Thinking about studying in the United States? Here’s a list of what you need to do—and when you need to do it!
16–20 months before university
January to May of junior year
Start your university search strong! Think about why you want to study in the United States and then investigate which schools can help you meet your goals. Give yourself time to explore your university options and figure out the many technical aspects of becoming an international student.
- Begin researching potential US universities and colleges. Attend a US university fair in your country if you can.
- Visit the nearest EducationUSA advising center if you can to meet with an advisor.
- Review the standardized tests and entrance exams you may be required to take, as well as registration processes and upcoming test dates. If possible, register.
- Review your family’s finances with your parents and discuss a plan for paying for your education.
- Determine who should write your recommendation letters, if needed, and ask those individuals if they would be willing to do so.
12–14 months before university
July to September of senior year
Once you narrow your list of university options, you can conduct in-depth research, develop relationships with admission counselors, and ensure you know exactly what is required of you as an applicant.
- Finalize your school list, those institutions on which you will focus your research and outreach efforts (typically six to 10 schools but no more than 20). Your list should include a balanced mix of universities, ranging from those you feel confident will admit you (based on your academic record and the average admitted student profile) to those that may be more selective. However, all of these schools should be institutions at which you feel you will be happy if admitted!
- Contact international admission counselors at each institution to request more information and begin a dialogue. (Use the form at the end of this magazine to contact the schools therein!)
- Take required entrance exams and standardized tests (TOEFL, IELTS, MELAB, SAT, ACT, etc.).
- Determine exactly which forms and other application materials will be needed for each university.
- Research your universities extensively online to give yourself a sense of life on each campus. If possible, conduct a campus visit to a US institution you are considering.
- Meet with university representatives if they are visiting your country, and ask admission representatives if any alumni or current students live in your area; you may be able to meet with them for an informational interview.
- Begin researching scholarship opportunities relevant to your universities, course of study/major, and academic achievement, as well as other merit-based awards.
- Request transcripts from any secondary school(s) attended.
- Review the essay prompts on your intended universities’ applications and begin working on your application essays/personal statements.
10–12 months before university
September to November of senior year
This is application go time! Invest substantial effort in your applications, and give yourself ample time to follow up and correct any mistakes if they occur.
- Complete your applications, paying careful attention to directions and detail. Share your finished applications with people you trust, such as a professor, to check for errors.
- If your entrance exam/standardized test scores are lower than you expected, register to take them again at the next possible test date. Study aggressively and take practice tests in the interim. (All testing should be completed by January of the year in which you wish to enroll for the fall university semester.)
- Revisit your family finances to ensure you are prepared for your F-1 (student) visa interview and college applications, as you will be required to present a declaration of finances demonstrating your ability to pay for your US education.
- Once thoroughly reviewed, submit your applications (online or paper copies), along with any necessary application fees, transcripts, financial statements, and other materials well in advance of the deadlines; doing so allows you plenty of time to follow up with admission offices to ensure they receive everything, including transcripts, recommendation letters, and other documents that might have been sent separately. Application deadlines vary by school, but most fall between early November and January. Keep track of when you submit applications, what you send, and to whom.
4–6 months before university
March to May of senior year
You may find yourself with a collection of university acceptance letters. Congratulations! Carefully consider your options, discuss them with your family, and take these important next steps.
- Inform the university you choose of your decision, typically no later than May 1.
- Inform other institutions that accepted you that you must decline their offer.
- Thank any admission counselors who helped you.
- Send your enrollment deposit.
3 months before university
June of senior year
These last few months go by fast, so enjoy them! Along the way, prepare for the adventure you’re about to embark upon, including completing the student visa process.
- Apply for your student visa by submitting the I-20 document provided by your university as well as any supporting documents requested by the consular officer. (Student visas can be issued up to 120 days before you plan to enroll.)
- Pay your SEVIS fee, then schedule and conduct your student visa interview at the nearest US consulate or embassy.
- You may need to prepare a litany of school-related enrollment documents around this time as well. These documents vary by school but may include any of the following: letter of sponsorship, passport photocopy, housing application, health records, final transcript, and proof of graduation. Remember, international admission counselors are there to help you and answer any questions you might have.
- Once you're approved, book your travel to the States and get ready for a life-changing journey!
Keep in mind these are generic time and deadline estimates. Be sure to confirm the deadlines given by your schools as well as the materials they require, and adjust accordingly.