Completing and Returning the Application
Completing and Returning the Application

Once you have received information from the colleges, read everything thoroughly. Most schools require similar information, but they may ask for it in different ways. You will usually be asked to provide the following items.
Application Form

Your application form should be neat and clear to create a good impression. Unless it specifically asks you to complete the forms by hand, use a typewriter or word processor. You should fit your information into the application form provided and only use additional pages where necessary. Keep your personal information consistent, and always spell your name the same way on all documents. This will help schools keep track of your application materials more easily. Remember that large U.S. universities handle thousands of student records annually. Do not worry about providing a Social Security Number — either leave the section blank or write "none," according to the instructions. Avoid abbreviations; it is better to write the names and addresses of your schools, employers, examinations, and awards in full. Always provide information about your education or employment experiences in a logical order that is either chronological or reverse chronological order, as required. You will be asked when you want to study, what level (usually "freshman" or "transfer"), and the degree you hope to receive. Remember that it is acceptable for you to write "undecided" on the section asking about proposed major.

Application Fee

Almost all universities charge a non-refundable application fee that covers the cost of processing your application. It must be paid in U.S. dollars either by a dollar check drawn on a U.S. bank or an international money order obtainable from banks or American Express offices. Check the school's application form, website, or catalog for the current cost.

Academic Credentials

Each college will specify the types of official records it requires to document past education. In American terms, these are called transcripts and include a list of classes that you have taken at secondary school, when they were taken, and the grades you received for each class.

The U.S. college may furnish special forms on which school authorities are asked to write your grades and your academic performance relative to other students in your secondary school. If such forms are not provided, your school still will be expected to submit official documents that provide this kind of information on letterhead paper with the school stamp. If the admissions officer requests an explanation of the grading and class ranking system or descriptions of classes taken or subjects you have studied, this information should be furnished by an official of your school, if possible. U.S. admissions officers prefer that transcripts of previous educational work be sent with your application in an envelope sealed by your school or sent directly from the school.

U.S. colleges either will evaluate your grades and documents themselves, or they sometimes require international applicants to pay an outside company, called a credential evaluator, to evaluate your documents.

In addition to a transcript, you must also send certified copies of the originals of secondary school diplomas, certificates, final examination results, or records of your performance in any national or leaving examinations administered in your home country. Do not send original documents unless there is no alternative; usually they cannot be returned. Copies should be certified with an official seal from the school, or certified by a public official authorized to certify such documents.

If English translations are necessary, you may use the services of a professional translator, or you may translate the document yourself. Such translations must also be certified by an acceptable agency. Some EducationUSA information and advising centers translate and certify documents to assist you with the application process. There may be a charge for such services. Do not attempt to convert your school results and courses into American terms. Instead, try to provide as much background information as possible on the grading system used and the types of diplomas, certificates, or awards granted.

Test Score Reporting

When you apply to take the ACT, SAT I or SAT II, TOEFL, or other examinations, you should know which universities you wish to apply to. In this way, you will be able to specify at that time that you wish your scores sent to those universities. You will save time and money by sending the scores at test time rather than requesting separate scores at a later date. When you submit an application, also include a photocopy of your test score reports, if possible. The admissions office can more easily match the official scores with your application, and, in some instances, they may begin processing your application with only the photocopy in hand.

Personal Statement

"Don't be afraid to pour your heart out — if something is really important to you, talk about it, because that is what the admissions officers want to know about you. The important thing, however, is to be positive: reflect on what experiences meant for you, how they changed you, what you learned."
— Molecular biology and genetics student from Romania

"I would say the most important part of an application is the essay…it's your chance to get across that you've got something extra, an edge."
— Mathematics student from Ghana

Many schools ask applicants to submit a written personal statement or essay as part of the admissions process. When university admissions officers read this part of the application, they may look to see whether the student can contribute to the school and if the school can meet his or her needs. The personal statement gives universities a chance to get a personal glimpse of you, an insight that is not possible in the grades and numbers that make up the rest of your application. In general, essay questions either require a specific response or are open-ended. Colleges look for certain qualities for their student body and tailor their essay questions accordingly.

