The Ultimate Guide to Applying to U.S. Colleges as an International Student

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The United States has the largest international student population across the world. In fact, more British students study in the U.S. than anywhere else. So, if you’re considering applying to college in the U.S., you’re not alone.

Why do so many international students choose U.S. colleges and universities? For starters, colleges in the U.S. take pride in being at the forefront of technology, research, and techniques. They also make the best possible equipment and resources available to their students. 

Applying to college as an international student can be confusing and chaotic. But it doesn’t have to be. Keep reading to learn more about how to make applying to college as an international student easier than ever. 

Choosing Which School(s) to Apply To

The United States has approximately 5,300 colleges and universities, ranging from beauty schools to Ivy Leagues. To narrow down your options, consider the school’s cost, location, campus life, and academic programs and majors.

Before you get started, think about the aspects of the college that matter most to you. Would you like a smaller campus? Are you looking for the most affordable options? Do you want to be in a big city? 

Having an idea of what you’d like your college to provide you is the first step to comparing school options. Once you have that narrowed down, you can use college search tools to help you look for schools and compare them. 

Once you have your ideal list of schools, you’re ready to begin applying. 

Research Admission Requirements

Each school in the U.S. has its own deadlines, fees, and application requirements. Knowing what all of these are will help make the application process more manageable.

Take your list of schools and put them in a spreadsheet. Then make a column that includes all the application requirements. Next, make a column that has the application deadline. 

Keeping all your information in one place will ensure you don’t miss a deadline or forget to send a document. If you’re confused about any application requirements, call or email the admissions office well ahead of the deadline to ask for clarification. 

Once you know what you need, you can officially apply. 

Taking Any Required Standardized Test

Most four-year universities and colleges require every student to take an admission test such as the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, or ACT. These tests have international registration fees. 

You can learn more about the international SAT fees by visiting their website. The same goes for the ACT international test

When you know what you need, schedule your test date well ahead of the application deadline. It takes a bit of time to prepare for the test and additional time to get your official results back. 

Make a Financial Plan

Before submitting your application, you should make a financial plan. As an international student, you don’t qualify for federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education. 

However, in some cases, you may be eligible for financial aid from the U.S. Federal Government. You should contact the U.K. government and the college you plan to attend to see what aid they might be able to offer you. 

For more information about international student eligibility for financial aid, visit Student Aid

Review Your Application 

Schools get to know you and your accomplishments by reviewing your applications. As you might have already realized, they include things like reference letters, personal essays, and school transcript. 

Make sure your application reflects who you are as a person. If possible, have a parent or personal friend review your materials to make sure they reflect you. 

Check everything for spelling and grammar. In fact, double-check it. This is your one shot at making a great impression and standing out from the thousands of other applications. You want to make sure it’s perfect. 

Lastly, double-check you’ve everything required (ACT/SAT scores, essays, transcripts, etc.). Look at the list from your spreadsheet and check everything off. Looks good? Great! It’s time for the next step.

How to Apply 

When applying for college in the United States, you’ll need to submit an individual application for each school. You apply as an undergraduate instead of applying for a university, college school, or specific degree. 

Typically, each school has its own associate application fee. College application fees range from $20 to $90. You can usually pay these by credit card at the time of submission.

If you can’t afford to pay the college application fee, you can contact each school directly and ask for an application fee waiver. Most schools will waive this fee if the student can’t afford it, but it’s up to you to reach out and ask. 

Make Your Decision

Now comes the exciting part — the acceptance letter. These usually start rolling in late March for most schools. 

When you have your acceptance letters, you’ll also get an aid award letter and tuition statement. This will outline the costs associated with attending the school and any scholarships, grants, or aid that you’re eligible for. 

Armed with this information, you can make a decision about what school you wanted to attend. Usually, you need to make this decision by May 1st, but it varies depending on the school and the program.

When you decide to be prepared to pay your enrollment deposit (and potentially a housing deposit if you’ll be living on campus). 

Fulfill Visa or Passport Requirements 

In the United States, full-time students need an F-1 student visa to attend college. The F-1 Visa is valid throughout your education and for 60 days after your graduation. 

If you plan to study in the U.S. as part of a student exchange program, you will be required to have a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. You can find more information about the numerous visas available to students from the U.S. Embassy. 

How International students pay for college

Financial aid for international students is a little complicated as you’re not offered the same aid as citizens. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to paying for your education. 

Student Loans

You will be able to take out student loans in the U.S., but you’ll likely need a U.S. citizen to cosign the loan for you. 

The best way to get free aid for your education (that you don’t have to pay back), is through scholarships or grants.


Luckily, there are tons of scholarships offered by organizations, companies, and even the schools themselves. However, these are things you’ll have to research and apply for individually. Except college scholarships, which are typically awarded to you at time of acceptance.

Below you will find scholarships funded by the government and private scholarships.


  • Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program
  • Fulbright Foreign Student Program
  • Abbey Road Summer Scholarships
  • Preply Scholarship
  • The Next Gen Scholarship Fund
  • Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship


Grants are free money towards college that can be award by your college or a private organization that has a vested interest in your education. While you are not eligible for federal government grants like most of your U.S. counterparts, that doesn’t mean there aren’t grants available to you.

Here are a few options to consider:

Applying to school in the U.S. doesn’t have to be a confusing and scary situation. Much of the time, you can get all the answers you need by contacting the admissions office at the school you’re applying to. They are usually happy to answer questions and guide you in the right direction. 

Good luck!