Applying to Universities in the United States
Some of this may also apply to graduate degrees.
Should you decide to study in the United States, the choice of universities is colossal ranging from eminent universities like Harvard and MIT to unheard of universities like Rockies College. There are many rankings that can help gauge a university's reputation and academic excellence. One useful one is compiled by US News & World Report, and can be found here. Another ranking can be found here.
Once you have decided which universities/colleges you wish to apply to, it is useful to visit their website and order a free prospectus or "viewbook" as it's commonly called (most universities will be more than happy to comply), and visit the International Undergraduate Admissions Page and view the various deadlines, requirements and tuition fees.
When to Apply?
This is a crucial decision that a prospective applicant should make. There are generally, three modes of application, namely: Early Decision/Early Action; Regular Decision; and Rolling Admissions. Whichever method you choose, start the testing and application process at least a year before the deadline. It can still be done in less time, but it will require immense dedication and might result in less than perfect applications.
Early Decision/Early Action
Is there a university that appeals to you greatly? Well, that's what Early Decision and Early Action are for. These have a deadline usually around 1st November Early Action and Early Decision differ in that Early Decision constitutes a binding commitment to enroll; that is, if offered admission under an early decision program the candidate must withdraw all other applications to other institutions and enroll at that institution, whereas early action is not binding. Along with that, students can only apply to one university under Early Decision while Early Action usually allow students to apply to several universities. Some universities also have Single-Choice Early Action, where a candidate can only apply to that particular university, but is not bound to enroll if accepted. Some Single-Choice Early Action universities are Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. The advantage of applying under Early Action or Early Decision is that you have a grater chance of admission and if the university is unsure, they can defer you and then reconsider you with the 'Regular Decision' batch. Also, you can get an admission offer by mid-December.
This is the phase when the majority of students apply. The deadline for this falls around 1st January and an admissions decision is made by April 1st.
These are offered by some universities, whereby, you can apply at any time (before the term starts), and you decision will be made a certain number of days after your application.
How to Apply?
There are two ways to apply: through the Common Application (Common App) or through a University's own application.
Common Application is created by an amalgam of universities that have agreed on a common application form. There are 456 member universities. The same form (filled once) can be used for several universities, and thus is time-saving. The fact that prominent universities and less eminent ones have agreed on a common application leaves much to be fulfilled. Therefore, many universities have made 'Supplements' which are to be sent with the application.
Not all universities use the Common Application, and therefore should you wish to apply to, MIT for example, you will have to use their personal application. These are available on the university's website (and are often different for international and domestic students).
The cost of applying to US universities is significantly higher than UK universities. Generally be expected to pay $60-80 non-refundable in application fees.
An application to a US university/college requires an extensive list of tests, essay and recommendations.
In general, most universities require the SAT or the ACT exam. In addition to this, some universities will require SAT II (Subject Tests). Should English not be your primary or first language, you are required to take a TOEFL examination. SATs are offered seven times a year and their registration deadline is around 3/2 months before the test date.
Most universities will require that you obtain recommendations from teachers and the principal, though the number of recommendations varies from one university to another. It is best to check the university website for the exact number. Teachers usually take time to write recommendations so request these in advance.
High School Transcript
Should you happen to study in the United Kingdom, you will probably not be issued a high school transcript (an essential requirement for any application). Universities accept custom-made transcripts, which should be somewhat like this:
- A list of the courses (subjects) taken in the last four years of your education;
- The grade you obtained for each course at the end of the year;
- The difficulty of the course (i.e. was it an A-Level (Advanced) course?)
- A list of any suspensions and expulsions
- An overall rank in the class (e.g. Average 3rd in class for 4 years), or a percentage rank (e.g. top 5% of class)
- A-Level/AS-Level/GCSE Results
- All of the above should be on official school letterhead paper, and should be signed and stamped by a school official (e.g. Principal)
- Copies of all your official exam certificates, result statements, etc. must be stamped "Certified as a true copy" and signed by your school principal
Most universities will require that the applicant write one or more essays (usually 2-3). It is advised to write these early on as they are time-consuming. It will be helpful to hand your essays to a friendly English teacher who can weed out spelling and grammatical errors and offer suggestions.
