By Charles Varghese
Choosing to study in the USA can be an exciting decision. U.S. universities are home to a melting pot of cultures, personalities, experiences, and so much more! As much as we’d love for you to come right over and experience the joys of this journey, there are a few steps we need to address before that can happen. Don’t worry; we have you covered!
In this article, we’ll be addressing all you need to know before you start applying, and ultimately, decide to start the next chapter of your life in the United States. We’ll be going over:
1. Academic Transcripts
2. English Proficiency Exams
3. Standardized Testing
4. Statement of Purpose
5. Proof of Finances
6. Student Visa
7. Recommendations (if applicable)
8. Research Proposal (if applicable)
Ultimately, the most important question you need to ask yourself is “Why?” Why do you want to study in America? How much are you able and willing to spend to study in the United States?
Having a strong “why” will help you tackle any obstacle that comes your way. Applying to an American university isn’t without its challenges. Still, when your resolve is stronger than your doubt — that’s when you can be an unstoppable force. If you ever feel like you need some guidance, just know that we’re here to help!
Whether you’ve decided to study in the USA after completing undergraduate studies abroad, or you’re looking to begin your undergraduate degree in the United States, providing a transcript of your education will help universities understand the education you have received. As grading systems are different worldwide, it may be difficult to properly evaluate where you stand relative to the U.S. grading system.
An official institution’s administrative office must provide transcripts and typically an official copy — not a photocopy. Beyond that, transcripts should include the degrees you have earned or the level of education you’ve completed. Transcripts that do not meet the requirements to be considered “official” will not be accepted by colleges in the USA. Therefore, make sure to follow the specific steps that your university requires. Each university has unique academic requirements and steps to send in your transcript.
By getting education advice from one of our advisors, you can have them review your transcripts.
English Proficiency Exams
English proficiency tests are required unless you’re from a country that has English as its official language. Suppose your English ability does not meet the requirements laid out by these exams. In that case, it could signify that your overall ability to study in the USA may be affected because you cannot keep up with the demands of full English courses. You can meet the requirements for English proficiency by passing one of many English exams.
ACTFL: Assessment of Progress toward Proficiency in Languages
Cambridge English Language Assessment
CAE: Cambridge English: Advanced
FCE: Cambridge English: First
CPE: Cambridge English: Proficiency
CAEL: Canadian Academic English Language Assessment
CELPIP: Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program
EF Standard English Test
ECPE: Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English
iTEP: International Test of English Proficiency
MUET: Malaysian University English Test
OPI: Oral Proficiency Interview
Oxford Test of English
PTE Academic: Pearson Test of English
STEP: Saudi Standardized Test for English Proficiency
STEP Eiken: Test of English
TELC: The European Language Certificates
TOEIC: Test of English for International Communication
TrackTest: English Proficiency Test Online
Trinity College London ESOL
TSE: Test of Spoken English
UBELT: University of Bath English Language Test
Among these tests, a few are used more commonly for students looking to study in the USA.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
Most colleges and universities require you to take the TOEFL exam for admissions. More than 10,000 universities accept TOEFL in over 150 countries; 9 out of 10 universities in the U.S. prefer the TOEFL test over other English language tests. Taking a test that is widely accepted is highly recommended! Taking the TOEFL exam will set you up to apply to more universities worldwide than any other!
We recommend that you take the exam 6–12 months before your application deadline because you will have the opportunity to retake the exam as many times as you want (with 12 days between exams). The exam will cover writing, reading, speaking, and listening in English. As there are many resources available to study for TOEFL, you will have no shortage of material to aid you on your mission.
International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
Most universities use IELTS as an international English language exam. As IELTS standardizes its exam across American, British, and Australian English, it can be great to gauge your overall English proficiency. The exam covers writing, reading, speaking, and listening. More than 7,000 organizations around the world in over 130 countries accept the IELTS language test.
Although test scores for the SAT and ACT aren’t the only factor for your admission into U.S. colleges or universities, they can certainly boost your appeal as a candidate. Depending on the university, you won't have to take either test to study in the USA. The SAT and ACT are viewed the same by universities so picking the right test is determined by your preference.
Standardized tests will assess your ability across multiple subjects, including Mathematics, Writing, Reading, and Science. The way both exams present these subjects separates one from the other; we’ll help you decide which one is right for you.
Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)
The SAT is the most commonly used standardized test for American students applying to college or university. Although the SAT is not mandatory for getting into most universities for international students, a good SAT score can strengthen your chances significantly. The SAT can be a good measure of how you compare with U.S. students academically — regardless of degree or education. The best part? Because you aren’t required to take the SAT to study in the USA, you don’t have to present your scores if you aren’t happy with your performance.
The SAT covers four sections including an optional essay section, these include Reading, Writing, Math (without a calculator), and Math (with a calculator). The test is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600, combining Math scores and Reading/Writing scores (the essay has a separate score). Although the SAT and ACT cover similar subjects, how they affect your score can present the biggest factor in which test you choose to take. Your math score will account for half of your total score on the SAT — if math is your strong suit, the SAT is the test for you.
