How to apply to universities in the USA (2023)

Fancy taking a leap across the pond to study in America for your degree but aren't quite sure where to start? Here's everything you need to know about applying to universities in the USA.

How to apply to universities in the USA (1)

Credit: Rob Crandall, Cdrin - Shutterstock

Ah, America: the home of Friends, The Simpsons and Hollywood. We don't blame you for wanting to go to university there. In fact, we're jealous we didn't do it ourselves.

Applying to a university in a different country can seem a bit scary but, fortunately, the US college application process is pretty straightforward.

However, if you're applying from outside of America as an international student, there are a few extra steps you'll have to take to secure a student visa. Where do you apply? How much will it cost? All will be revealed.

What's in this guide?

  • How to choose a university in the USA
  • How to apply to American universities
  • Required documents for your university application
  • Passing the SAT/ACT test
  • Deadlines and fees for US university applications
  • Applying for a student visa

How to choose the right American university

America has around 5,300 universities and colleges, so how do you choose the one that's right for you?

(Video) How to Apply for Universities! | Complete Process! | తెలుగు | MS in USA 🇺🇸

Going to university in America as a UK student is a big commitment, so we recommend that you start thinking about where you might want to go about a year in advance. Consider what you want to get out of your time as a student abroad, what you'd like to study and how you're going to fund your American studies.

The US has a whole host of different landscapes, so it's also worth thinking about how big a city you want to live in, whether you want to be by the coast, or whether you fancy being somewhere more rural.

The great thing about applying to a university in the US is that there's no limit to the number that you can apply for.

Write down a shortlist of around 20 unis to avoid getting yourself into too much confusion. We suggest that you apply to no more than eight of the original 20 to balance out the quantity and quality of your application.

Take a look at the list of the best universities in Americato get a better idea of your options.

How to apply for university in the USA

How to apply to universities in the USA (2)

These are the steps you need to complete to apply to American universities as an international student:

  1. Contact the international admissions office at universities

    In America, unlike in the UK, there is nocentral regulatory body like UCAS to overlook the application process. Each application is done separately through the university's own portal.

    Get in touch with their international admissions office to double-check you have the right information and that you're eligible as an international student.

    Remember you'll be applying to get into a university rather than onto a course, as you would in the UK. This is because at American unis you don't specialise in a subject (known as your 'major') until a couple of years down the line.

    (Video) How to fill out your USA University application? Step by Step process | MS in USA

    Liaising with the international office early on will only increase your chances of success as it shows you're proactive and keen for a spot. Once you've got confirmation, you're good to go!

    Applications can be completed online or via post, but we'd recommend the first option – it'll cost you less and is easier to track.

    The application process will vary from uni to uni but, generally speaking, they'll ask for a bundle of documents – which brings us on to our next point...

  2. Documents required to apply to US universities

    Like we said before, each university will have its own list of documents it requires to complete the application process, but there are some standard things that American unis are likely to ask for.

    Common requirements for university applications in America

    • College admissions essay
    • References from at least two teachers
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if English isn't your native language
    • A written piece of work marked by a teacher
    • SAT/ACT test (more info on this below).

    Tips on writing your college admissions essay

    Your college admissions essay is basically the US version of a UCAS personal statement – the letter you write to unis to convince them that you're suited to the course you're applying for.

    The admissions essay is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from other international students when applying to universities in America.

    Don't waste this space with generic information. In response to prompts from the university, demonstrate how committed you are to your subject.

    If possible, try to mention any extracurricular activities that you do to support your career goals (e.g. if you want to do Theatre Studies, you could refer to any plays you've been involved in at the local theatre club or at school).

    And, if you do any voluntary work, private tutoring or have musical talents, make sure to also include these. Ultimately, you should aim to include any relevant info that shows you're a well-rounded, capable person that colleges in America will very much want to offer a place to.

  3. Pass your SAT/ACT test

    The SAT and ACT (American College Testing) are standardised tests used for university admissions in the United States that measure your knowledge in core subjects like Maths, English and Science.

    (Video) How to study in the US for FREE | Education in the USA

    Universities should accept both tests, so the one you go for is completely up to you.

    The SAT focuses on Maths and English while the ACT includes Maths, English and Science, so think about which subjects would be most relevant to your application. If you're doing a science-based degree like Medicine, Engineering or Chemistry, we'd advise you do the ACT.

    Scores are valid for five years (so if you don't get into your desired uni the first time around, you could use the same test for your application the following year) and you can resit the test multiple times.

    The registration deadlines for the ACT and the SAT are generally five weeks before the testing date and tests cost around £75 to sit (whether you pass or not).