Application essays also allow admissions officers to assess your writing skills, academic ability, organizational skills, purpose in applying to a U.S. institution, and your reasons for your chosen field of study. Admissions officers look for strong writing skills, as well as a demonstration of intellectual curiosity and maturity. Write the essay far enough in advance so that you have time to put it aside for a week and then read it again to see if it still makes sense. This shows through in your essay, and tells admissions officers that you are a good writer, that you care about the essay, and that you are willing to take the time to prepare it well.

Some general tips:

  • Answer the question asked.
  • Focus on a specific incident or event you remember well - details are important.
  • Consider explaining anything unusual that has influenced your school or home life.
  • Get others to proofread it for grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Lie.
  • Choose a topic merely to look good.
  • Say what you think the college wants to hear; just tell the truth about your reasons for applying to the school.
  • Turn down the college's invitation to write more about yourself.
  • Write the essay (or any other part of your application) the night before it is due.
Make sure that your essay is a true representation of yourself and your abilities. The most important part of the essay is to be genuine and honest — admissions officers read several hundred essays each year and have become experts in picking out fake essays or those written by parents. The essay is your opportunity to tell the college why they should accept you over other students — use it as such.


"Anecdotes are much better than strings of adjectives and adverbs."
— Associate Dean of Admissions, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

You will usually be asked for at least two recommendations. These may come from the head or principal of your school, your school counselor, your personal tutor, or any teachers who know you well. Your recommenders must be able to write about your work and be able to assess your potential to do well at college. If you know the subject in which you plan to major, have your teacher in that subject write a recommendation. Recommendations from American teachers are very positive and can be longer and more detailed than those written by teachers in other countries. Poorly written, negative, or late recommendations will reflect on your judgment in picking referees, so choose with care.

Recommendation forms may ask a list of questions or just one general question. Since recommendations carry a fair amount of weight in the admissions process, let your recommenders know about your plans and where you would like to study. A recommendation form may include a waiver where you can relinquish your right to see what is written about you. If this option is offered, most admissions officers prefer you to waive your right so that recommenders may feel more comfortable when writing their evaluations. Admissions officers usually interpret waived recommendations as more honest. If your recommendations must be sent directly from your referees, it is common courtesy to give them stamped, addressed envelopes. Also allow plenty of time for your referees to write their recommendations. Remind them to sign the sealed flap of the envelope before mailing.

Financial Statement

Most universities include a form called a Declaration and Certification of Finances or Affidavit of Financial Support in their application packets. This must be signed by your parents or whoever is meeting your college expenses, and must be certified by a bank or lawyer. Keep a copy of this form since you will also need it to apply for your student visa. Schools usually need to know that you have at least the first year's expenses covered, although many may also ask you to indicate your source of income for the entire period of study. If you know when you apply that you will need some form of assistance from the college, indicate how much you plan to request from the university. Many U.S. universities operate a "needs-blind" admissions policy. This means that your financial position is not a consideration in the decision whether to grant you admission. Please note, however, that the university will issue the relevant certificate of eligibility for a student visa only if you are able to document fully your source(s) of income.

Deadlines and Submission

Each university sets its own deadline date, and it is usually firm about not accepting applications after that time, particularly if a college is very popular. Deadlines usually fall between January and March, although they can be as early as November or as late as June. If, however, a college indicates that it operates "rolling admissions," late applicants may still have a fair chance of acceptance. In this case, a university will admit and reject candidates until the freshman class is filled. It is nonetheless a good idea to submit your application as soon as possible.

More competitive universities have an "early decision" deadline. In this instance, you apply early, usually in November, and you can apply only to that institution. Because of your demonstrated commitment to the college, your application may be considered somewhat more favorably than those applying in the regular way. If you are accepted, you are expected to confirm that you will definitely attend this institution.

It is your responsibility to ensure that all your documents, application forms, references, and official score reports reach the universities safely and on time. Send your applications by registered mail or by courier if you are very close to deadline dates. It is worthwhile telephoning or sending an e-mail to colleges to make sure that they have received your application package and that they have everything they require. Keep copies of your application and documents just in case your material gets lost in the mail; you will be relieved to know that you can supply another set of information quickly, if this should happen.