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The Essentials 

Depending on the university, there are number of requirements in order to successfully apply to an American university. The following is a general overview of the requirements:


Standardized Tests:

All top US universities require a number of standardized tests in order to apply for admissions. These tests are used to measure certain skills and aptitudes that US college admissions use as part of the criteria for judging applicants. The significance of the scores in the application process differs from college to college, but in general these exams are one of the key parts of the application. The following is a list of the all the standardized tests that are required by top US universities:

  • SAT 1 Reasoning: 
    The SAT is a three part standardized exam that measures an applicant’s efficiency and skill in math, writing, and critical reading. The scale for each section is from 200 to 800 (200 being the worst, 800 being a perfect score). For most top colleges, a score from 650-800 on the math section is preferred for international students, especially those seeking a STEM major (historically, top institutions tend to be more flexable for low scores on the reading and writing sections for non-native English speakers). The SAT exam is the most widely used standardized test for internationals applying to high ranking US universities, and almost all of them require it for a complete application. The exam is administered by the CollegeBoard and you can sign up for one through


  • SAT 2 Subjects: 
    The SAT subject exam tests an applicant’s proficiency in a specific subject, such as physics and world history. These exams are required by most top institutions as compliments to either the SAT or ACT exams. Most prestigious institutions require that applicants send at least two SAT subject scores for a complete application. The most commonly taken SAT Subject (and the one that is most recommended for applicants interested in the STEM fields) is the SAT Math 2 exam, which is a test of most pre-calculus material covered in high school. SAT Subject exams include, but are not limited to, SAT Physics, SAT Chemistry, SAT Literature and so on.


  • ACT: 
    The ACT is a standardized admissions exam made as a competitor to the SAT Reasoning exam. The ACT exam is divided into four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. Along with these previous four sections, there is also a writing component to the test which many top colleges require. The exam is scaled from 1-36 where the score is gotten through averaging the four main sections, and the writing portion is scaled from 1-12.


  • TOEFL:
    The TOEFL exam is an English proficiency test created and administered by ETS. The exam tests an applicant’s proficiency through four sections: reading, writing, listening, speaking. The exam is administered both on paper and on a computer. The scale for the iBT (computer TOEFL), which is the most administered version, is on a scale of 120 points, 30 points for each of the 4 sections. Most top tier colleges require this exam as proof of English proficiency, however some remove this requirement for those who achieved a high SAT critical reading or writing score (usually 600+) or for those who studied in a school where English was teh primary langauge of instruction for more than four years. 


Schools in this system: UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbra, UC Irvine

The University of California application system is the only method of applying as an to any of the UC schools. Out of all the TT application systems, it can be seen as the most simplistic, and also has one of the earliest (November 30th). The UC application does not require official transcripts for applying, or teacher recommendations. The UC application is also almost the same exact application for all the campuses, except for some minor supplementary information for some schools. Click here for a comprehensive guide to the UC Application.

Application Systems:

For the most part they are divided into the following application systems:


Schools in this system: All Ivies (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc...), Stanford, Johns Hopkins,

Northwestern, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The CommonApp system is the most widely used of all the US undergraduate application systems. It covers more than 400 colleges and universities throughout the US. The following is a guide to applying to colleges through the CommonApp. Click here for a comprehensive CommonApp application guide.


Schools in this system: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (IMT)

The MIT application system is the exclusive application method for undergraduates seeking admissions into MIT. Its writing section is composed of a number of short to long essays. One notable property of the MIT application system is that does not have a strict word limit, but rather the more words you have the smaller the font becomes.



Most colleges will ask for your transcripts from 9th till 12th grade. You will need to get official translations from the ministry of education in your country, or get them translated then have them stamped. Once you have all your transcripts ready, it’s best that you put them in an official envelope (either from your school or the ministry) and then have them stamp the envelope with their official seal. 

Letters of Recommendations:
Letters of recommendation are one of the most crucial parts of the application. They give the admissions officers the best assessment of you as a student. For letters of recommendation, it’s usually best to upload them electronically via the CommonApp or MIT systems. If you would rather send them in as hard copies, than you will need to have them in English, have them signed, and put them in sealed envelopes and send them to the university’s admissions office.


School Report:

School Reports are important parts of the application, they reveal the type of school you have attended during the last 3-4 years. The questions are usually simple and easily answered: “does this school offer AP or IB courses” or “what is the median GPA in the school”.


Financial Guarantee:
Some schools require financial guarantees to ensure that you can pay for college if admitted. If you cannot get one, you can always send an email to the school and tell them of the scholarship opportunities that are available to you and your intention to garner one once accepted.


Essays are a crucial part of the application. They are your chance to give the admission officers a view of you as a person. During your whole application process you will most likely have to write between 1-5 full essays. It is important to realize that the essays must be your own work and you cannot use someone else’s, if caught you will be expelled and encumber other grave consequences. For more information on writing essays, click here. 

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