How To Get Into College In The U.S.

Are you an international student hoping to go to college in the United States? In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about college requirements and the application process.

Will I Need a Student Visa?

Yes, you will need a student visa to study in the United States. 

Students wishing to study in the United States will need to obtain either an immigrant visa for permanent residence or a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay. Students who wish to attend vocational training at a nonacademic institution will need an M visa. Students wishing to attend any academic institution, including college or university, will need an F visa. 

International students must first apply to a SEVP-approved school. SEVP stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Once you’re accepted to one of these schools, you will need to pay a non-refundable fee of $160 and register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). You will then be issued a a Form I-20, which will allow you to apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a student visa and schedule an interview. 

In this interview, you may be required to provide additional documents such as school transcripts, standardized test scores, a statement of intent to leave the United States upon completion of your course of study, and proof that you will be able to pay all educational, living, and travel costs.

Student visas for new students can be issued up to 120 days prior to the start date for a course of study, but you won’t be allowed to enter the United States with your student visa more than 30 days before your school’s start date.

Which Classes Should I Be Taking?

In many ways, preparing to attend college in the United States is the same for international students as it is for students already in the country. We recommend that you focus on taking courses in your intended field of study and choosing the most advanced courses available to you. If there are no advanced courses available at your school, consider taking more advanced courses online. 

Many colleges have their own requirements for courses that students need to have taken to be considered for admittance. It’s wise to research these many months or even years before applying to colleges so that you can plan your coursework accordingly. 

What Grades Should I Be Aiming For?

Simply put, aim for the best grades that you can achieve. Bear in mind that colleges look at the difficulty level of your classes just as much as at your overall GPA. 

There are grade calculators online that will help you convert grades given in your country to U.S. grade point averages so that you can see where you stand. You can research the average GPA of students accepted to individual colleges to get an idea of what you’ll need to achieve to be admitted to your school(s) of choice.

What Extracurriculars Should I Focus On?

What are you passionate about? 

Colleges tend to prefer students who demonstrate leadership potential and excel at a few things over students who have dabbled in many different clubs and activities. Choose extracurriculars that relate to your desired field of study, help your community, and give you the opportunity to develop your teamwork skills and capacity to lead your own projects.

For more advice on preparing to apply to college, click here.

Can I Take the SAT?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test, better known as the SAT, is available to international students six times each year. Not all schools require SAT scores, but many still do. We recommend that you study for the SAT and take the exam at least once, giving yourself plenty of time to take the test a second time in the event that you don’t achieve your desired score the first time around. 

For advice on how to study for the SAT, click here.

Are There Other Tests I Should Take?

Some colleges may require SAT subject tests and/or ACT scores. Be sure to research each school far in advance so that you know which tests you’ll be required to take. Many students take these tests more than once to achieve the best scores that they can, so keep this in mind when constructing your own personal timeline. 

Unless English is your first language or you’re coming from an English-language high school or college, you will need to take a test that proves your proficiency in the English language. The most common test is the TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language. There is also the IELTS – English Language Test for Study. Many schools have a minimum required score for prospective international students, so you’ll need to do whatever’s necessary to achieve a high score before applying to college.

Some schools will waive the TOEFL requirement for students who surpassed a set score on the written portion of the SAT or ACT.

What Percentage of Students in the U.S. Come From Other Countries?

International students make up over five percent of college and university students in the United States. There are over one million international students currently studying in the United States. 

China is the top country of origin, with roughly 370,000 Chinese students currently studying here in the U.S. Other common countries of origin include India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Recent years have seen a growing number of students from Brazil, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Pakistan. 

International student populations vary from one college to another. Here are the ten colleges in the United States with the largest international student populations:

  • New York University
  • Columbia University
  • Indiana University
  • University of Southern California 
  • Arizona State University
  • University of California Los Angeles
  • Purdue University
  • University of Illinois 
  • Northeastern University
  • Ohio State University 

Over half of these international students study STEM fields, with a growing number of students choosing to pursue computer science programs. Engineering remains the most popular field of study among international students in the United States, closely followed by computer science and business. 

