It takes a considerable amount of time to research the possibilities of studying in the United States and then to apply for admission. You should start planning your US education twelve to eighteen months before you intend to commence your studies, especially if you are seeking financial aid.
The U.S. academic year runs from approximately 1 September to May or June, with a summer break between June - August.
Between April and August of the year before you hope to commence your studies, you should:
- Begin the process of choosing 10 to 20 colleges, which you think, may be suitable for you. To find out which institutions offer your field of study or major/ program, consult general directories such as Peterson's Guide to Four-Year Colleges or The College Handbook. These guides give you basic information about costs, admission requirements, programs offered, campus accommodation, student/staff ratio, athletic/sports programs, etc. More detailed information about a particular college or university can be found on its web site.
- If you want to consider a two-year institution, consult Peterson's Two-Year Colleges guide for information. Community (two-year) colleges generally have lower fees and less rigorous admission requirements. They offer vocational and technical programs as well as a general academic program for those who intend to transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor's degree.
- Students with access to the Internet will find a wealth of information on American higher education is readily available. List of useful Internet sites.
- Request an application packet and information about international student admissions from the Undergraduate Admissions Office of each college you are considering applying to. E-mail addresses can be obtained from the institution's website or from various reference books held at the U.S. Educational Advising Center. Request that materials to be sent to you by airmail.
- Register to take the SAT test and the TOEFL if your first language is not English). TOFEL Bulletins, are available from the U.S. Educational Advising Centers.
- Begin to investigate possible sources of non-institutional financial assistance. The U.S. Educational Advising Center has some information on scholarships and grants available to international students, and some useful financial aid websites are listed in the Financial Aid section. Applying for financial assistance from outside sources can take several months, and as you may have to apply as much as a year before you need the money, don't put off this important step.
Between September and December of the year BEFORE you plan to commence your studies, you should:
- Submit a formal application to each of the institutions you wish to apply to. Apply for financial assistance when you apply for admission - a separate application form may be required.
- Sit for the SAT I test (and the SAT II if required). When you register to sit the test, you may nominate up to four colleges to receive your score report. This service is included as part of the US$45.50 test registration fee. If you do not do this, you will have to request additional score reports at a later date and pay a fee of approximately US$6.50 for each report. Remember that colleges do not accept score reports directly from students, but only from the organization, which administered the test.
- Obtain copies of your school records and references.
- Make sure that you can meet the college application deadlines. These vary from institution to institution, so note the dates carefully. Some schools have a rolling admissions policy, which means that they assess and make decisions on admissions on an ongoing basis. When filling out the application forms, make an effort to write a good application essay if one is required. Most institutions consider this a very important part of the application.
Early decision. Some colleges have an early decision policy. If that particular college is definitely your first choice, then it is worthwhile to apply for early decision. Students should understand that they are signing a contract with serious consequences if they renege. If you do not have final school results by the application deadline, send everything else along with a note to say that these results will be forwarded as soon as they become available.
Between April and June of the year in which you wish to commence your studies in the U.S.
Many universities and colleges will send out their admission offers in March or April. May 1 is the usual date by which students must accept or reject an offer of admission and pay a deposit. When the deposit has been received, students are often sent a Roommate Questionnaire. Freshmen (first years) are often required to live on-campus. The college will also send you a Certificate of Eligibility, after which you may apply for a visa. A Certificate of Eligibility is valid only for study at the institution issuing it - and only for the starting date specified. There are several types of student visas, for more information please visit our Non-Immigrant Visa site. Another good source of information about U.S. Visas is the Consular Affairs Travel.State website.