How To Apply To US Universities From The UK & Europe

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.

Why apply to US universities?

  • Flexibility of the liberal arts curriculum
  • Excellent academic reputation
  • Fantastic faculty support
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Study abroad & internship programs
  • State-of-the-art facilities
  • Generous funding for extracurricular pursuits
  • World-leading professors

P.S - Top university alumni often 'recruit from within,’ meaning they actively recruit soon-to-be graduates from their former universities to employ at their current workplace. Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg and Amazon all actively recruit from top university campuses.

US Universities
Top 20 US Universities
UniversityGeneral Admissions Rate
Harvard University3.2%
Princeton University4%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology4%
Harvard University3.19%
Stanford University4.0%
Yale University4.4%
University of Chicago6.2%
Johns Hopkins University6.5%
University of Pennsylvania4.7%
California Institute of Technology6.7%
Duke University6.2%
Northwestern University7%
Dartmouth College6.2%
Brown University5.5%
Vanderbilt University11.6%
Rice University10.9%
Washington University in St. Louis16%
Cornell University8.7%
Columbia University3.7%
University of Notre Dame19%
University of California, Berkeley17.5%

US News 2023 National Rankings

Key differences between US and UK universities

The US and UK offer a variety of options when it comes to studying at some of the finest institutions around the world. Here are some highlights of each education system to help you decide which path is best for you:

US vs UK University System
US Education SystemUK Education SystemBoth
Flexibility due to a unique liberal arts educationA focused and in-depth approach to learningUnrivalled resources and professions at top universities
A wide range of clubs, activities, and extracurricularsFinancial assistance less significant due to lower costsGlobal reputation and recognition as leaders in higher education
Various scholarships and financial aid opportunitiesShorter path to some professions (e.g. law, medicine)Access to elite graduate and internship opportunities
Ability to compete athletically at an elite level with recruitment & scholarshipsThe tutorial system at top UK universities such as Oxford and CambridgeExtensive alumni network and low student-faculty ratio

What kind of students are US universities looking for?

US universities look for all-rounder applications and value your extracurriculars and essays more when compared to UK universities.

If you want to study in the USA from the UK, here is what top American colleges require:

US Universities requirements

How to apply to US universities

There are a few different application systems in the US. Many universities use the Common Application or the Coalition Application, but a few require you to apply directly to the school.

You can apply to lots of universities in the US: the Common App allows you to apply to up to 20 colleges and you can submit multiple other applications through different portals or directly to some schools. We, however, recommend you apply to 5-8 universities; a mixture of reach, target and safety schools.

US Application Systems
Application SystemUniversities
Common AppAccepted by 900+ universities (Ivy League and many top public and private colleges)
Coalition AppAccepted by 150 universities
University of California ApplicationAll UC Schools

Application Requirements

The US application process can be complicated, and some universities have unique requirements beyond the general application. Universities will go into detail about their requirements on their websites. Carefully read through all of the application requirements before you get started.
Educational History
1. Educational History
2. Standardised Tests
Essay requirements
3. Essays
4. Extracurriculars
Letters of recommendation
5. Recommendation Letters
University Selection
6. Interviews
Slide 1 of 6
  • Educational History

    Educational History

    Most US universities take a holistic approach when reviewing applications and don’t have minimum grade requirements, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Grades are arguably the most crucial part of your college application, and your chances of studying in the US are much higher if you have stellar grades. You will need to provide a copy of your school transcript covering the last 4 years to showcase this.

    US universities are very well versed in international curriculums, you don't need to convert your grades to a GPA! Universities will have specific admissions officers that review applications from each part of the world.

  • Standardised Tests

    Standardised Tests

    SAT & ACT

    While many colleges have gone test-optional, at least for the time being, some still require an SAT or ACT score — especially from international students, because it gives them a better understanding of your academic abilities.

    You only need to take one of these exams and they are slightly different in style. We recommend sitting a practice test for both and seeing which one suits you best.

    Top universities like Harvard, Stanford and MIT will expect their students to score in the 75th percentile.

    Read more about SAT vs ACT to find out which test is right for you.


    If English is not your first language or your school doesn’t teach in English as their primary language, you will need to provide your English proficiency in your application.

    The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are two of the most widely-accepted tests to certify your English proficiency.

  • Essay requirements

    Personal essay & supplemental essays

    The goal of your personal essay is to give admissions teams a holistic picture of who you are, what’s important to you, and how you might contribute to their university. They should include thoughtful and unique information that’s not already in your application.

    Through this essay, admissions officers are looking to get to know you and find out what type of person you are. They want to see if you are a fit for their university but also that they are a fit for you.

    Lots of universities will also provide some supplemental essay prompts, these are shorter essays asking you more specific questions about their university.

  • 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.

  • Recommendation letters

    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.

  • University selection


    Some universities offer interviews with alumni to prospective students. However, whether you get one or not is not a reflection of how well you’ve done in the application process, it’s more down to alumni availability.

Tuition for international students

It’s no secret that US universities are expensive: on average they can cost around $55,000 a year. There are 6 universities in the US that are need-blind for international students; Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Amherst & Dartmouth. These universities will not take your financial need into consideration when reviewing your application and will meet 100% of your financial aid need if you’re admitted.

A few other universities offer need-based scholarships but they will take your financial situation into consideration when reviewing your application so you’ll have to work even harder to stand out.

Applying for scholarships at US universities

UK 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.

The types of scholarships international students can apply for include:

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

Key application stages & deadlines for US universities

Many 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 for a complete US admission preparation timeline.

Some helpful extras

US Universities

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