American College Test (ACT)
The ACT is largely regarded as being more accessible for international students between the two standardized tests. Key differences between the ACT and SAT include structure and time. The ACT structure will be familiar for international students, similar to what you expect in your regular curriculum. If you’re a fast reader, you will give yourself the best opportunity to succeed on the ACT and the best chance to study in the USA. As there is a lot of reading on the ACT, students often find it difficult to finish each section — often running out of time. However, if you are a fast reader, you will have a generally easier time taking the ACT.
The ACT includes English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional Essay section. There are a few key differences between the ACT and SAT. Still, the most important of these is how each section works together to affect your overall score. Although the math section on the ACT may be a little more advanced, its effect on your overall score is less significant than the SAT. Another key difference is that the ACT includes a science section, something the SAT does not have.
Although many standardized and English exams cover similar material, small differences between exams can make a big difference in your performance. Choosing the right exam for you can go a long way in getting the scores you need to boost your candidacy.
Your personal statement is your opportunity to show the application committee why you have decided to study in the USA, the future you see for yourself, and the steps you have taken to pursue this dream. A good statement of purpose will convey the experiences that have shaped who you are, the goals you have, and the beliefs you carry. Depending on whether you’re applying for an undergraduate or graduate education, the requirements for your personal statement may differ. However, there are some tips you can carry over regardless of what degree you’re pursuing.
1. Create a strong hook
As applications filter in, the admissions committee will come across many essays that look and sound the same. It’s no easy task, but the more you can stand out, the better your application will look. Use your experiences and create a compelling story that shows the reader how you’ve grown and shaped your decision to study in the USA.
2. Revise, revise, revise!
Often we tend to overlook mistakes that we make while writing. It’s a good habit to re-read, revise, and even have another peer go over your writing before turning it in. Doing this gives you a better chance at minimizing writing mistakes that you may not have noticed. If you don’t have anyone to look over your Personal Statement, feel free to contact one of our knowledgeable advisors. We would love to help nudge you in the right direction.
3. Follow the prompt
Most universities have a prompt that they require you to follow as you write your personal statement. It’s tempting to want to include personal details such as your financial background, extracurricular accomplishments, and so on. Try to bring your story to life within the boundaries of the prompt. If it doesn't add significance to the overall story, it's best not to include it.
If you don’t know where to get started or want someone to look over your Personal Statement, we’ve got you covered! Our knowledgeable advisors are always available and ready to help review your personal statements with our education advising!
Proof of Finances
There are many costs associated with studying in the USA from tuition to living expenses and more. It can be difficult to manage your life at an American university without sufficient financial resources. Proving that you can financially support yourself and fund your education will be an important step in gaining eligibility to receive an I-20 Form, and ultimately to study in the USA. There are a few ways to show proof of financial ability.
Personal Bank Statements
Bank Statement of Supporting Family Member
Proof of Sponsorship or Government Funding
Financial Aid or Scholarship Letters
A designated school official (DSO) will review your financial documents and determine if you are eligible to receive an I-20 form. Obtaining this form will prove your eligibility to study in the USA and allow you to move on to the next step of your admissions process — getting your student visa.
If you have met all the requirements to this point and have been accepted into an accredited university, you will be required to obtain a student visa to study in America. There are three types of student visas you can choose from. Each has a slightly different purpose and provides different capabilities for your study abroad. These include the F, J, and M student visas. Depending on which visa you choose, it could determine the types of extracurricular activities you can be involved in (work during school, internships, etc.).
Obtaining your student visa requires you to go through several steps. These include (but are not limited to):
Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee
Complete the DS-160 online visa application form
Provide photo I.D.
Pay your visa application fee
Complete a student visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate
As many of these steps require several steps in their own right, seeking help to review and prepare for your student visa interview with education advising can be a big help as you look to study in the USA.
Letter of Recommendation
Not all universities require letters of recommendation, although many do. However, a good letter of recommendation can go a long way in boosting your appeal as a candidate.
To make the most of your letter of recommendation, it’s important to choose someone who has seen what you’re capable of relative to the field you’re applying to, in a work capacity, or even in your growth as a student. They should offer a unique perspective that the application committee can take into consideration — something that adds additional value to your candidacy as a student and a person looking to study in the USA.
Research proposals are often required for admission into graduate studies. They exist to show that you’re hungry to learn, have an understanding of what you want to accomplish, and know the steps it takes to reach there. When universities ask for research proposals, they don’t expect you to have all the answers. Hopefully, your goals are in line with your university and the direction it wants to go.
Having to go through application requirements can seem daunting, but looking back on this stage of your life years from now after the incredible journeys you’ve been on, a few application requirements will look like a small price to pay. Take the first step toward a lifetime of memories today — reach out to our advising team and we’ll help you every step of the way!
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