Top Five Tips for UK Students Applying to American Universities
Monica Rude, Certified College Counselor
More and more sixth form students are considering going abroad for their undergraduate degree. However, applying to American universities is quite different than applying to universities in the UK. Here are five tips to help you stay on track during the application process.
1. College? University? Institute? In the USA, academic institutions go by a number of different names. However, a college can be just as rigorous as a university! Often the name “college” signals that an institution caters to undergraduates. If you go to Dartmouth, which is in the Ivy League, you will be going to Dartmouth College. Most colleges grant B.A. and B.S. degrees to undergraduates, just like their university counterparts. Now you know: in the USA, universities are not necessarily better than colleges! Be sure to learn about individual institutions before jumping to any conclusions about degrees, programs, rigor, or campus life.
2. UCAS doesn’t exist. Instead, there’s the Common Application. Like with UCAS in the UK, students going to universities in the USA use an online application system. The Common Application, often called The Common App, is a widely accepted application that is used at over 500 colleges and universities. You can create an account online at www.commonapp.org.
3. Don’t submit your Personal Statement. It is wonderful that you’ve spent hours thinking about what you want to study in the UK. Unfortunately, American colleges and universities want to learn more about you and less about your academic and career interests. The Common App has five unique essay questions to help admissions officers understand what makes you special. Access this year’s questions at www.commonapp.org. If you need inspiration, try reading 'Essays that Worked' from the Admissions team at Johns Hopkins University. Access online at www.apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays-that-worked/.
4. Five isn’t the magic number. There is no limit on the number of applications you can make in the USA. While two probably isn’t enough, most advisors recommend seven to ten. For many students, more applications create more stress. If you are only interested in a few schools, it is okay to apply to a small number. But, if that is the case, you should also have a back-up plan. For most students that means applying to universities through UCAS. While you might not be thinking about it now, it can also be costly to make US applications. Universities will generally charge an applicant $50-$90 per application. This does not include what it costs to have test scores sent or other related expenses! It pays to plan ahead.
5. A note on testing. The USA does not have a uniform standard for admissions testing. It is important to understand which tests the universities you want to apply to require. While many will ask for the SAT or ACT, others are test optional. See www.fairtest.org/university/optional for a list of test optional schools. Students should have all of their testing complete before applying. In many cases, this means that students will begin testing the in the spring of their lower sixth form year. To signup for the SAT or ACT go online to sat.collegeboard.org or www.actstudent.org. If you have questions about a university’s requirements, contact their admissions office directly. Be sure to explain that you are an international student studying at a British school.
Students often consider an American education because it allows them to sample many academic subjects before specializing in their fourth semester. While studying overseas can be a fantastic experience for a number of reasons, students and families should research higher education in the USA before making any applications.