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How To Apply To US Universities As An International Student

04 MAY 2022

The US is one of the world’s most popular destinations for studying abroad, with more than one million international students studying there each year. Not only are eight of the top 10 global universities located in the US, but it’s also home to more than 5,000 higher education institutions across the country. This blog will break down everything you need to know about applying to US universities and why you should consider it as an international student.


Why Apply to US Universities

Students from all over the world choose to study in the US for several reasons:

  • Freedom and flexibility to explore classes in any subject they want and not having to declare a major until the end of the second year
  • The prestige of a US degree
  • Opportunities to engage in activities and clubs with a diverse campus community
  • Generous internship and undergraduate research opportunities
  • Specialised services that support international students
  • Superior job prospects due to their proximity to top businesses

The Common Application recently reported that the number of international applicants increased at nearly triple the rate of domestic applicants, further validating the growing interest in a US education. The challenges of the pandemic didn’t deter international students from enrolling for the first time at a US institution. Higher education institutions reported a 68% increase in international enrolment for Autumn 2021 compared to a 46% decline reported in Autumn 2020.

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What You Need To Know About Applying to US Universities

Here’s what you need to know if you want to apply to American universities as an international student.

  1. Plan Early. Choose 5-8 universities and determine which type of application they accept. Many universities use the Common Application or the Coalition Application, and some require you to apply directly to the school.
  2. US universities value extracurricular activities. Choose activities you are passionate about and aim for leadership positions within them.
  3. Good grades and SAT/ACT scores are still one of the most important parts of your application.
  4. The US personal essay isn’t the same as the UK personal statement. The UK universities are looking for subject-focused content, while US universities want you to tell a compelling story and showcase your personality.
  5. Applying early has advantages. Applying early can increase your chance of acceptance to many top schools. However, you can only apply early to one university, and the decision is binding. Only apply early to a school you're 100% sure you want to attend.
  6. It’s ok to be unsure of your major. You can mark “undecided” on most US university applications.
  7. Don’t forget the application fee. It’s typically between $75-100 USD.
  8. Acceptance isn’t conditional. If you’re accepted, you’re in!

The US application process can be complicated, and some universities, like MIT and any of the University of California schools, do not use the Common Application. Others have unique requirements beyond the general application. Universities will go into detail about their requirements on their websites. Carefully read the entire application requirements before you get started.

If you’re still unsure you have everything you need, contact one of our academic advisors at Crimson Education. They will walk alongside you and help you navigate the journey. Let’s work together to achieve your academic dreams!

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Key Requirements For US Universities

If you want to study in the USA as an international student, here is what top American colleges require:

What US universities look for in your university application

Exceptional Academics

Most US universities take a holistic approach when reviewing applications, but that doesn’t mean grades aren’t important. Grades are arguably the most crucial part of your college application, and your chances of studying in the USA are much higher if you have stellar grades. You will need to provide a copy of your high school transcript to showcase this.

Outstanding Test Scores

The second most important part of your college application is your test scores. While many colleges are going test-optional, some still require an SAT or ACT score, especially from international students, because it gives them a better understanding of your academic abilities. Most schools look for students with scores in a specific range, so check with your top schools to learn if your scores fit into that range.

Diverse Extracurriculars

Extracurriculars demonstrate who you are outside of the classroom and provide an opportunity to showcase your leadership skills and community involvement. Universities are not looking for applicants who have participated in dozens of extracurriculars. Instead, it’s better to dig deep into a subject, dedicate significant time to it, and ideally use it to propel you into a world-changing career.

Thoughtful Essays

Your essays build upon your applications, giving admissions teams a holistic picture of who you are and how you might contribute to their university. They should include thoughtful and unique information that’s not already in your application.

Strong Letters of Recommendation

Recommendation letters help build your holistic application by allowing people in your life to give their personal and professional opinions about your academic performance, character and drive. If you want to receive favourable and convincing recommendations, establish strong relationships with teachers, key staff, and leaders of your extracurricular activities.

