Higher Education in the USA? All You Need to Know About College Application Process

Firstly, it’s great that you’re considering the US for higher studies. Figuring out how to go about it can be initially overwhelming but with proper research, you can come up with an action plan that you can implement to eventually gain admission in the college of your choice in the US.

Despite whatever is covered in the media regarding the immigration and visa regulations, studying  in the US is still one of the best choices for students who are looking to pursue their studies abroad. The quality of education is superior and you’d have the opportunity to work on the most cutting edge technology. 

You’d also have the opportunity to work after your graduation for upto 3 years without any need for a work visa through OTP program. 

Let’s break down the college application process into different aspects.

  • College deadline for applications:

There are generally two admission intakes during a given year – Fall and Spring. They denote the respective seasons in the USA.

Fall intake happens during late August/ early September and attracts the most number of students. Spring intake is in January/ February.

College application deadlines for Fall: December to March

College application deadlines for Spring: May to September

The individual deadline is specific to the university. It’s important to check your prospective university website to find the actual deadline for the given intake.

Early Decision vs Early Action College Applications

As mentioned above, most universities have application deadlines well into March for Fall applications and September for Spring. These are called regular applications.
There is also Early Decision and Early Action that you can consider for your applications. Let’s look into both:

Early Decision:

You can ONLY apply to one university for early decision for a given intake (fall or spring). Early Decision is a legally binding process whereby if you get admitted into the university of choice, you must drop all other applications and attend the university.
This is a great way to stand out as you are showing the selection committee about how committed you are to the chosen university. Early decision is usually in November for Fall applicants and you will usually get the response by December.

Early Action:

Early Action allows you to apply to universities earlier than regular rounds and get to know their decision sooner. In case, you didn’t get into your top choice schools, you know where you stand and can apply to other schools as “back-up” during the regular application rounds.
Unlike Early Decision, if you get accepted in Early Action, you are not legally bound to go to the specific college. This is a great opportunity for students to apply to the top schools but you need to ensure your application is complete prior to applying.
Similarly to Early Decision, the Early Action deadlines are in November for fall applications with the decision out in December.

  • Admission Requirements:

Whether you are going for undergraduate studies or post grad studies, there is a lot of overlap in terms of what is required to apply to the US universities.

Entrance Tests:
This is one of the most crucial aspects of the application. If you really want to get into high ranked colleges – likes of Ivy league, you need to nail these tests with 90th percentile and above. What kind of exam you need to give depends on what you are going for.

SAT and TOEFL are required if you are planning on going for undergraduate studies. 

If you are going for Post-Graduate or Masters, you’d need to give GRE you’re going for Masters in Science/ Engineering or GMAT if you are planning on going for an MBA.
These exams are competitive and are one of the most crucial aspects of the application. The higher the rank of the college, the higher the cut off scores are for these exams.
Spend ample time studying for these exams and perhaps go for their respective coaching for any extra help that you may require.
Check out this list of top 10 universities to strongly consider if your GRE score is between 320 and 340.

How to best prepare for entrance tests:
Give yourself ample time to prepare for these exams considering how crucial they are. A rule of thumb is to study for 3 months religiously for these exams but see what works for you based on practice tests scores.
Also, when you register for these tests, you have the option to send the scores directly to different universities. However, you can also do this at a later point.

Personal statement/ admissions Essay/ statement Of purpose:
This is as crucial as your entrance tests in your application. This is an essay where you get to talk about yourself, what motivates you, why are you applying to this program and to that particular school.
Spend a lot of time working and refining this essay as this is your one chance to show the admission officer who you really are.
This essay is usually supposed to be 1 page to 1.5 pages long. As the name suggests, this essay is supposed to be “personal”. So, don’t be afraid to make it your own.

How to write your personal statement essay?
Focus on answering the following questions:
What drives you? What are your ambitions?
What’s your background?
Why do you want to pursue your major? Why are you passionate about it?
What sets you apart from others?
Why do you want to go to a specific college?
Any extracurricular activities you

  • Documentation Checklist For College Applications

  1. Statement of purpose
  2. TOEFL Scores
  3. Standardized test scores (GRE/ GMAT/ SAT)
  4. College application form (if not filled online)
  5. Copy of passport
  6. Academic transcripts (Sealed predicted scores from your school if your grade 12 scores are not out yet).
  7. Proof of funds
  8. Recommendation letters from teachers/ work colleagues
  9. Resume (if you have work experience. Specifically for Post-Graduate students)

Any other supporting documents – certificates for extracurricular activities

  • How to Submit the application

Most, if not all university applications can be submitted online. You do need to however physically mail transcripts to the Universities. You can track your application progress online.

Your university will notify you of the decision. Typical processing time is anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks. You can then use the acceptance letter to apply for a Student visa (F-1 visa) and you’re set to go to the US.

  • How to apply for a US Student F-1 Visa?

Once you have received acceptance from the university, you will have to formally accept their offer and request for I-20 form. 

I-20 form is an important document  that is issued to students who are enrolled in the U.S. university.

This is the key form that will be required during your visa interview. All students who have received acceptance to a U.S. university are required to go for a F-1 visa interview at the nearest visa consular office. Here, they will be interviewed by a Visa Officer (V.O.) for further eligibility. 

Primarily, they would be checking for if you have the financial means to support yourself during your study in the U.S.

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