How To Apply for University in the USA: 5 Steps

Applying to graduate school can feel overwhelming, especially when choosing to pursue a degree in a foreign country. Luckily, many resources are available to international students hoping to study in the United States. Here’s a complete guide to applying to an American university as an international student.

Why Study in the USA?

More than one million international students study at colleges and universities across the U.S., which is renowned as a leading country in higher education. There are several benefits to studying in the U.S. as an international student, including the vast academic and career opportunities available to those who earn a degree at an American university. International students can take advantage of experiential learning, co-ops and, internships, and more while studying in the U.S.

If you’re a non-native English speaker, perfecting your English skills while pursuing a degree in the U.S. can be a major benefit. Studying at an American university also gives students a chance to expand their global network, experience new cultures, and gain a global perspective.

If this is the experience you’re looking for, then follow this process to apply to university in the USA.

How to Apply for University in the USA: 5 Steps

1. Research Colleges and Programs

Once you’ve decided to earn a graduate degree, it’s time to begin searching for a graduate school. Before completing any college application, the first step is to build a list of colleges and programs you are interested in. With thousands of universities to choose from, it’s important to do your research to find the right college for you.

  • As you research potential programs, ask yourself:
  • Does the program fulfill visa requirements?
  • How long will the program take to complete?
  • Is the program full-time or part-time, on-campus or hybrid?
  • Does the school accept student visas for international student enrollment?
  • Where is the college located?
  • What are the academic requirements for admission?

These are just some of the questions you can consider when conducting your research and will help narrow down your list of potential programs.

In addition to these questions, it is important to find a school that is accredited by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Only schools certified by SEVP can enroll F-1 or M-1 nonimmigrant students. You can easily determine whether or not the school you are considering is SEVP-approved using this online search.

2. Application Process

When applying to an American university as an international student, remember to start the process well before the deadline to account for any possible delays. Tomo Yamamoto, Associate Director of International Enrollment Marketing at Northeastern University, offers this advice: “If possible, I would suggest that students connect with the admissions office or international staff and begin the application sooner rather than later. At Northeastern University, our university representatives can meet both virtually and in person in some countries to discuss the unique background of each student.”

While some requirements vary based on the program you’re applying to, there are general requirements that you will need to submit with your application:

  • Online application form
  • Transcript
  • Resumé/CV
  • Recommendation letter(s)
  • Personal statement

For international students, evaluating transcripts is typically required to determine whether a degree earned in a foreign country meets a university’s enrollment standards.

If English is not your native language, most colleges in the U.S. will require you to submit proof of English proficiency. Usually, this is done by submitting official exam scores. Commonly accepted exams include:

If you do not meet the minimum language requirement, some universities offer programs to help you improve your English skills before you are officially enrolled. For example, Northeastern University’s Global Pathways program will help you transition to an American classroom and improve your English skills.

3. Apply for a Student Visa

Obtaining a visa is required to attend college in the U.S. Once you have received an offer letter and paid your deposit, the next step is to apply for a student visa.

While requesting a student visa can seem daunting, following these steps will help make the process easier and less stressful:

  • Apply for and be admitted to an SEVP-certified university
  • Obtain a Form I-20 from your college or university
  • Submit the I-901 SEVIS Fee payment
  • Identify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate
  • Complete the Form DS-160 Visa Application
  • Schedule a visa interview at your chosen consulate or embassy
  • Attend the interview
  • Pay the visa issuance fee

4. Know the Cost

When deciding to pursue a degree in the United States, it’s important to understand the costs. For some, the cost of tuition can seem discouraging, but with the help of financial aid and scholarships, the cost of studying in the U.S. can be manageable. Although only U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens can apply for federal need-based financial aid, you may qualify for various merit-based scholarships or scholarships designed specifically for international students.

In addition to scholarships and aid, you may have the opportunity for on-campus employment. At Northeastern University, eligible F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to work on-campus in a number of places. To learn more about a university’s tuition and fees, and available financing options, be sure to connect with the school’s financial services office.

5. Use the Resources Available

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by applying to university in the U.S., remember that plenty of resources are available to help you. With over one million international students attending American universities each year, you are not alone.

Most schools, like Northeastern, offer services and programs to help international students through their application process and, once enrolled, adjust to both academic and social life in the United States. With more than 20,000 international students from 147 different countries studying at Northeastern, the Office of Global Services provides support for all international students, from the visa process to student housing, campus life, academic assistance, and more.

Finally, connect with the admissions team of the school you are applying to for questions about the application process and any additional support. By taking advantage of the resources available at universities, such as Northeastern, you can ensure your path to attending university in the U.S. is both easy and effective.

Some Final Advice to Guide You Through the Process

Deciding to pursue a graduate degree in the United States can open doors for personal, academic, and career opportunities. Taking the next step toward an international education begins with choosing the right college or university and understanding the application process. Remember to begin your application early and use the resources available to you throughout every step of the process. Northeastern’s Office of Global Services is a great place to start, offering support beyond just the immigration and application process to help guide you to success.

Are you an international student interested in studying at Northeastern? Contact Northeastern’s Global Team and connect with a member who can answer your questions.