    Testing takes place in the UK several times a year, though tests in Central London book up particularly quickly, so it's a good idea to sign up as soon as dates are released.

    How to sign up to the ACT and how to sign up for the SAT.

  4. Research university application deadlines and fees

    Each uni will have its own deadline, but please note that the final dates for applying to universities in America are generally at the beginning of January. Double-check with each university you apply to so you don't miss out.

    Unfortunately, each US university application is going to cost you. Again, as with the deadline date, fees vary but tend to lie somewhere between £36 – £72.

    It really is worth getting your shortlist down to the universities where you genuinely want to be placed, or you could end up shelling out some serious cash on applications.

    It's also worth keeping in mind that American university fees aren't cheap. Most universities will also ask you to prove that you have access to funds to pay for your degree.

    (Video) Undergrad in US Universities | Everything you need | How to Apply

Our tips on how to beat homesickness can help you adjust to American uni life once you're out there.

Applying for a US student visa

How to apply to universities in the USA (3)

Credit: Megan Eaves - Flickr

You can only apply for a US student visa once a university has accepted you.

Once you've been accepted, your university will send you a Form l-20, also known as a certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status, which you'll need to apply for an F-1 student visa.

The first step of the process is completing the online application form which you'll need to print out and take with you to the interview you'll be asked to schedule. You'll then be asked to pay around £120 as an application fee which you can pay via the Official Department of US Visa Appointment portal.

In the UK, interviews take place at the US Embassy in London or the Consulate in Belfast (even if you aren't a UK national). If you're reading this from outside of the UK, check your country's US Embassy policy.

During the interview, you may be asked to prove you have enough money to cover your stay (including tuition fees) in America and provide an address you intend to return to once you've completed your degree (e.g. your parents'). There's more info about what to expect at the interview onthe US Embassy webpage.

Successful applications take between five and seven working days to process, but you're advised not to book any flights or make any travel arrangements before you have received confirmation that your visa application has been successful.

(Video) How To Apply For The USA Universities | Tutorial | Nepali

Not sure whether you've got enough cash to secure your move? Some countries have free university tuition.


How to apply to universities in the USA? ›

The most common US university application deadlines are November 1 and November 15 for early action and January 1 and January 15 for regular decision deadlines. Ques. How many intakes are there for US university admission?

How do I apply to the top universities in the US? ›

Research your options
  1. Global university rankings. ...
  2. In-person and virtual open days. ...
  3. Consider an education counsellor. ...
  4. College admissions essay. ...
  5. References. ...
  6. Proof of English language tests. ...
  7. SAT/ACT test. ...
  8. Common application.

How do you get accepted into US colleges? ›

  1. Earn Good Grades in Challenging Courses. ...
  2. Get a High SAT/ACT Score. ...
  3. Write a Compelling Personal Statement. ...
  4. Demonstrate Interest. ...
  5. Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation. ...
  6. Apply to a Diverse Selection of Colleges. ...
  7. Opt for an Early Admission Plan. ...
  8. Manage Your Online Reputation.

When should I apply for US universities? ›

The most common US university application deadlines are November 1 and November 15 for early action and January 1 and January 15 for regular decision deadlines. Ques. How many intakes are there for US university admission?

Can I apply to US universities for free? ›

Universities in the US may require students requesting an application fee waiver to submit their requests a few days before they submit their applications. If requests are accepted, students would be able to submit a free application to the US university.

What GPA do you need for top US universities? ›

However, for college applicants, the average GPA is more likely between 3.5 and 4.0. If you're aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.

How many universities should I apply to US? ›

Every year, prospective college students wonder, "How many colleges should I apply to?" As a general rule of thumb, some admissions experts recommend submitting applications to 4-12 schools.

Where do I start if I want to go to college? ›

The Step-by-Step Guide to Applying to College
  • Start the College Application Process.
  • Complete the FAFSA.
  • Fill Out the Common App.
  • Write a Standout College Essay.
  • Ask for Recommendation Letters.
  • Learn the Ins and Outs of Financial Aid.
  • Decipher College Tuition Costs.
  • Find Scholarships to Pay for College.

How can I get into university with a low GPA? ›

Top Tips on How to Get into College with a Low GPA
  1. Explain the Circumstances Behind Your Low GPA. ...
  2. Improve Your SAT/ACT Scores. ...
  3. Write an Exemplary Essay. ...
  4. Get Strong Recommendation Letters. ...
  5. Showcase Your Non-academic Skills and Talents. ...
  6. Consider an Online College. ...
  7. Join a Community College.
Jan 19, 2023

How much does it cost to apply to a university in the US? ›

But, quality education often comes with an additional cost. And in the US, this is true from the application stage itself. Applications to universities in the US can range anywhere from $40 to $150, depending on the university and the program.

