Study Abroad Student Handbook
United States United States
Center for Global Education

Application Process

A common mistake that most international students often make is that they don't think about the amount of time they should spend in submitting admission applications to U.S. colleges or universities.

The best thing that you can do is to begin the application process as early as possible. Give yourself enough time to carefully research your options. It is very important that you understand that is vital to meet all application deadlines. Most students miss out on an opportunity because they submitted a late application. Again, don't wait! If you do, it will show. Although this may seem like a lot, give yourself as much as 10 months to complete the application process.

We recommend that you use the following timeline of the application process to monitor your progress:

*This Timeline appears by courtesy of

1. The Countdown

Step 1: Two years before U.S. study:

Keep a file on each of the universities to which you are thinking about applying. This will help you keep important information like university brochures and all application materials organized.

You should speak to faculty and the counseling staff at your university to get feedback about your programs of choice. Consider asking for students (could be from your country) who have graduated from the university and program, if you know what you will be studying, to get answers to any questions you may have. Keep in mind that you will only be able to identify the best programs or institutions if you are well informed.

At this time, all students should register for the TOEFL exam . Additionally, undergraduate students should register and prepare for the SAT exams. Graduate students should register for the GRE, LSAT, or MCAT, or any other exam your university may require.

Don't forget to keep up your grades and ask early for letters of recommendation. Undergraduates should consider asking for recommendations from counselors and teachers in whose classes they have done well. Graduates should consider obtaining letters from professors who know you well and professionals in your field of study.

At least one year before U.S. study:

If you are not happy with your test scores, register and prepare for the TOEFL and other entrance exams again.

Make copies of your applications and practice filling them out. If you have the option of applying on-line now would be a good time to print out all forms. Write the first copies of all your admission essays and have a teacher read it over and give you feedback. We can stress enough how important it is for students to write a strong admission essay or Personal Statement. Often, the essay is your only chance to tell the admissions committee something about yourself that they may not know. The point is to stand out, keep the reader interested and make a good impression. We recommend that you spend some time looking over some tips on how you can write a great admissions essay both for undergraduate and graduate admissions. In case you are finding a hard time writing the personal statement, find an advising center that can help you with the constructing the essay.

Although we recommend that you apply to as many universities as possible, by now you should have an idea of which one you would most like to attend (whether it is only one or ten of them- you choose the number of universities you would like to focus on).

Make sure to mail your application early to ensure that it gets there on time. You should always keep copies of everything you send in case something gets lost and you need to write a second time.

Don't forget to include an official transcript from your home school or university. Transcripts are records that show all the classes you have taken and the grades you have received in those classes.

In most cases, U.S. colleges and universities require that your college symbol or the signature of the person who wrote your letter of recommendation be placed over the sealed flap of the envelope.

Three months before U.S. study:

It is extremely important to follow the university's application deadline. When you have made your final revision, make sure that you have enclosed all the required materials. Make a list of the items you are still working on so you don't forget to include them in your packet before you send your application.

Below is a list of documents that U.S. colleges and universities commonly require. You should check to see if you must send any of the following:

  1. A completed application form.
  2. Your essay or statement of purpose.
  3. An official transcript(s) of all classes completed.
  4. Letter(s) of Recommendation
  5. A cover letter in which you introduce yourself and state what documents you have included in your application
  6. A check or money order in the amount of the application fee should accompany your application. Fees usually range from $25 to $100.
  7. An application for financial aid must be included with all other documents if you would like to be considered for financial aid.

2. Relevant Questions

  • Does your personal statement / essay sound like a "written handshake" and make a good first impression?
  • What are some of your best qualities and talents you can emphasize in your personal statement/essay?
  • Have you made sure to include in your personal statement/essay why you want to study in the United States?
  • If your GPA isn't the greatest, can you explain why, or include other activities you've been involved in instead?
  • Have you written, re–written and asked someone to look over your personal statement for you (especially if you have to write it in the local language)?
  • How many letters of recommendation do you need, and have you given your contacts plenty of time to write their letters of recommendation?
  • Did you get a good night sleep, dress professionally and read about current events in the United States before your interview?
  • Were you polite and well–mannered when answering all your interview questions thoroughly and specifically?

3. Checklist

  • My personal statement/essay well reflects my talents and interests.
  • In addition to my grade point average (GPA), I have included in my application other activities, clubs, teams, student government in which I have participated.
  • I have sent out and/or received all of the required letters of recommendation.
  • I have had someone look over my personal statement/essay one last time.
  • I have made sure to include in my personal statement essay the reasons why I want to study in the U.S.
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