Here are some helpful tips from "College Entrance Essay Guidelines" for AP English 12 by Bob Wofford at Las Cruces High School:
- No matter what the question states, the topic of the essay is you and your writing skills.
- Voice and style win the day.
- Don't reproduce your application (your lists of clubs, ACT/SAT scores, etc. are already on file). Your essay should show, not tell. Use the techniques of fiction to recreate an event. Throw out the first three introductions you write, as you're probably just clearing your throat. Your introduction must be effective.
- Admissions officers are looking for something about you which demonstrates your ability to cope with the rigors of a difficult school.
- Make references to academics.
- A sense of humor is effective.
- Consider audience carefully: an exclusive, small liberal arts college vs. a small Bible college.
- Use allusions when appropriate--not simply to use them. Show your breadth of knowledge--literary, scientific, artistic, historic, linguistic allusions.
- Use a single event/anecdote as the vehicle for your essay. Sometimes a metaphor can be the unifying vehicle.
- Try dialogue.
- Think about conclusions in light of introductions. Symmetry of ideas often works well. Your admissions officers are not obtuse. Don't laboriously spell out a lesson in the conclusion; your ending must be effective and thoughtful.
- Demonstrate a mastery of the style elements you've learned--sentence length and variety, appropriate diction and syntax, punctuation beyond the comma/period, parallel structure, elimination of deadwood and passive tense.
Many students (from the United Kingdom) do A-Levels. Other students may take the I.B. Exams or AP tests. All of these (usually) can be used to obtain some credit at a U.S. University. The exact number of credits per advanced course can be found from the university's website. Advanced Placement exams are optional (for most universities, some universities such as UT-Austin, require that applicants do AP tests).
As an international student, universities in the United States will cost (generally) between $25000 to $45000 per year. Along with this, there will be boarding charges, books and other expenses. There are several avenues of finance available to international students.
Many universities will offer students who show exemplary academic performance merit-based scholarships. These are generally difficult to attain and require that the recipient maintain a certain GPA. For more information on such scholarships, visit the University's Financial Aid page. Athletic scholarships are a form of merit scholarship that take athletic talent into account.
Finding a Part-Time Job
It is possible for an international student to work part-time in the university without a work permit. There are many jobs available such as Library Assistants. These pay adequately and can cover a part of the tuition fees.
Finding a private scholarship
There are many private scholarships that international students can enter for. Many require applicants to write an essay on a certain topic. Good resources for finding such scholarships include:
- FreSch! Free Scholarship Search - International Students
- Fastweb Free Internet Scholarship Search
- The Scholarship Coach
Getting a Student Loan
Several banks offer Student Loans at an interest rate. This is probably not the best way to finance your education, but many students will use it if they are unable to find any alternate means to finance their education.
Note: Many loan companies will require you to have a US citizen co-sign on any loan.
Often ingrained into our minds is the notion that for success we must attend an Ivy League university. Therefore many students will focus all their attention on entering an Ivy League university (or Stanford, Duke and MIT) and will consider other universities to be inferior or unworthy of attention.
They will be dismayed if they are unable to enter a "Top University", and more disturbingly, if they do enter one, they often believe that they will be successful. What many applicants fail to realize is that, it matters less where you go to university than what you make of the experience.
That is not to say that one should not apply to Ivy League institutions (I did so myself, and got in as well) and other eminent institutions, but rather that one can gain as much experience from a non-Ivy (and financially cheaper) university. It is advisable that students apply to a number of colleges, with a variance in reputation. College advisers often state that students should apply to 2 universities they are sure that they will be able to enter, two universities that they will probably gain admission to, and two universities that will be difficult (for them) to enter.
US Universities and Courses
Here are some guides about some US Universities and specific courses:
Uni in the USA A guide for British students to study in America.
College Confidential This site has somewhat overenthusiastic yet helpful applicants, university representatives and parents. Its a must visit for someone applying to the States.
U.S. News Ranking: America's Best Colleges 2007 Ranking of top US universities by U.S. News and World Report, an American magazine.