How to Study in the United States for International Students (4 Steps)

The United States is one of the favorite destinations for international students. After all, the US is home to many prestigious universities and colleges that continue to dominate the world rankings. Because of this, many US-educated students are gifted with better career prospects in their home countries – and other parts of the globe.

If you want to enjoy the educational and professional benefits that only an American education can bring, then read these tips on how to study in the US as an international student.

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How Can International Students Study in the United States?

If you wish to study in the United States as an international student, you should follow these steps to maximize your chances:

  • Prepare to meet the cost of studying in the United States, which can be very expensive.
  • Know the General Application Requirements and meet them
  • After you have done so, apply to universities in the US
  • Once you get accepted, apply for a student visa

1. Know the Cost of Studying in the United States

Tuition fees in the United States can run a little high. Public universities cost about $26,000 a year. On the other hand, it can take you an average of $36,000 to study in private universities.

The cost of living varies per state as well. Accommodations, food, transportation, and other expenses can cost you anywhere from $700 to $1,000 a month.2

2. Know the General Application Requirements for Studying in the United States

Here are the usual language and application requirements put forth by most American universities:

General English Requirements (Undergraduate)

If English is not your primary language, then you will be required to take a proficiency exam to study in the USA as an international student. Scores vary according to universities and their respective departments, so you need to check with your school website regarding this.

The general trends, however, are as follows:

  • IELTS – band 6 to 7.5
  • TOEFL iBT – 92 to 100
  • Cambridge Language Exam – B2 First, C1 Advanced, or C2 Proficient

In New York University, your English proficiency score should be higher – more than 7.5 in IELTS and above 100 for the TOEFL iBT. It also accepts other language exams, including the Cambridge English Scale (>=70), MELAB (>84), iTEP (>=4.5), and Duolingo (>=125).

English requirements are seemingly laxer at Harvard University, where you could be admitted with a minimum score of 7 for the IELTS, 100 for TOEFL-iBT, and 7 for the Pearson Test of English Academic.

While most schools require proof of English proficiency, an exemption may be given to the following individuals:

  • Native English speakers (Canadians, Australians, etc.)
  • Students who have studied or graduated in an international university/college where English is the SOLE language of instruction.

General English Requirements (Graduate)

Expectedly so, American universities also require international graduate applicants to take the above-mentioned English proficiency tests.

Take the case of the world’s second-best university, Stanford, which only accepts TOEFL for language proficiency. To be considered, you have a score of 89 to 100 for the internet-based test and 575 to 600 for the paper-based exam.

This is in stark contrast to the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), which accepts both TOEFL (score of at least 87 for the iBT and 560 for the PBT) and IELTS (band 7 minimum) exams.

Again, the minimum acceptable scores differ accordingly. Due to the varying requirements for post-graduate students, make sure to consult with your university regarding its English proficiency requirements.

Application Requirements (Undergraduate)

All foreign applicants need to take the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or ACT (American College Testing). These are standardized tests used for admissions in all US universities.

Score minimums vary according to university, so you need to ask a school representative for the full details. To give you an idea, the 4th-ranked California Institute Technology’s average SAT requirement is 1560. On the other hand, UCLA, which is number 36 in the World Rankings, accepts an average SAT score of 1365.

Another vital requirement is your High School Diploma. Apart from your SAT/ACT score, your university of choice will also consider your GPA. Some schools may accept applicants with a GPA as low as 2.5, while some may require a GPA as high as 3.6.

Other requirements include an accomplished application form and recommendation forms from teachers and/or counselors. Some schools such as Princeton University require school reports, art supplements, and an interview as necessary.

Application Requirements (Graduate)

Graduate applicants, on the other hand, need to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) to study in the US as an international student.

You also need to submit a copy of your diploma for your baccalaureate degree, which should have taken at least a minimum of 3 years to complete. It should also be related to the Master’s or Ph.D. program that you wish to pursue.

Another important requirement is your transcript of records, as universities also consider your GPA for admission. In most cases, the minimum GPA requirement is 3.

Other requirements include a resume/CV, personal statement, and recommendation letters. In some programs, you may even need to submit a research statement for your thesis.

3. Apply to Universities in the USA

To study in the US for international students, you need to apply. Given the many applicants who wish to study in the US (both local and foreign), application deadlines are usually set the year before.


American universities, like many others, start the school year in September. However, due to the strict competition among the applicants, the application period starts as early as August the year before.

One such institution that follows an early intake is Johns Hopkins University, which is ranked 25th by the QS World University Rankings. Here, applicants can submit as early as August. The deadline is usually set in January.

Although that is the case, some institutions such as the University of Chicago will accept applications until November. It also has another application period that ends in December. The admission decision is usually released in December for the first intake, to as late as March for the second batch.

Application fees can range from $35 to $100, though some universities give waivers to some candidates.

For complete details about fees and deadlines, make sure to visit your school’s admissions website.


Graduate schools usually designate a later application period for masters or doctorate applicants. Such is the case with the University of Pennsylvania, which is ranked 2nd by US News in terms of graduate studies. It has an early cycle that runs from November to March. It has a second intake, however, which runs from March to May.

As for the prospective students of Northwestern University, another top-tier graduate school, the application deadlines go as late as mid-December.

4. Apply for Student Visa

To get a USA student visa, you first need to be accepted by a university approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The school will then register you at the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), where you need to pay $350.

Afterward, your school will issue you a Form I-120, which you need to register in your SEVIS account. After completing these steps, you can apply for a student visa online via the US Embassy website. All you need to accomplish is the DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application and upload a recent photo.

Remember, the following to your interview:

  • Form I-120 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students
  • Passport
  • Application fee payment receipt (this will cost you another $160)

Other documents that may be requested during your interview include:

  • Certificates or transcripts from the school you have attended
  • Standardized test scores required by your university
  • Proof of financial capacity to study in the US

Lots of opportunities await graduates of American universities, not only in the US but in your home country as well. While applying to US institutions may be difficult and costly, it is indeed a great investment for your future.


I hope that this article was helpful. If you are interested, visit the USA Scholarships Page!