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Admissions for Undergraduate Study in the US

Thinking of undergraduate study in the US, but not sure how to navigate the admissions process? Read below for an overview of the steps you need to take when applying to undergraduate study in the USA.

Why Study in the US:

Why do so many students cross the Atlantic to pursue an undergraduate degree? In a recent survey, we found many students were most attracted to the ability to choose from such a wide range of universities on offer (over 4,500), as well as the opportunity to experience American university life.  Students also cite the flexibility to explore their academic interests as another reason why US study is a good fit. Under the "liberal arts philosophy," students take classes from a variety of subjects during their first year, before specializing in their major field of study. Additional reasons include the funding opportunities made available by US universities and external funding bodies, travel and cultural experiences, and the chance to internationalize and strengthen CVs.

Admissions Process:

Ideally, students will begin the process of researching universities and the application process 1 to 1½ years before they wish to attend. (Example: Start researching universities during the spring/summer 2010, apply during autumn/winter 2010, with an aim to start university in August/September 2011). This will leave students plenty of time to find a university that is a good fit and allow them to prepare for any admissions exams required. However, if students are just starting the admissions process in the early autumn the year before they would like to attend, they should not worry as they still have time to compile their application materials– they will just need to work at a faster pace!

Students should first make sure US study is a good match for their goals. They then should begin researching universities with a view to narrowing their search to the universities to which they will apply.  They should consider a range of factors, including the majors on offer, campus size and setting, availability of funding and competitiveness of admission. Remember that in the US, it is more important to find the right fit than to only apply for a handful of ‘name-brand’ universities.

The following are admissions process points students should keep in mind as they get started:

  • Application Deadlines - There is no one set due date for US university applications, but deadlines generally tend to fall between the mid-October (for early decision/action applications) through January (for regular decision applications) before enrolment.
  • Admissions Exams - Applicants will likely need an admissions exam, the SAT Reasoning Test or ACT.  The most competitive universities may require two to three SAT Subject Tests in addition to the Reasoning Test or the ACT Plus Writing.
  • Application Components - Students must submit a transcript from their school with their marks, as well as up to three letters of reference from contacts who know the student well both inside and outside of the classroom. Two to three essays outlining their academic interests and providing insight into whom they are as people are also usually required. These essays should highlight a student’s future goals and why they are interested in that particular university/program or field.


As students research universities and complete their applications, they should not forget to investigate funding options.  There are four main types of funding for study in the US: savings, loans and scholarships from a US university or an external funding body. 

US universities award funding on the basis of financial need (often called grants) and/or merit (scholarships), as well as sports scholarships. External funding bodies may include a wide range of professional, charitable or government organizations that have a vested interest in educating members of society. Often, scholarships from external funding bodies can be thought of as niche scholarships, as they may be based on very specific personal qualities outlined by the funding body in addition to academic merit or financial need.


The summer before enrolment, students will apply for their visa, most likely an F-1 Student Visa or J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. Check with the US Embassy in your home country and with the university’s international office for more information about applying for a student visa. 

Pre-Departure Information:

In addition to learning more about what to expect from academic and social life on the US campus, students will also need to attend to a number of practical matters to ensure that they are well informed and well equipped before departing. The pre-departure information pages of the Fulbright website provide information on a range of topics from ways to deal with culture shock to tips on packing.

University undergraduate admissions web pages are the best place to find specific information on admissions criteria and deadlines. Many students find it helpful to talk with friends and family, as well as their tutors and teachers, who may be familiar with the US and its educational system. Some students even consider visiting the US. You will also want to check to see if there is an EducationUSA office in your home country: www.educationusa.info. EducationUSA advising centers are the US government’s official source of information on American higher education, and many centers offer advice via phone and email, workshops on applying to US universities, opportunities to meet US university representatives and more!

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