How to apply to study in the US | Top Universities
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How to apply to study in the US

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Chloe Lane

Updated Jul 06, 2023
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US students at college campus

The US is one of the most popular study destinations for international students.  

Renowned for the high quality of its education, the US has one of the largest higher education systems in the world. With more than 200 US universities featuring in the most recent QS World University Rankings, it’s easy to see why.  

If you’re considering studying in the US, you may be wondering where to start. Here’s everything you’ll need to know before applying. 

Research your options  

With hundreds of universities to choose from, each offering a unique and exciting student experience, choosing a university in the US can seem overwhelming.  

Luckily, there are several tools you can use to help make your decision:  

Global university rankings 

University rankings, such as the QS World University Rankings, offer an unbiased view of the best universities in the world. They’re based on a series of indicators, such as academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio and more

Global rankings can be helpful to gain an overall view of an institution’s reputation, or if you’re wondering which universities are available in the area you’re looking to study. If you’ve decided which subject to study, but want to see which universities are best, you can also look at rankings by subject, like the QS World University Rankings by Subject

However, there are many other factors that will affect your decision, so make sure you check university websites for further detail

In-person and virtual open days

University open days – whether they are online or in-person – are a great opportunity to talk to academics, staff and students from the university and ask any questions you might have.  

If you live outside of the US and can’t travel to look around the university itself, virtual open days offer the perfect solution. Some even feature 360-degree photographs and videos of the campus so you can still get a feel for studying there. 

University fairs, like the worldwide QS events, not only give you the chance to speak to universities across the US, but they also offer networking sessions, talks and opportunities to review your CV.  

Consider an education counsellor 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the options available across the US, working with an education counsellor can help you to identify your goals and find a shortlist of universities and programmes that feel right for you. 

QS Counsellors can provide guidance on programmes, universities, visa applications and answer any questions you have about studying in the US. They’ll also advise you on what documents you’ll need to apply.  

Collect any important documents you’ll need  

When applying for university in the US, there are several documents you’ll be asked to submit.  

College admissions essay 

The first document you’ll provide is a college admissions essay, stating why you’re suited for the programme and the university you’re applying for. This is a great chance to showcase your personality and explain to the university why you are the right candidate for them and why you want to study the subject.  

Remember – in the US it’s OK to still be unsure of your major. You can mark ‘undecided’ on most US university applications. 

References 

You will also need at least two references. These are usually teachers from your school, but may also be an employer, a volunteering supervisor or trainer. They should not be friends and family.  

Proof of English language tests 

If English isn’t your first language, you will need to take an English proficiency test, such as the TOEFL or IELTS. Find out more about English language tests

SAT/ACT test 

Your application will require you to show your SAT or ACT (American College Testing) scores. These are both standardised tests used for university applications in the US, focusing on core subjects like maths, English and science. These scores are valid for up to five years. 

Choose a way to apply for university 

Once you’ve decided on a university, you’ll need to look on the university’s website to find out how to apply, as well as noting any deadlines.  

Common application 

Universities in the US often have several ways to apply for university. While you can usually apply directly through the university’s website, you can also apply through Common Application, an undergraduate college admission application that applicants can use to apply to over 1,000 member colleges and universities in all 50 US states. 

Apply to highly-ranked US universities with QS

Students may also have the option to to submit a single application for university programmes around the world with QS.  

Once prospective students have filled out the single application form on topuniversities.com, they will be contacted by a QS Councillor who will suggest schools and programmes that would be a good fit for the student.  

The QS counsellor partners with top universities all over the world, including in the US, and submits applications on behalf of the student. Examples of partner universities in the US include Arizona State University, Florida International University and the University of Delaware.

Once you get accepted, apply for a student visa 

Congratulations, you’ve just been accepted to study at a university in the US! Before you start your programme, you’ll have to obtain a student visa. Your course of study and the type of school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F visa or an M visa. 

To do this, you can apply online by filling out a form and attaching a photo. You will then be required to complete an interview at the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country. 

Student visas for new students can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date for a course of study.  However, you will not be allowed to enter the US on your student visa more than 30 days before the start date. Find out more about applying for a student visa in the US.

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