How long does it take to apply for a university in US? ›

Once all required documents are submitted, application decisions usually take two to four weeks.

Which American universities are free? ›

The US Service Academies are among the tuition-free universities in the USA. There are five United States Academies. They are U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Does Harvard have an application fee? ›

As early in the fall as possible, please submit: Your online application to Harvard, via the Common Application or the Coalition Application, Powered by Scoir. This is needed to open your admissions file, track your documents, and set up a possible alumni interview. The $85 application fee or a fee waiver request.

How much would free college cost USA? ›

Less than 1% of the $6.27 trillion annual federal budget could be used to make college free for all. A First-Dollar tuition free-program would cost $58 billion the year it is implemented.

Does Harvard accept 5.0 GPA? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application.

What is the lowest GPA accepted? ›

Unofficially, 2.0 is the lowest GPA accepted into a standard college, so while there's a chance that college admission is possible, it's not likely at more than a few institutions.

What major requires the lowest GPA? ›

Science majors tend to have lower GPAs on average, with chemistry being the major with the lowest average GPA. Meanwhile, education majors earn the highest GPAs on average.

Is it OK to apply to 4 colleges? ›

There is no magic number, but five to eight applications are usually enough to ensure that a student is accepted into a suitable institution (depending, of course, on the individual student's record and circumstances). This number should be made up of a combination of “safety,” “match,” and “reach” colleges.

Can you apply to a college after getting rejected? ›

In most cases, yes! You can usually reapply to a college after being rejected. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, so you will want to ask the admissions office about their procedures for reapplying before potentially wasting your time on another application.

What is the SAT score in the US? ›

Your SAT score, which ranges from 400 to 1600, is the sum of your two section scores: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). Each section uses a scale of 200-800 in 10-point increments. A good score on Math or EBRW, then, would be around 600.

What to avoid when looking for colleges? ›

To help you confront this challenge, here are 10 mistakes to avoid when deciding which college to attend.
  • Not taking enough time. ...
  • Choosing a college for its reputation. ...
  • Not visiting the campus. ...
  • Overemphasizing your current major. ...
  • Not applying because of cost. ...
  • Thinking you won't qualify for financial aid. ...
  • Missing deadlines.
Jul 15, 2021

How many AP classes should I take? ›

This is when you should start taking your AP core classes. Take 3 to 5 if you are aiming for a highly selective school, and 2 to 4 if you are aiming elsewhere. Note that many students describe this year as significantly harder than past ones. And you'll also likely be taking your standardized tests.

Do colleges look at senior year? ›

The important thing to know is that colleges do look at your senior year grades. So, a weaker performance in senior year than in previous grades can impact your application and college admissions decisions.

What is the easiest to go to college for? ›

Business isn't just one of the easiest college majors — it's also the most popular major. You'll study core topics like accounting, management, and organizational behavior. You can specialize your skills with upper-level courses in logistics, training and development, or entrepreneurship.

How long does it take for a college to accept or reject you? ›

The average turnaround time for an admissions decision for schools with rolling admissions is four to six weeks, though in some cases students might have to wait longer. For regular decision candidates, the wait is more like eight to 12 weeks. Students handle that waiting period differently, experts say.

When should a student fill out the Fafsa? ›

You should submit your FAFSA form by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, usually by early February. After you submit the FAFSA form, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) within three days to three weeks.

What is the lowest passing GPA in college? ›

The grade-point-average system in U.S. colleges designates an A with four points, a B with 3 points, a C with two points, and a D as one point and an F is equivalent to zero. Undergraduate students need to have a minimum of 2.0 GPA while graduate students need a 3.0 GPA.

What is the lowest GPA to stay in college? ›


The most common overall GPA requirement is a 2.0. This means that a student's cumulative GPA from all terms, excluding grades received from other institutions, must be at least 2.0 at the end of each semester or quarter.

How do American students pay for university? ›

Federal student aid may be used to pay for tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and daycare for dependents. Students apply for federal loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Undergraduate students can borrow as much as $31,000 with a Federal Direct Loan.

Is public school free in USA? ›

Every state has a public school system to provide free education to every child. Public schools are government-run schools regulated by federal, state and local law. However, with a free education often come numerous legal issues that parents should consider when sending their children to public schools.

