the required reference forms.
  • Request transcripts from school(s) as required by your target universities. These transcripts typically need to confirm the following:
  • Dates you attended the institution
  • Titles of courses and examinations you completed
  • Grades (marks) you received
  • Credit, hours or units earned
  • Any degree or diploma you may have received

10 months before

  • Reattempt the language proficiency exams if required
  • Complete and submit your university applications along with all the required documents, well ahead of the dates set by your target universities.
  1. Understand the difference between Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision Applications

If you are keen on attending a particular U.S. university, an easy decision application gives you the opportunity to apply and be accepted at that university several months before the university’s normal application deadline. Applying early improves your chances of admission, and gives you enough time to pursue your ‘Plan B’ if you don’t get through to the U.S. university of your choice. But remember you must join the U.S. University which accepts your early decision application.

Unlike an early decision application, an early action application is not binding. You can wait and see which university accepts you and then choose the one you want to enrol with.

In the regular decision category, you can apply to as many universities as you want.

  1. Prepare for standardized tests

Most U.S. universities require international undergraduate and graduate students to take computer-based standardized tests. These tests are designed to assess the skills and abilities of people from diverse educational backgrounds. The most common of them is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which evaluates a candidate’s proficiency in communicating in written and spoken English.

Other standardized tests that you may be required to clear are:

For undergraduate students

  • Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  • American College Testing (ACT)

For graduate students

  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) for liberal arts, science, math
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for business schools
  • Law School Admission Testing Program (LSAT)
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
  • Dental Admission Testing Program (DAT)
  • Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
  • Optometry Admission Testing Program (OAT)

It’s advisable to prepare for these exams with the help of an experienced school counselor or American education consultant with direct experience in U.S. university admissions.

  1. Submit insightful personal essays

Use the personal essay section of the U.S. university applications to differentiate yourself from rest of the candidates. The essays are a golden opportunity to share information about yourself that is not documented elsewhere in the application form.

Most U.S. universities want a student population that is diverse in terms of background, academic interests, and personal qualities. The admissions staff reading your essays want to know how you think, how your life experiences have shaped you, and if you are selected how will you add value to the team of students at the university.

Read our post titled ‘ 10 TIPS ON WRITING YOUR U.S. UNIVERSITY APPLICATION ESSAY‘, to know more about successfully completing the essay section.

  1. Be careful in sourcing letters of recommendation

Many U.S. universities require recommendation letters as part of the overall application. These references can be sourced from your teachers, coaches, former bosses, community service organizations that you have worked with, or any well-established adult who can attest to your personal abilities and commitment level.

Supplemental materials are meant to help your application. But if the person writing the recommendation doesn’t know you well or doesn’t recommend you strongly, the recommendations can hurt your chances of admission.

Also, many universities require the letters of recommendation be sent directly to the university, so you may not ever have a chance to see what is written in the recommendation. So carefully consider whom you approach for writing the recommendation letters.

With the application format and document requirements varying for each U.S. university, check and double-check that you have met all the application requirements before you submit the form. The sooner you submit the university application, the better.