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  • Cortney Dowdle

10 Admissions Tips for Applying to University in the USA

Updated: Nov 3

UPDATE - 11.2.2020

It's been a few weeks since the last blog post, that obviously I have fallen a bit behind <smh>. I was traveling in China and had minimal access to internet, which was frustrating, but also kept me focused on my time there. I was also working on a blog about my trip to China (and hopefully will share that soon), but I wanted to be sure to share this blog about the admissions process to study in the USA! The Savvy International blog is meant to start at the beginning of the process and walk through the different steps as students would go through them to help alleviate confusion.


If you're short on time, here are the main tips from this article:

Ideally students should apply to 6-8 schools, choosing a mix of safety, target, and reach schools.
Separate your schools into those that accept the Common Application or Coalition Application and those that require their own institutional application.
Research specific requirements for admissions once you've narrowed down your choices so that you know exactly what materials to gather for each school.

Read on for all the details!


Sometimes applying for university can feel like this...

The university admissions process is tough, even for those of us who grew up and were educated in the USA. After years of working with international students, this article is a great read for any student or parent considering going through admissions for university in the USA.


One of the most daunting parts is often just the complexities of making it happen.


Questions like...

  • “Where do I find a school?

  • What paperwork will they ask for?

  • Can I send everything via email or does it have to be physically mailed?”

It’s a lot of information. Websites are overwhelming, there are a ton of paid resources online so it’s hard to know what information is true or just being advertised, and every school will vary in their process on this. Here’s the reality – there are well over 4,000 universities in the USA, and every.single.one. has their own way of doing things.


Sounds complex, right? It is, but despite all of this, the USA offers exceptional educational opportunities, and the “college experience” is a huge draw for students from around the world.


Liberal arts education is great! You can try different classes, different majors, different professors, and still stay on track to graduate in four years. In addition, universities in the USA teach students not just about tests and exams and classes, but about life – citizenship, social development, and personal growth are key parts of the experience in university.


Whether it’s banging your head against the wall because your roommate sucks and you can’t get along, or trying to balance a healthy diet with the all you can eat ice cream bar in the cafeteria, or adjusting to juggling a full class schedule with an on campus job with four different clubs and organizations, all of it is part of the experience that ultimately shapes who you will become.


-->The terms college and university are interchangeable in the USA, while in many other countries around the world, college is a separate step that often happens before you go to university.

-->Secondary school is the same as high school.

-->Post-secondary school could be college or university. I’ll use both when talking about the process.


10 Tips for University Admissions in the USA:


1. Narrow down your search before you start applying - I’ve seen students applying to anywhere from only one university all the way to a student who applied to a whopping 33 universities in the USA. Many counselors or recruiters will recommend anywhere from 6-8 schools that are dispersed between safety schools, target schools, and reach schools.

  1. Be realistic, do your research, and you will save yourself a lot of time and work throughout the application process.

  2. Determine your financial need by having an honest conversation with your parents. Depending on if you have high need or you can afford to pay most of the cost of attendance can heavily determine which universities you should apply for admissions to.

2. Research the school – it is glaringly obvious if students have not researched the schools they are applying to. Make sure you know some general information about the programs offered, size of the school, or reputable or noteworthy facts if you are writing an essay or doing a personal interview.


3. Learn if the school has rolling admissions, early action, or early decision and determine which you will apply for – Universities in the USA can admit students throughout the year on a rolling admissions basis (they may have soft deadlines for applications, but for the most part will receive applications throughout the fall and spring), and they can also offer early action (apply early before a solid deadline and are still able to apply to other schools), or early decision (apply early before a solid deadline and you are not able to apply to other schools – this one is considered a binding contract).


4. Find out which applications the school will accept - While most schools have their own admissions application, some schools work with a third-party application system to help streamline the process. Two big ones are the Common Application and Coalition Application.

  1. Note that the school will likely accept their own application or one of these shared applications. You will always just need to submit one admissions application, even if the school accepts multiple different applications.

  2. The goal of the Common or Coalition application is that you can fill out one application and submit it to multiple schools.

  3. The biggest benefit of course is only having to fill out one application, while I would say the biggest disadvantage is that it may not work for all of the schools you are interested in.

  4. *Tip – see if there are several schools you want to apply to who all accept the Common Application or Coalition Application. This would save you a lot of time!

5. Learn if the school requires essay or interviews for admissions– universities may require one or the other or both. Be prepared to submit both when you start the application process.


6. Write your essay about the ways you are uniquely you – there are plenty of blogs and articles out there on writing the college application essay. My biggest tip to students for this question is to write something in your essay that we don’t know or can’t tell about you from the other materials you are submitting. If you’re already listing your accomplishments in your application, then there isn’t necessarily a need to highlight them again in your essay. Write about the ways in which you are uniquely you and how you would fit best into the university you are applying to.


7. Research what transcripts you need to submit – most universities will require official transcript evaluations (see resource guide for recommendations). Some universities have specialists in house who will evaluate your transcripts, but I think the majority will ask you to have an official translation into English (if not already in English), and then have an official credential evaluation completed. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $150-$300 for a reputable credential evaluation.


8. Edit and revise your application materials – please, please, please edit your essay and application materials before submitting. The amount of times I’ve received an essay that mentions a different university is embarrassing and a turnoff to admissions officers. In addition, make sure your materials are edited and don’t have grammatical errors in them.


9. Use your “voice” – this one may seem like a given, but I can promise you if you have someone else complete your application, but you write your own essay, or vice versa, we can tell! Being consistent with your “voice” or the way your personality comes across in writing, is important.


10. Complete your own applications – My hope is that if you’re reading this blog, and if you want to study abroad, you’re a fairly self-motivated student. I think it’s amazing to have parents willing to help you through this process, but it’s important for you to complete the application yourself. At the end of the day, the school is admitting you, the student, not your mom or dad. Take ownership of your university applications and fill them out on your own.


These are the most basic tips for the university admissions process.


While the blogs dive into the basics of university processes, remember that I developed The Ultimate Study USA Toolkit as a way for students, parents, and educators to get even more in-depth information about the study abroad process. Click HERE to learn more.


Until next time!

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