How much do US students pay for university? ›

Costs of study at different types of US university
Average fees at US universities, 2018-19
Public two-year collegesPublic four-year colleges (in-state fees)
Tuition and other fees$3,660$10,230
Room and board$8,660$11,140
Total (per year)$12,320$21,370
1 more row

What grades do colleges look at the most? ›

Your first year and sophomore year affect your cumulative GPA, which is important to most colleges. However, a solid academic record in your junior year is likely to carry more importance with an admissions committee.

How do colleges decide who to accept? ›

Courses and Grades

Highly selective colleges look for students who: Complete core academic requirements. Take more challenging classes, even though they may have slightly lower grades than they'd achieve in lower-level courses. Enroll in several college-prep or college-level courses (such as AP) and perform well.

What grades do US universities look at? ›

While they don't prioritize them over your junior and senior grades, some colleges look at your freshman year grades. It's not bad if you don't do your best in your first year. Admissions officers understand that students need time to adjust to high school life and the workload that comes with it.

Is it hard to get admission in USA university? ›

The admission and selection process in the US is completely different from those of any other popular study destination in the world. As compared to countries like the UK and Australia that have simpler admission norms and application processes, the USA is a different ball game altogether.

How hard is it to get into US universities? ›

Although the average four-year college in the U.S. accepts nearly 60 percent of applicants, many schools indicate they are more selective than they are by telling prospective students that they practice “holistic” admissions, considering factors beyond grades and test scores.

Do US universities have entry requirements? ›

You need good grades in previous academic study – high school diploma or undergraduate degree – that are equivalent to the minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) for entry to your chosen degree. GPAs are on a 4-point scale.

When did university stop being free in the US? ›

College and public universities were tuition free up until the mid-1960s. White students were favored until an explosion of protests across the country, led by groups that included the Brown Berets and the Black Panther Party, forced the introduction of things like Black and Chicanx studies and departments.

How can I study in USA with low cost? ›

The cheapest universities in the USA for international students (between $3,000 and $20,000 per semester)
  1. Brigham Young University. ...
  2. Minnesota State University-Moorhead. ...
  3. Delta State University. ...
  4. Henderson State University. ...
  5. South Dakota State University. ...
  6. National Louis University.
Feb 23, 2023

Is Princeton free now? ›

Princeton announced Sept. 8 that, starting next fall, undergraduates from most families that earn up to $100,000 annually will not have to pay for tuition or room and board at the University, and that families earning as much as $300,000 annually will also receive additional support.

What GPA is required for Harvard? ›

The GPA requirements for Harvard University are between 3.9 to 4.1. You will need an incredibly high GPA and will likely be graduating at the top of their class in order to get into Harvard University.

What GPA do you need to get into Harvard? ›

The average high school GPA of admitted students at Harvard is around 4.2. 73% of students had a GPA of at least 4.0, indicating that admitted students typically mostly earned A grades in high school. If you're studying the IB, this translates to scoring mostly 7s and achieving a minimum score of at least 42.

What is the minimum GPA for Harvard University? ›

GPA Requirements

Harvard University does not have a strict minimum GPA requirement for undergraduate admissions. However, admitted students typically have very high GPAs, ranging from 3.8 to 4.0, with an average GPA of 3.9.

Is college free in any states? ›

Some community colleges in the United States offer free tuition, but the vast majority are not free. As of 2022, 20 states provide tuition-free community college, meaning that if you are a resident of that state and meet certain requirements, you can attend classes free of charge.

How much is the cheapest college in us? ›

The 50 Cheapest Colleges in the United States
SchoolLocationTotal Cost (2022-2023)
Texas A&M International UniversityLaredo, TX$4,165
South Florida State CollegeAvon Park, FL$4,228
The University of Texas Rio Grande ValleyEdinburg, TX$4,419
CUNY City CollegeNew York, NY$4,546
46 more rows
Apr 19, 2023

What country offers free college? ›

So Where Is College Free? Countries That Offer Free College or Low Tuition Rates
CountryTuition/Resident StudentsTuition/International Students/USD
NorwayFREEAbout $13,000/Year
PolandFREEStarts at $2,000/Year
PortugalStarts at €550/Year$3,840 – $8,238
29 more rows

How to get into top 50 universities in usa? ›

  1. Before you start. Applying to the best universities takes a lot of work, and only about 5%, i.e. one out of twenty applicants, get accepted. ...
  2. Apply on time and apply to many schools. ...
  3. Get good grades. ...
  4. Score well on the placement tests. ...
  5. Write an amazing essay. ...
  6. Get great recommendations. ...
  7. Ask for help.
Jul 18, 2019

How do I get a full scholarship to the top US universities? ›

How to get a full scholarship
  1. Know where to look. ...
  2. Prepare in advance. ...
  3. Work hard and keep motivated. ...
  4. Make yourself stand out from other applicants. ...
  5. Read the application instructions carefully. ...
  6. Submit an exceptional scholarship essay or cover letter. ...
  7. Be realistic.