Can International Students Obtain Financial Aid?

Attending university in the United States isn’t cheap. Tuition and other fees add up to a rough average of forty thousand dollars each year, and some universities cost twice as much – then again, some cost much less. Many international students choose to begin their education at a community college to decrease the overall cost of obtaining their degree. 

Federal financial aid is only available to U.S. citizens, but there are other options available to international students. Available aid will vary from one institution to the next. At some schools, international students may be able to secure merit- or need-based scholarships.

There are two government funding options available to international students: the Fulbright and the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship. The Hubert Humphrey Fellowship is available to undergraduate students with a minimum of five years of full-time, professional experience and demonstrated leadership qualities. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program funds the research of roughly four thousand graduate students each year. 

There are also scholarships available to international students attending colleges in the United States. Here are some potential scholarships to look into:

  • MPOWER Global Citizen Scholarship
  • MPOWER Monthly Scholarship Series
  • Philanthropic Education Organization International Peace Scholarship
  • Global Undergraduate Exchange Program
  • Study a Bachelor’s in the USA Scholarship
  • American Concrete Institute Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship
  • “Equal Opportunity” Scholarship
  • Grandmaster Nam K Hyong Scholarship
  • “Keep Going Forward” No Essay Scholarship
  • “International Studies” Scholarship
  • Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship
  • Fulbright Program for Foreign Students Scholarship

Some scholarships provide a stipend of two thousand dollars each month to international students. Depending on the school and location, this may cover both tuition and the cost of living. Here are some of the least expensive universities in the United States:

  • The California State University
  • Alcorn State University
  • Minot State University
  • South Texas College
  • San Mateo College of Silicon Valley
  • Manhattanville College
  • Hillsborough Community College
  • Sonoma State University
  • Arkansas State University
  • Southeast Missouri State University
  • Bradley University
  • Bellevue University
  • Westcliff University
  • Metropolitan State University 

Students from Latin American and Caribbean countries may be able to obtain interest-free loans through the Rowe Fund program.

Another option is University of the People, a tuition-free and fully accredited online university. They have some fees that add up to less than four thousand dollars per degree, and there are scholarships available to make sure that their offerings are truly accessible to everyone. International students can enroll from anywhere in the world; University of the People has admitted students from more than two hundred countries. 

How Do I Apply?

In many ways, applying to college is the same for international students as it is for students in the U.S. 

First, you’ll need to research schools and make a list of the colleges and universities that you plan to apply to. We recommend choosing between five and twelve schools, being sure to include both reach (top choices that you may or may not be qualified for) and safety (schools you’re almost certain to get into) schools. The majority of schools on the list should be quality colleges and universities that you have a good chance of getting into, meaning that your GPA, test scores, and other qualifications are on par with students who have been accepted in previous years. 

You’ll need to decide whether you want to apply early (often in November) or by the school’s regular deadline (usually in January). Some schools have late application deadlines. Most schools require prospective students to submit an application fee; these range from $35 to $90. Some schools offer college application fee waivers to students who can’t afford the fees.

Many schools use the Common Application or Universal Application, which you can fill out once and send to multiple colleges and universities. Some states, such as California and Texas, have their own application systems that allow you to apply to multiple state schools at the same time. Some schools will require you to fill out a separate or supplemental application. 

Applications will include school transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and your answers to supplemental questions. Some schools may require you to have your GPA translated and certified by an official transcript credential service. Be sure to research the requirements for each school months in advance to give yourself plenty of time to meet their requirements. 

Essays are vitally important. In addition to helping you to stand out from tens of thousands of applications, they give you the opportunity to display your English proficiency. Write them far in advance and edit them carefully to ensure that there are no errors. 

Final Tips

If you want to attend college in the United States as an international student, it’s best to begin preparing for that goal as early as possible. Your choice of coursework and extracurricular activities will determine your success when you apply years later. Advanced preparation for the SAT and TOEFL exams will help you to achieve the highest possible scores and gain admittance to the college of your dreams. 

If you still have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.

We wish you the best of luck. 

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