FAQs - Undergraduate Study

I'm just getting started. Where can I find general information on undergraduate study opportunities in the U.S.?


Read the detailed information in the undergraduate study section of this website and follow the steps in the application timeline.

As you begin the process of applying for U.S. study, consider taking advantage of our advising resources, many of which are free. Visit an EducationUSA centers in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata and attend one of our regularly scheduled free basic information sessions. Or call our EducationUSA Help Desk number at 1-800-103-1231 or attend a free online webchat (coming soon).

I don't want to go to an agent, how can I find accurate information about U.S. study?
USIEF operates 4 EducationUSA advising centers in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. There are other EducationUSA centers in India where you can find authentic, unbiased information and authoritative resources on higher education opportunities in the U.S.

Who is eligible to apply to the U.S.?

Anyone who has a consistently good academic record and proficiency in English is eligible to apply to the U.S. for higher education. Please check the details of the program and the university to which you wish to apply since different programs have different sets of criteria for eligibility. You may be required to take admission tests. Planning should preferably begin 12 -18 months in advance.

When can I start undergraduate (bachelor's) studies in the U.S.?

To be eligible for admission to a US college or university, you must meet certain minimum entry requirements.  These include a secondary school diploma (12 years of school education) or examination results, English language ability, and in many cases a score from a standardized admissions tests (either the SAT or ACT). 

The requirement that you complete 12 years of school education has to be fulfilled by the time that you start the Bachelor's program. It does NOT mean that you should have completed it by the time of application. You can apply while you are still in the 12th year of your school education.

What are the advantages of studying in the U.S.?

Some of the advantages of studying in the US are:

  • Variety of educational opportunities
  • Global acceptability
  • Flexibility
  • State-of-the-art research and training
  • Global exposure
  • Academic excellence
  • Financial aid opportunities
  • Internship opportunities
  • Warm and welcoming campuses

What's the difference between a college and a university?

The terms, 'college' and 'university', are used interchangeably and mean the same thing in the U.S. As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller and usually offer only undergraduate degrees, while a university also offers graduate degrees. Within each college or university, you will find schools, such as school of arts and sciences or the school of business. There are several exceptions to this general rule. Dartmouth College is a large research university and Ohio Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college.

What is the difference between state and private colleges & universities?

State colleges and universities, also called public universities, are subsidized by U.S. state governments to provide low-cost education to residents of that state. These universities tend to be very large and generally admit a wider range of students than private universities. State university tuition costs are generally lower than those of private universities. International students, as well as those from other states, are considered out-of-state residents and pay a higher tuition than residents of the state in which the institution is located.

Private colleges and universities are funded by a combination of endowments, gifts from their alumni, research grants, and tuition fees. Tuition fees tend to be higher than state universities, but there is no distinction made between state and non-state residents, and scholarships are available. Private universities are usually smaller than public universities.

What is GPA and what is the U.S. grading system?

Colleges and universities in the U.S. commonly use letter grades to indicate the quality of a student's academic performance. Each letter grade has a numeric value which is used to establish a grade point average (GPA).

Most colleges and universities use a GPA scale of 4.0. To work out your GPA, take the numerical value assigned to the letter grade you achieve for each course then multiply this number by the number of credits each course is worth. Finally, add these numbers together and divide by the total number of credits for all courses.

I have always been advised only to apply to accredited schools. Where can I find official information on U.S. accreditation?

The U.S. does not have a central government office that approves educational institutions. Instead it relies on a system of voluntary accreditation carried out by non-governmental accrediting bodies to ensure that schools meet standards.

For accreditation information see the following websites:
U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
Department of Homeland Security's Database

Should I apply to a two year college in the United States?

Two-year colleges in the U.S. offer an alternative to the more traditional four-year bachelor's degree programs. Known as community colleges, these institutions offer study in a wide range of subjects to post-secondary students of all ages and academic levels.  Students studying at a community college may either receive a stand-alone two-year degree (associate's degree) or transfer to a four-year Bachelor's program (2 + 2 program). In addition to educational flexibility, two-year colleges are also known for their affordability with relatively low tuition rates in comparison to four-year institutions.

International students interested in attending a two-year college and then transferring to a four-year bachelor's degree program should consider the following factors: the articulation or guaranteed transfer agreements that the two-year college has with four-year institutions policies on transfer credit course requirements.

Is it possible to study law or medicine at the undergraduate level in the U.S.?

No. Although some universities offer pre-law or pre-med undergraduate degrees, they are not sufficient to qualify to practice law or medicine. In the US, there are two postgraduate degrees in law: the three-year JD degree for training to practice law in the US and the one-year LLM for lawyers who are intending to practice law in their home country. Medicine is a four-year postgraduate degree. US students typically complete a degree in a related field at the undergraduate level before applying for these degrees.

