How to Attend a U.S. College as an International Student

Written by

Beatrice Harrison


August 14, 2014


International students from countries around the world want to enroll in colleges and universities in the United States. In fact, the U.S. has the biggest international student population in the world, with about 700,000 students from an array of countries. Find out how to attend a U.S. college as an international student!

Deciding What College You Want to Go to

InternationalFlagsMost U.S. colleges will accept international students, but it’s definitely a lot harder for them to make it through the whole admissions process. International students must first make decisions based on a number of considerations. What kind of academic program or major should I choose? What kind of campus will I feel most comfortable in? What city or state do I want to attend school? Do I care about class size or student-to-teacher ratios? How important are available academic resources to me? One question that every student will find important relates to how high of tuition costs you can afford. provides a number of useful tools to help you in making the best decision. For instance, our where to study section provides state-by-state overviews to help you decide which state is best for you, depending on your lifestyle and employment needs. Using our handy college search tool, you also narrow down you target schools by the type of degree and area of concentration. 

Foreign students who want to enroll in U.S. colleges should create a list of possible choices and conduct thorough research on each college or university to decide once and for all what each has to offer and if it meets their academic and personal needs. Students can conduct research online and request materials by mail. They should acquire information about admission requirements, financial aid options, student housing, health care, student life activities, and meal plans. For additional assistance, foreign students can contact their prospective school’s international student services office. International student offices help international students transition to the new institution and also assist with various issues.

International Admission Requirements

Many U.S. colleges and universities hold foreign students to the same academic standard as they do U.S. citizens. International students also must complete the standard university application, including writing requirements. Many schools request application essays that provide a short answer to a specific question and a longer personal statement that will give admissions officers a deeper understanding of the student instead of simply looking at grades.

International students must also provide U.S. colleges with academic records and transcripts from schools they’ve previously attended. Required documentation may include academic transcripts, lists of completed courses, and degrees earned. If the records are in a different language than English, most schools will ask for a certified translation. Some schools may ask international students to provide proof showing that they’re able to pay for tuition and other school expenses.

Tests for International Students

International students are commonly required to take the same tests U.S. students must take before being accepted to a college or university. Most colleges need only SAT and/or ACT test scores, but some universities also require SAT II Subject Tests, examinations that test an applicant’s aptitude in a certain area, such as English or chemistry. Most graduate schools require students to receive a certain score on advanced tests like the GMAT or GRE. GRE testing is typically needed to begin a masters degree, while the GMAT is specifically for individuals seeking to attend a business college. Some academic fields require specialized tests, like the MCAT for medical students and LSAT for law students.

International students whose native language is different from English also must pass an English proficiency test before being accepted into most U.S. colleges. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are the most popular tests. Many schools accept either test, but some prefer one to the other. Your admissions advisor will let you know which exam you need to pass.

International Student Visas

If an international student plans to visit the United States mostly for tourism purposes but plans to complete a short course of study (less than 18 hours per week), he or she can more easily obtain a tourist visa. If you plan to complete a longer course of study, you must get a student visa. In majority of countries, students who are applying for visas for the first time must attend an interview in person. Every embassy and consulate establishes its own interview rules and procedures about student visas. International students can contact the U.S. embassy for their country for specific instruction.

Costs for International Students

Since the cost of higher education increases annually in the U.S., it is necessary for students from other countries to effectively estimate the costs of attending a U.S. school and seek financial aid opportunities. It is important for international students to consider various costs of a U.S. education, including application fees, academic entrance examinations, tuition and fees, books and course materials, travel costs, room and board or other housing expenses, health insurance, and personal expenses.

Written by:  Beatrice Harrison

Educated at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Beatrice Harrison has extensive professional experience in career counseling, having helped a growing number of job seekers find fulfilling and meaningful careers in a variety of fields and disciplines.

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