US College Application Tips for International Students

college application
essay writing
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By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on February 2, 2024

Thinking of applying to a US university or college, but not sure where to get started? Check out our expert tips to make the college application process easier!

A student advisor helping an international student with filling out an application

If you are a high school student, you may be thinking about pursuing a university degree after graduation. Studying at a US university can be a great opportunity to explore new cultures, learn key career development skills, and experience independent living, but first, you have to apply. So, how does the US college application process work?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about preparing your US college application, including expert tips, where to look for support, and how you can get started.

Why Study in the US?

Pursuing a higher education degree at a university in the US gives you the chance to experience a world-class education and career development opportunities, all in a multicultural environment. You can collaborate with students from all over the world throughout your degree program, allowing you to learn about new cultures while also building your professional network. 

When you take that big leap and decide to study in the US, you may at first be overwhelmed with all the steps of the application process. Remember: the more you know, the better prepared you will be. It is very important to gain a full understanding of how to apply to ensure you begin your journey in the US smoothly and without delays.

How to Apply

Once you decide to study in the US, the first step is to narrow down a selection of universities where you want to apply. There are many factors to consider when applying to university, such as the programs they offer and their electives, faculty and staff, facilities, and campus life and culture. Make sure to gather as much information as you can: Speak to enrollment officers, current students, and your Shorelight advisor, as they will all offer different insights that can inform your final decision about where to apply. 

Once you have narrowed down your list of universities, review their application deadlines and prioritize their requirements accordingly. Take note of key dates, including any specifically for international students. Additionally, there are standardized tests and English-language proficiency exams that you need to take in order to study in the US. Depending on the prerequisites you need to complete, it may take more time for you to prepare for your admission to colleges in the US, so start gathering all the required materials well in advance.

Every university and degree program is different, and each will have their own entry requirements, deadlines, and tests. Check out our guide for a complete overview of how you should apply for admission to colleges in the US. 

Essays are another key part of your admission to colleges in the US. Knowing how to write an effective application essay is important for helping you stand out to application reviewers.

Application Essay Writing Help  

Many colleges require an essay as part of the application process. Essay topics can vary; writing prompts might relate to the discipline you want to study or why you want to attend a specific university. The purpose of these essays is to give the university an overview of your background and motivations, to determine if you would be a good fit for their campus culture, specific degree programs, or similar. 

Writing and submitting a personal statement is another common requirement for admission to colleges or universities in the US. Personal statements are usually short, written descriptions of who you are: your background, future goals, and why you want to study a particular course or subject. Personal statements also give the university an overview of your skills, experience, and aspirations — and can demonstrate your passion for your chosen field.

Usually, the hardest part of writing an essay is knowing where to start. To learn more about what you need to keep in mind when writing your essay, check out our guide to essay writing tips for international students.

Understanding Financial Aid

Studying in the United States can be expensive, but you may be able to reduce your higher education costs through financial aid. Many universities offer financial aid programs for international students, and there are a wide variety of scholarships available through third parties or even state-sponsored programs. 

While there are many options, it is important to know what you qualify for, so you can focus on the financial aid possibilities that suit your needs the best. You can find everything you need to know in our guide to financial aid for international students studying in the USA.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation 

When filling out your college application, you may find that the university or college requires a letter of recommendation. Letters of recommendation come from someone in a position of authority who can vouch for you and speak about your character, traits, capabilities, and skills. The purpose of a recommendation letter is to give the university a third party’s perspective on your achievements, qualifications, and potential. 

For high school students applying to US universities, recommendation letters tend to come from teachers, principals, other school staff members, or employers. Family or friends should not write you a recommendation. When asking for a letter of recommendation, it is important to know the etiquette you need to follow and how to choose the right individual to ask. Learn more in our guide on how to ask for letters of recommendation

How Shorelight Can Help

The process of applying to university or college in the US can be challenging, but with your Shorelight advisor, you will never be alone! Your advisor will provide support from day one of the application process all the way to your graduation. They can help you understand admission requirements, the documents you need for your applications, deadlines for submission, how to get your student visa, and much more. 

Discover how Shorelight can help with your college application process >