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Applying to an American university or college is competitive, and institutions usually receive applications from more prospective students than they can accept. Programs may have quotas or limited enrollment, and admissions committees use both objective and subjective elements of the application process to determine which students are most likely to succeed at the institution. Below is a series of steps to follow when planning and making your university or college application in any state.

Please note that the information below is a general guide for students applying to American universities and colleges, and is relevant to schools in all states. For the most current and specific details, students should therefore also refer to individual state higher education agencies, as well as individual universities and colleges.

How to apply

Step 1: find out what's required
Universities and colleges in the USA each set their own admission requirements. Once you have decided where to apply, contact the registrar or admissions office at each institution to find out exactly what's required in their application package. Most American universities and colleges offer this information online, and usually have a special website section for international student admission requirements.

Requirements and supporting documents
Most university and college programs in the USA have a minimum admission average and specific course requirements; therefore, the main required supporting documents are official high school transcripts (or any post-secondary transcripts, if relevant). Additionally, letters of reference, an essay or letter of intent, résumé, medical form, criminal record check, portfolio, etc. may be required, as specified by a particular institution or program. SAT or ACT scores are also usually required. Each university or college will provide specific instructions on what they require. International students are generally required to submit proof of English proficiency through standardized language test scores. Different universities and colleges accept different tests and scores, so be sure to find out the specifics.

International students must also show that the quality of the education they received is comparable to that of US institutions. Universities and colleges in the USA each have their own criteria for recognizing international student qualifications. Therefore, applicants should contact the school's admissions office to ask about assessing international qualifications. They will inform you about requirements for translation of your documents into English and exactly what qualifications they recognize. You can also consult one of the US's credential evaluation services, which provide (for a fee) an evaluation that shows you how your credentials compare with American credentials. This service does not guarantee recognition of your credentials, and know that there is no federal or state regulation of these services. However, there are two national associations of credential evaluation services with published standards that members must adhere to. Choosing a credential evaluation service that has membership in one of these national organizations is a good way to ensure they are legitimate and professional. The two national organizations are the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) and the Association of International Credentials Evaluators (AICE).

Step 2: know when to apply
Universities and colleges in the USA are competitive and popular; therefore, it's good to prepare and apply early. Generally, international students should apply to a US institution up to eight months in advance of the expected start date (usually September or January semesters), However, many universities and colleges have "rolling-admissions" which means that they consider international students' applications as they come in throughout the year. Some universities and colleges have specific application deadlines for international students that differ from local student deadlines, so make sure to find out which deadline applies to you. Make sure you know when the required tests (such as SAT or language test like TOEFL) are offered and when the scores need to be submitted.

Step 3: submit your application
Many American university and college applications involve downloading an online undergraduate application form and submitting it either by post or electronically, along with the supporting documents described in the section above. This step also usually includes submitting a non-refundable application fee (usually between $50- $100) which must be received by the institution before their particular deadline. If you are submitting the application by post, make sure to leave enough time for the package to arrive at the university or college by the specified deadline.

If your application is accepted, the school will make you an admission offer. Once you accept the admission offer, the university or college will send you an official letter of acceptance.
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