7 Steps for Applying to a US University

If you’re dreaming of attending an American college, it’s never too early to start your planning process. Whether you already know where you want to apply to or not, these seven steps will help you with the whole application process.


1. Do your research


There are thousands of colleges throughout the United States. The Ivy League can easily overshadow many other universities due to their stellar reputation internationally, but there are many smaller or public universities that are just as good. Research schools based on their location and the programs they offer.


If you can, visit the universities or colleges you’re interested in to get a better feel for the campus. You can also attend college fairs, information sessions, or visit admissions representatives. Look on the university’s website to see if there are any useful events near you.


By the time of your Junior year in high school (year 3 age 16-17), you should have a list of 5-10 colleges you want to apply to.


2. Finalize your list


A perfect college list consists of three categories: reach, match, and safety schools.


Reach schools are colleges where your academic qualifications are below the average of accepted students. These schools usually consist of dream schools, schools that are in the Ivy League. Even if your GPA (grade point average) is below average, it’s still worth applying. You never know what might happen!


Match schools are colleges where your academic achievements match that of the average student. While you’re not guaranteed to get into these schools, you can apply with the knowledge that you have a great shot at getting in.


Safety schools are colleges where your academic achievements exceed those of the average students, meaning there’s a high chance you’ll be accepted. These colleges are your back-up options if you don’t get into your first or second choices.


3. Take your standardized tests


You should take your ACT/SAT tests at least once by the start of your Junior year in high school. If you didn’t score well the first time, don’t worry. You can take these tests as many times as you want, but remember that colleges can see how many times you’ve taken them.


If you’re an international student and don’t speak fluent English, many universities require you to take an English exam called TOEFL. You can check directly with the university websites for the exact level required. More U.S. universities are now accepting the IELTS exam in lieu of TOEFL. This test is very similar to the SAT/ACT tests but only focuses on English. Kaplan International Languages has many English schools across North America that help students prepare for the IELTS or TOEFL (including the GRE and GMAT needed for MBA's). We can ensure to get your English up to a high level so you feel confident before taking the test. 


Did you know that Kaplan also offers a University Placement Service? This is offered to students studying English with us who may benefit or need advise on how to proceed with studying at a university abroad. Advisors can help students pick relevant schools and programs and guide them through the entire process of enrolement. 


4. Ask for letters of recommendation


Whether you’re applying through the Common Application, the Coalition Application or university-specific application processes, you’ll need letters of recommendation. Make sure you know the requirements for these letters. Some colleges ask for letters strictly from teachers, while others will ask for letters from teachers and guidance counselors. Once you know the requirements, make sure to ask for your letters of recommendation with plenty of time to spare.


5. Write your essay


The Common Application essay prompts are usually released six months before they are due. This gives you plenty of time to think of ideas and write a few drafts. Ask friends, teachers, or guidance counselors to read over your essays, and make sure the message you’re trying to convey reaches the reader. Ensure you proof this and take time between reading it, coming back to something will fresh eyes allows you edit and be concise. 


6. Consider finances


Financial aid is a necessity for many students in the United States. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA and learn about the financial aid requirements and different documents you need to prepare. If you are an international student, FAFSA is not required as this is for the U.S. students or permanent resident students. Please check in with each university regarding your FAFSA requirements.


You can also apply for scholarships to help with your finances – you’ll need to keep a lookout for these and get your applications in early. Some universities offer scholarship opportunities for international students. Make sure you check in with them.


7. Double and triple-check everything before submitting your application


The college application process is long and filled with lots of paperwork. Before you submit, triple-check that you‘ve included all the necessary documents. There should be no spelling errors and all your information must be correct and up-to-date.


This is a big decision so it's important to spend time thinking about the schools you want to apply for and how it will help and shape your future career path. For international students, Kaplan is a great starting point for international students who want to studying at an American university. We can give you the tools to improve your English, prepare for the neccessary tests and help you with applying to a range of universities. 


Find out where our English schools are in the USA. 



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