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

Are you an international student considering applying to colleges in the United States? You’re not alone! With the largest international student population in the world, U.S. colleges and universities attract students from all over the globe.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of applying to U.S. colleges as an international student, making it easier than ever for you to navigate this exciting journey.

Choosing the Right School

The United States is home to approximately 5,300 colleges and universities, each offering unique opportunities and programs. To find the best fit for you, consider factors such as cost, location, campus life, and academic programs. Do you prefer a smaller campus or the bustling atmosphere of a big city? Are you looking for the most affordable options? Take some time to think about what matters most to you in a college experience.

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, you can use college search tools to help you find and compare schools that match your criteria. Narrow down your choices and create a list of ideal schools to begin the application process.

Researching 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. 

Prepare for Standardized Tests

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. 

Making a Financial Plan

As an international student, you won’t qualify for federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education. However, there may be financial aid options available to you through the U.S. Federal Government or the college you plan to attend. Contact the U.K. government and your prospective colleges to inquire about potential financial aid opportunities.

It’s crucial to make a comprehensive financial plan before submitting your application. Research scholarships and grants that you may be eligible for and explore the possibility of taking out student loans, which usually require a U.S. citizen to cosign. Visit Student Aid for more information on international student eligibility for financial aid.

Reviewing and Submitting 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.

The Application Process

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. 

Making 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). 

Fulfilling 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. 

Paying for Your Education

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.


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! 

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