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The US College Application Process

Now that you have identified which colleges and universities you would like to apply to, it’s time to start the application process! As previously stated, it can take around 2 years to complete so make sure you follow a strict timeline , start early, and stay organized. Getting everything done correctly and on time is extremely important. A late or incomplete application will not be considered and could result in a denial. With a good overview and plan created beforehand, you will have a better chance at receiving acceptance notifications.

Application Next Steps


Every college and university will have their own timeline with various deadlines which can get confusing when applying to numerous schools. To avoid missing deadlines it’s key to create your own personal timeline. Your timeline should include a compilation of each required item and deadline for each school you wish to apply. Most colleges and universities release their new applications, supplemental essay topics, and school specific questions well in advance allowing you to give yourself deadlines well before the actual due date so you can prepare for the unexpected. Whether you are applying early action, early decision, or regular admission, allow yourself as much time as you possibly can. You can’t control everything in the application process, but you can maximize your timeline.


Reference your spreadsheet for which colleges require which tests and the deadline for each. The required tests will have specific dates you must register and take them, and they might not be offered very often in your area. Be sure to register early so you can take the test again if needed- you should aim to meet and exceed the minimum score required to get into your first choice school.

The best approach to achieving the highest score possible is to know the rules of the exam and take as many practice tests as you can. The practice tests should be taken under the same conditions you would experience on the actual testing day. Use a timer and try different techniques of answering questions until you achieve the practice score that you want. Study your score and determine how many additional questions you need to get correct to improve. Did you make a simple mistake? Why? Did you run out of time? Could you skip a certain type of question to in lieu answer additional easy questions and get a better score? Evaluate your score after each test to see how you can improve going forward.

Extracurriculars or ECs

What are you passionate about? Rather than spreading yourself too thin by joining every club, charity, or sport, try to tie a few very specific extracurriculars together. Universities review thousands of applications for a few select spaces. Your EC’s will add depth and character to your grades and test scores that could set you apart from the crowd.

Admissions officers know that if you have regular activities with a central theme, you will find a way to include that passion while attending university. If your activities appear to be random and too recent, they could perceive them to be an attempt to simply impress the admissions department.

By developing a track record of thoughtful and meaningful participation, you will not only become very knowledgeable about your passion or special skill, but you will also have cultivated a pool of references to draw upon. You may need good references for your admission applications, scholarships, or internships. Throughout your life, building a network of friends and colleagues that know what you're passionate about, appreciate your talents or special skills, and have personal experience working with or supervising you, can give you an extra edge when others are evaluating your qualifications.

Here's an example of extracurricular activities that show a commitment to specific areas of interest:

  • Piano 4 years
    • Jazz Band: grades 9th-12th
    • 1st place International Piano Competition: grades 10th-11th
    • Musicians for Charity Event Organizer: grades 9th-12th
    • Piano for Seniors: grades 9-12; Head Tutor: grades 11th-12th
  • Swim Team 4 years
    • Captain: grades 11th-12th
    • 1st Place State Backstroke: grade 12th
    • Town Lifeguard: grades 11th-12th
    • Volunteer Youth Swim Instructor: grades 10th-12th

In the example above the student shows a solid track record of several years of developing a couple skills to the fullest potential. In addition to eventually becoming a champion, this student also uses these skills within the local community and for charitable events. Just from this small example you should have a good idea of what this student is interested in along with what kind of character or work ethic he or she has. You can also see how this kind of EC activity is more manageable and enjoyable for the student.


During the application process you may find yourself overwhelmed by deadlines in addition to your classes and extracurriculars. However, the college spreadsheet you created should be keeping you on track and relieving some of the burden. One item that you should have notated in your college spreadsheet for each school is the required GPA- this should be your minimum GPA goal. Colleges and universities will be requesting your mid-year grades, so ensure you keep your grades high and not plan on “catching up” at the end of each academic year. You’ve worked hard for many years, so try not to fall behind now. You are almost to the finish line and will be happy you pushed yourself to maintain your achievements.


Ask teachers, professors and volunteer or work supervisors if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. Once they confirm make sure you provide them with a resume and cover letter so they can use it as a guide when writing your recommendation. This will provide them with accurate information including dates and titles. There is usually an online portal for your references to submit their recommendation so keep in mind you will need to ask them for an email address that you can list during the application process. Your references should then receive a notification and reminder about submitting their letters.

Once your letters of recommendation have been submitted you will want to check your application status to make sure they were received. It’s also a good idea to send a thank you note to your references- not only is it polite but you may also need to ask for their letter of recommendation again in the future.


Admission essays will give the admissions team additional insight into your personality. Their job is to curate a group of students that will enhance the university, create a diverse yet collaborate student class, and find individuals that are a good match for the culture of the college as a whole. That’s why many star students don’t get into every school they have applied to.

When choosing a topic for your essay, be sure to include information that is not already on other documents you’re submitting. You can also write in detail about something that is on your application but that needs to be explained or would be extremely interesting with additional details. The biggest reason for requiring essays is to encourage you to tell your own story; who you are and what motivates, interests, or troubles you. Be honest, give yourself enough time to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. Ask someone who is proficient in English, preferably a native English speaker, to proofread your essay. Learn more about college application essays.

College admission officers will read thousands of essays during the admissions process. Make sure you start your essay off strong to encourage they keep reading and stay engaged.


College interviews are often conducted by alumni. If you are planning a campus visit, you should check to see if you can schedule an interview while you are there. Review the college website for their interview policy and available dates. As with any interview, a bit of preparation will go a long way. You can practice general interview techniques with a teacher, employer, or experienced friend. However, you don’t want to have bad habits go uncorrected, so choose your helper carefully. The more you practice answering questions about yourself, the better you will do when it really counts.

Additionally, you should learn as much information about the college as you can. It will be very impressive if you ask questions that are specific to the university history, culture, or reputation. If you know a little bit about the interviewer, you might be able to mention something you both have in common to help the conversation be more natural. Do your research ahead of time and practice the questions you would like to ask, as well as those you anticipate being asked. Knowing how to answer common interview questions will make you feel and look more confident.

Finally, always dress for success. It’s a sign of respect to dress appropriately for an interview. You do not want to distract from the conversation with a poor clothing choice. Spend time preparing your interview clothing as soon as it’s confirmed you will have an interview. Waiting until the day of the interview could leave you unprepared and create unnecessary anxiety if you don’t feel good about your appearance. Learn more about making a good first impression during an interview.


Whether you’re completing the actual application through the school’s website or a third party site like common app, the application must be completed fully, accurately and on or before the deadline. Incomplete applications will be rejected and may cost you a spot at the university of your choice. Make sure you:

  • Review the entire application several times
  • Carefully read each question
  • Answer each question fully

Additional Help

Hopefully you have already learned that getting help can be a lifesaver. If something doesn’t seem right or you don’t understand the directions, find help. If you have minor questions then often asking a college advisor is a good solution. If you’re confused or worried about the entire application process to study in the US as an international student, contacting a college consultant company may assist in guiding you through.

Keep in mind that the process of getting accepted into a US university is not a simple one and requires hard work on your part to find success. However, if you have followed the steps in this guide to getting into a US college or university, you are well on your way to becoming an international student.

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