What is the academic calendar for colleges & universities in the U.S.?

The academic year will be slightly different for each university but normally runs from end of August/early September to the end of May. It may be divided into two terms of 18 weeks called semesters. Alternatively, the university may have "quarters" or "trimesters", which are about 12 weeks in length. Many universities have 6-8 week optional summer terms. Summer course allow students to earn their degree faster, decrease their course load during the regular terms, and/or make up for courses not completed successfully during the regular academic year. There are at least two main holidays during the academic year: a 2-4 week break during the Christmas holidays and a one-week spring break sometime between early March and mid April.

What are the steps an international student must follow to apply to a US university as an undergraduate?

The timeline for the admission process is listed below:

  • Register for the standardized tests required by the institution to which you are applying
  • Take an English proficiency test. Forward your scores to the institutions to which you are applying
  • Based on your standardized test scores, revise your short-list and 7-8 colleges and universities

  • Write an essay or a statement of purpose. Use this to your advantage and make your application stand out
  • Organize your transcripts and get them attested
  • Request letters of recommendation. Teachers, professors, and supervisors generally write these letters
  • Complete all application forms

December - January

Upload the application electronically OR send via post

April - May
  • Receive acceptance letters from universities
  • Prepare the financial documents as required by the university
  • Review and analyze the offers made by universities
  • Confirm or decline the acceptance offer

May - August
  • Prepare for the visa process and apply as early as possible
  • Put together all the necessary financial documents
  • Apply for an appointment at the US Embassy (120 days prior to the start of studies).

July  - Sept
  • Make housing/travel arrangements

What standardized tests are required for admission to undergraduate programs?

Besides tests of English language proficiency (TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE Academic), international student may be required to take:

  • SAT Reasoning Test: The SAT Reasoning Test measures critical thinking skills and assesses how well you analyze and solve problems. The test entails critical reading, mathematics and writing.
  • SAT Subject Tests: SAT Subject tests measure knowledge in specific subject areas.  Many competitive US colleges and universities either require or recommend one or more SAT Subject test scores for admission or scholarship consideration. Some colleges specify which subject tests you must take while others leave the option up to you.
  • ACT: The ACT measures English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. The optional writing test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay. The ACT is an alternative to taking SAT Reasoning and Subject tests.

Where can I find a list of universities in the U.S.?

Review the short listing universities section of our website for a list of US university search engines that will assist you in locating specific institutions that offer the degree you are seeking. Many students use the College Board or Petersons search engines to identify universities in the US.

Are there rankings available for U.S. universities?

There is no centralized, authoritative ranking system of U.S. universities. Unofficial rankings, such as US News and World Report, Princeton Review and the THS-QS World University Rankings will give you a general idea of the academic reputation and relative prestige of a university. However, it is important to recognize that a top 20, or even top 100, list of universities covers only a small percentage of the universities available. You should read the fine print on how rankings are determined. Rankings are not always based upon factors that could impact you or your child's quality of education most, such as class size, teaching quality, student advising, faculty access and opportunities for research, internships, campus activities, etc.

How do I find a university that is a good fit for me?

Selecting a university that is a good fit for you can be a challenging task, but also an exciting one! With over 4,500 universities offering undergraduate degrees, you may find the process of narrowing your search to 8-12 universities a bit overwhelming at first. It helps to start by thinking about the big picture first before doing university searches.

You will want to think about your priorities and expectations for undergraduate study and rank in order of importance the factors to consider when choosing a university. For example, are you looking for an academically-rigorous experience or a balance of academics and extracurricular activities? Is it more important for you to go to a 'brand name' university, or is finding a 'best-buy' and/or a university that can provide you with scholarship funding more important for you?

Next, you may wish to begin by using the university search tool or websites on the short listing universities page. These will allow you to search by as many or few search criteria as you like. They will likely provide profiles of universities, which will allow you to compare factors across universities such as size, location, degrees offered, average SAT scores and GPAs (marks) of the previous admitted class, funding opportunities and cost. Please note, guidebooks in our EducationUSA advising centers have similar information in print format.

After you narrow your search further, you will want to visit the websites of each university. Their websites will provide comprehensive information about majors, extracurricular activities, funding opportunities, and campus settings. Most universities will list average test scores and GPAs, as well as their admittance rate. This gives you a better idea of the competitiveness of the program, as well as how strong your background is in comparison to last year's incoming class.
For more information on choosing a university, as well as for links for university search engines, please see the EducationUSA advising centers for more information.  

For any query on US higher education, call us on our EdUSA toll-free hotline 1800-103-1231 between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm (Monday-Friday)