Applying to U.S. universities

Students need to submit separate applications to each U.S. graduate program that they want to apply to. Students can apply to as many universities as they wish, though for time and cost purposes we recommend you choose 4-6 universities. Each university will set its own deadlines, applications requirements, etc. Fortunately, most applications will follow a similar format, and you'll be able to re-use or adapt the materials you prepare for each application.

Most applications will include:

  • Application form
  • Standardized test scores
  • Transcripts
  • Personal statement - which is also called the Statement of Purpose essay or SoP
  • Separate research statement (sometimes required– describing your research interests and plans)
  • 2-3 Recommendation Letters
  • CV (sometimes required) listing your professional and extracurricular accomplishments
  • An Interview may be requested for some students (such as MBA applicants), while an audition is likely to be required for students applying for programmes in the arts
  • Arts students may also submit a portfolio of work, while students applying for research-focused degrees may be asked to submit a writing sample
  • Application fee of approximately $50-100 per application

Selection of U.S. colleges/universities: Ideally, you should start the pre-application process about 14-18 months before you plan to begin your studies in the U.S. It is advisable to select as many as 20-30 universities to write to or email at first, although your final shortlist could be anywhere from 8 to 10 or more schools. Several factors should be taken into consideration while selecting universities. A comparison chart listing the differences among departments of universities with respect to field of study, area of research quality and areas of faculty interest, the thrust of the program, accreditation, student requirements, selectivity or level of competitiveness, costs, financial aid possibilities, geographic locations and so forth. will help you to shortlist your choice of university. Since not all factors are equally important, each student should list his or her priorities at the time of short-listing graduate programs.

Your pre-application request could be in the form of an email describing your undergraduate educational background, degree and the program you intend to pursue in the U.S. (state the academic year you intend to enroll in - the year and the session), and proof of financial support (specify if you need financial assistance). Your request should be addressed to the appropriate official as mentioned on the website pertaining to international graduate admissions.

Register for standardized admission tests: it is best to take the required standardized tests by October or November of the year before the Fall semester. If you are applying for the Spring semester, take the tests before June of the previous year.

Complete and send in application forms: You can either use the on-line applications or those that are mailed by colleges/ universities. Read the website carefully at the time of accessing online application forms. Almost all U.S. institutions charge a non-refundable application fee anywhere between U.S.$ 50 and U.S.$ 250. Application deadlines vary with competitive/selective institutions usually having early deadlines. Others vary from January to March and beyond. Some schools have rolling admissions with no fixed deadlines. Generally speaking, all parts of your application should have reached the university before the deadline as applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

You need to submit official records of your academic work called transcripts. Besides mark sheets, foreign students should ask their school to provide a list of the subjects they studied each year for their last four years of study along with the duration of the program. Detailed break-ups, if available, indicating the number of times the class met per semester should be included with the examination results. Ensure that official copies are procured from your academic institution in a sealed envelope. USIEF also attests academic documents for a fee.

Most colleges and universities include a Declaration and Certification of Finances form in their application packets. This must be signed by your parents, or whoever is meeting your college/ university expenses, and must be supported by a bank letter signed by the manager.

Most graduate institutions require a Statement of Purpose essay which is a narrative about your interests and academic goals. This may be about a page or two long, describing your background and achievements and further plans. This provides you the opportunity to communicate positive factors to offset any weaknesses and discuss your areas of interest and any educational or career goals. Some colleges or universities specify essay topics

Institutions generally ask for two to three letters of recommendation. A member of the faculty, head of the department, a project guide or your supervisor at work, may write these.

Send supplementary materials as appropriate.

Financial aid: Graduate financial aid is given on the basis of academic ability and merit. It is intended to supplement the amount provided by the student's family and other sources. Students and their families will be expected to provide detailed information regarding their finances. Students with a greater chance of obtaining financial assistance must therefore demonstrate: high academic achievement, high scores on standardized tests, exceptional talent or a record of meaningful involvement in co-curricular activities relating to the intended field of study, Individualized letters of recommendation enumerating his or her abilities, or strong professional background (if required as part of the admissions requirement) will help.

Finally, keep in mind that your application will be reviewed with respect to several strong applications received from all over the world. Everyone cannot be given admission. All colleges and universities have a set of institutional values and needs impacting admissions decisions each year. The process of getting into an American university or a college involves several factors, indicators and characteristics about you as an individual weighed against the goals and priorities set by each school and its respective departments. So, find the right match by selecting a university or a college well suited to your own needs and work hard on your applications.

When you receive a letter of acceptance, you are required to confirm your admission. A simple email confirming your acceptance should be fine. Some schools may require a deposit to confirm your admission. The International Student Office will later send you the I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility), which is required for you to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy.


For any query on U.S. higher education, call us on our EdUSA toll-free hotline 1-800-103-1231 between 2pm and 5pm (Monday-Friday)