How to apply for Ivy League universities in USA? ›

The requirements for Ivy League schools application are:
  1. Excellent Academic Transcripts for all classes from class 9 and upwards.
  2. Exceptional Standardised Test Scores in GMAT/ GRE or ACT/SAT.
  3. High scores in TOEFL/ IELTS as proof of proficiency in English language.
  4. Recommendation Letters.
  5. Impactful Essays.
  6. Proof of Finance.

How to apply to US universities with a level? ›

Most US universities will accept UK qualifications, including A levels, and the very top universities will be expecting top grades. You (or your school) will need to provide a copy of your academic transcript to show the grades you have achieved or are expected to achieve when applying to an American university.

What is the #1 university in America? ›

Harvard University

This Ivy League school is the oldest higher education institution in the country and has the largest endowment of any school in the world. Harvard University is a private institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

What college has 100 percent acceptance? ›

Established in 1911 in southwestern Utah, Dixie State University features a 100% acceptance rate. The campus, which sits adjacent to the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, serves more than 11,000 students, about 60% of whom attend full time. Dixie maintains a 20-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

What GPA do you need for a scholarship? ›

Minimum requirements range from around 2.0 on the lower end to 3.75 or higher for competitive academic scholarships. Generally speaking, a 3.0 GPA or higher will give you a decent shot at qualifying for a variety of scholarships.

What SAT score gets scholarships? ›

So you're probably wondering, What's a good SAT score for scholarships, and how can I find them? The short answer is that you should aim for an SAT score between 1200 and 1600 if you want to secure some scholarships based on merit–and the higher within that range you score the more money you're looking at.

What ACT score is needed for full ride scholarships? ›

Shoot for at least a 28 on the ACT or above 1300 on the SAT. Some scholarships allow for flexibility, so check the particular scholarship, but these numbers generally give you the most options. Encourage your student to also pursue a high GPA or even 4.0, especially their senior year.

What GPA is needed for Ivy? ›

If you're aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.

What GPA do Ivy Leagues take? ›

Average GPAs at Ivy League schools start at 3.9. Any lower than 3.5, however, you'll have to either have an impressive, relevant achievement or pray for a miracle to get an offer.

What is the easiest ivy to apply to? ›

Cornell is considered the "easiest" Ivy League to get into because it has the highest Ivy League acceptance rate. While it's easier, statistically speaking, to get into Cornell, it's still challenging. It's also important to remember that students apply directly to one of Cornell's eight undergraduate colleges.

What grades are required by US universities? ›

Academic and English requirements ranges
  • A high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Grade in previous study: minimum GPA 2.50 to 3.50, or equivalent.
  • English language: minimum TOEFL 61 to 90, or equivalent.

How much GPA is required to study in USA for bachelor? ›

Official or unofficial transcripts from your high school and college/university. A 2.0 cumulative GPA from a US institution or college OR 3.0 cumulative GPA from a USA high school is required for full admission. If you are coming from a language center, a 2.5 converted GPA is required.


1. how to apply to american universities as a uk national
(Ebby’s Diary)
2. Graduate Assistantships Explained! ✅ | Masters for FREE 🤑 | How to Apply 📝 | తెలుగు | MS in USA 🇺🇸
(Sanjeev Sriram)
3. Hey International Students!!! The American College System Explained
4. No Deadline Universities in the USA | Rolling Applications with High Scholarships
(Crazy Medusa)
5. Documents required for University Applications! | తెలుగు | MS in USA 🇺🇸
(Sanjeev Sriram)
6. How to apply for Undergrad in USA || A-Z Tips & Tricks (Hindi)
(Yash Mittra - YMGrad)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Twana Towne Ret

Last Updated: 08/13/2023

Views: 6223

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Twana Towne Ret

Birthday: 1994-03-19

Address: Apt. 990 97439 Corwin Motorway, Port Eliseoburgh, NM 99144-2618

Phone: +5958753152963

Job: National Specialist

Hobby: Kayaking, Photography, Skydiving, Embroidery, Leather crafting, Orienteering, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Twana Towne Ret, I am a famous, talented, joyous, perfect, powerful, inquisitive, lovely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.