Supplemental Documents

  • Your grade and predicted grades
  • Personal statement
  • Reference letters
  • Copy of passport
  • Financial evidence you can cover the cost of university
  • ‭Proof of English language proficiency (if applicable)

To learn more, download our free eBook, which provides a complete breakdown on building the perfect application to gain admission into top US universities!

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Applying for Scholarships at US Universities

International students are eligible to apply for scholarships offered through their chosen university. Some scholarships have specific requirements, so it’s important to check with the university to find out the details. Read more on Need-Blind vs Need-Aware universities in the US.

The types of scholarships international students can apply for include:

  • Crimson Scholarships
  • University scholarships
  • Financial scholarships
  • Merit scholarships
  • Country-based scholarships
  • Government-funded scholarships
  • Privately-funded scholarships

Key Deadlines for US University Applications

Many international students find the US application process complicated. By breaking down the steps into manageable pieces, you will find the process much less daunting and straightforward. Check out the chart below for a complete US admission preparation timeline.

US university application timeline and deadlines

Here are the steps you need to take to apply to American Universities as an International Student

1. Research colleges

Start researching where you might like to study one year before you start applying to universities. Check out each school’s acceptance rates, location, tuition, campus activities, etc.

2. Make a list of your top universities

Make a list of target, reach, and safety schools. Pick schools in all the categories, so you will have more options when acceptance letters come out. Our college admissions calculator can help you find the right universities!

3. Take college tours

Plan a tour (or virtual tour) of the schools on your list. Check out a list of college tours we offer

4. Start taking tests.

Take the SAT/ACT for the first time about nine months before applying to university.

5. Ask for letters of recommendation.

Start approaching teachers for recommendations about six months before you apply for university.

6. Write your essays

Start writing and refining your college essays, including the Common App essays and/or supplemental essays.

7. Test again

If you’re not happy with your SAT/ACT scores, consider retaking the tests about four months before applying for university.

8. Research financial aid and scholarships

About four months before you apply, research all your financial aid opportunities and any scholarships that will help you pay for university.

9. Put your application together

You should have all the application pieces ready about one month before it’s due. Check and double check you have all the details before submitting your application.

10. Apply for University!

Check your application one last time and press submit!


Interested in learning more about how Crimson can help you apply to a US university? Schedule a free 1:1 consultation with one of our academic advisors today. They would love to help you reach your university admission goals!

How do I find an American University that’s Right for me?

You’re the only person who can answer this question. Universities are as unique as the students who go there. If you know what you want to study, choose a university specialising in that study area. If you’re still unsure of what you want to learn, check out:

Think about your academic and personal preferences and goals. Are you interested in a liberal arts education, an Ivy League school, or maybe a school in the University of California system?

Talk with friends, family, and alumni about different schools. Consider visiting your favourite campuses or going on a virtual tour if you can. Crimson has a YouTube channel with videos about students getting into college, a day in the life of a student, and much more! Crimson counsellors can also help you find the universities that best fit your interests and goals. If you’re wondering if you have the right grades and test scores to get into your top universities, check out our college admissions calculator.

How Crimson Pathfinder can help you with Applying to American Universities

Introduction to Crimson Pathfinder

Applying to American universities takes time, planning, effort, and patience. It’s easy to overlook a step or miss a deadline.

Crimson recently released Pathfinder - a comprehensive in-app tool that not only helps you stay on track but helps you quantify the value of activities you do in preparation to apply to US universities.

Contained within the Crimson app, Pathfinder is a master list of everything you can do during school to increase your chances of admission to top US universities. Pathfinder includes over 280 goals, each with an assigned point value based on how much admissions officers will value that achievement.

Pathfinder ensures you stay on track between now and when you apply to university. It accurately predicts your admission results (based on your achievements) with unbelievable accuracy. Combined with guidance from your personalised strategist, you’ll become a master of your US university applications!

Crimson Education’s academic advisors walk with you through each step of the process. They keep you on track, help you get ready for testing, provide essay reviews, and more! Best of all, Crimson students are 4x more likely to gain admission into their dream university! If you’re interested in applying to a US university or getting started with Pathfinder, contact a Crimson advisor today!

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