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Higher Education in the USA



  • College/University – these are used interchangeably in the USA. College does not mean secondary school or a step between secondary and post-secondary. You can apply after secondary school to colleges or universities.

  • Grade Point Average (GPA) – your GPA is calculated by assigning a number from 0-4 (with 4 being the highest) and using letters A, B, C, D, F (see sample here - but note that how you convert your GPA as an international student will look different depending on your grading scale in your home country).

  • Degree Level – students can study for an undergraduate degree such as an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree, and then a graduate degree would include a  Doctoral or Master’s program.

  • Degree Audit – this usually contains a list of the courses you need to take to earn your degree. Sometimes you can find these in a university course catalog online.

  • Credits – each course you take in university will be worth a certain amount of credits. Classes can range from 1-4 credits depending on the amount of contact and if the school is on quarters or semesters.

  • Semesters/Quarters – most schools have either two semesters (about 15 weeks each) per year, or they will have four quarters (about 10 weeks each) per year.

Five Steps to Study in the USA

1. Choose schools to submit your applications

The school search process can be overwhelming and make you want to throw in the towel or hire someone right off the bat. Many students start with a top 100 university list and never branch outside of it. I urge students to explore their options, find the best fit, and stay open-minded throughout the process. 

If you don't know where to start the search, try searching for these:

  • Programs

  • Locations

  • Climate

​2. Research Funding Options

Yes, some universities offer significant financial aid and scholarships, but I always advise students that most universities do not meet full need. This means you often need multiple funding sources to be able to pay for school. Funding sources could be things like scholarships, grants, loans, family funds, or your own personal funds. Typically you need a combination of these to pay for school. This is one of the most important steps in the process to study in the USA. Unfortunately, there isn’t a limitless fund for university studies and students often need to be creative, prepared, and committed to the task to make it happen.

3. Submit materials and enroll

Once you’ve decided on schools to apply to, the next step is to submit applications, get admitted, and decide which school is the best for you!


Most schools have a similar application process in regards to what materials they require. Most often, schools will ask for all or some of the following:

  • Admissions application

  • Secondary school transcripts

  • Secondary school translation/evaluation of records (this often needs to be completed by an outside company)

  • Letters of Recommendation

  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT/TOEFL)

  • Personal Essay

  • Personal Interview

After you complete the the admissions process, most universities release decisions within 6-8 weeks or they notify students in March or early April of their admissions decision.


Review finances and final details for all universities + consult your family and school counselors before making a final admissions decision.  

4. Obtain a student visa

Once you enroll at a school by submitting a signed contract or enrollment agreement and often a monetary deposit, then you’ll have to submit financial documentation to obtain the student visa. You have to submit a bank statement (from you, your parents, or a sponsor) that shows you have funds to cover at least one year of studying in the USA. You can subtract any scholarships you received from the university from the total cost of the school. 


5. Travel to the USA

Yay! If you get to this step, then you’ve made it farther than most! It’s a huge achievement to get to the point of enrolling at a university in the USA and preparing to travel. The school will likely communicate extra steps you need to complete. Many universities offer advisor meetings, packing lists, or orientation schedules to new students to help them prepare before they even arrive.

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