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USA Application Process for International Students [2023 Guide]

20 Feb, 2023
USA Application Process for International Students [2023 Guide]

The advantages to attending a US university as an international student are endless.

Colleges and universities in the US are renowned globally for their high academic standards, world-class degree programs and expert faculty. They also tend to be very well funded, which often means students have access to cutting-edge research facilities.

In addition, universities in the US often have a strong focus on career development, internships and gaining professional experience as an undergraduate can greatly expand networks and aid future employment options.

However, there’s no doubt that applying to college as an international student in the USA can be daunting, with so many choices of universities and so many steps.

Being thousands of miles away and part of an entirely different education system, can make the whole admissions process seem demanding if applying to US university independently.

The Kings Advantage

At Kings, we have designed our GO (Guaranteed Outcome) programs specifically to offer streamlined paths to the very best universities in the USA. Students begin their university life at one of our partner schools, then with on-the-ground guidance and support from experts, apply as a transfer student in their second or third year to a Top 50 or Top 100 school. It’s from one of these gold-standard institutions that they graduate.

Whether you’re undertaking the college application process independently, or applying to Kings for one of the Guaranteed Outcome programs, we look at some of the steps to take when considering a US university degree as an international student.

Table of Contents

1. Understand US Colleges’ Application Timelines

2. Research and Prepare Your College List

3.Prepare Your Documents and Have Your Transcripts Evaluated

4.Get Informed On Language Requirements

5.Ready Your Recommendation Letters

6.Get to Know the Standardized Tests You Need to Take

7.Send Application Forms to Colleges of Your Choice

8.Wait For Acceptance Letters

Go to a Top 100 University with Kings

1.Understand US Colleges’ Application Timelines

Most US students apply to college in their senior year of high school. They graduate in May or June and then start college in August or September of that same year.

The application deadline for the top universities in the USA can differ, but every university or college in USA offers admission within four distinct application deadlines; regular decision, early action, early decision, and rolling admissions.

Students who apply during the regular decision cycle follow the standard application deadlines. They compete with a larger group of applicants and must wait longer for each school's final decision, unlike Early Action applicants who find out sooner and apply alongside a smaller pool of students.

Early decision involves a binding contract in which you promise to enroll in the school if you get accepted, so it’s imperative to be confident in your decision. If you apply for Early Action on the other hand and are accepted, it’s a non-binding acceptance. That means the college will secure your spot without you needing to commit, so you can still keep your options open.

For each of the above deadlines, a student can apply in the terms of Fall or Spring semester. The top universities in USA welcome most international students in the Fall. Most of the deadlines for Fall semester are the same, whereas Spring semester deadlines are not generally available in the early decision option.

If applying for one of Kings’ programs, you can submit an application at any point in the year, with academic start dates in Fall (September) and Spring (January).

2.Research and Prepare Your College List

Prior to applying to any university program, it’s important for any prospective student to research the kinds of colleges and universities they would be interested in applying to. It can be a long process, so make sure to leave enough time!

Of course, with such a huge range of options available, Kings advisors are perfectly placed to help students narrow down their final choices, but for any international student, having an initial idea of the following will be useful.

Much of this type of information can be found on universities’ own websites, although sources such as US News and World Report also offer detailed profiles of each US university.

Type of College: Public, private, religiously affiliated, single-sex or co-ed

The type of college you choose can depend on many factors; if you have a religious affiliation that aligns to that of the college, for example. Or, if you require an institution with lower fees. Whilst public universities receive most of their funding from the states in which they are located, private schools do not, and therefore generally have higher costs.

Strength of program

Does the school have an emphasis on your intended major for your bachelor’s? If you already have a specific field you are interested in studying, you can begin narrowing down the universities that offer great programs in that area.

University rankings can help establish universities with specific areas of focus and excellence. US News and World Report publishes annual rankings, as does Times Higher Education. University department websites are great resources to learn more about their programs, including curriculum and outcomes.

It’s worth noting that if you plan to enroll as an undergraduate, many universities allow you to start your studies as an undeclared major. This gives you the chance to explore multiple fields of study to help you decide on your major at a later date, after gaining more experience at university. Students have until the start of their 3rd year of university before they need to declare a major. As most classes taken in the first two years are electives and not necessarily associated to one major.

Size of school

Some of Kings partner schools, such as Fisher College in Boston, are generally considered small, with about 1,500 students in total. The average class size is about 15 students, which can arguably make the transition from high school easier to contend with. At the other end of the spectrum are universities like California State University, Fullerton and Ohio State University, which have over 40,000 students enrolled.

In addition to the overall size of the school, it’s important to think about class size. Some schools have giant lecture halls with 200+ students, while others have small, discussion-based courses with about 20 students.

Location: Rural, Suburban or Urban

Universities which have a rural setting generally have a huge campus focus; everything happens on site, which means there is real sense of community. Usually there is some sort of Greek life (Sororities or Fraternities) in rural or suburban settings. With urban universities, such as the University of Chicago, or Vanderbilt University, on the other hand the city is your campus. More students choose to have off-campus housing, and therefore commute to their courses every day, which can mean less of a community feel.


University education in the US can be expensive, but fees do vary quite substantially. In some cases, it’s possible to apply for financial aid to help towards tuition, details of which is generally always available on universities’ websites.

Campus resources

Campus resources are different at each university, but it’s possible to research factors such as safety and security services, health and fitness centers, cafes and shops, and library facilities. You’ll know what on-site facilities are most important to you personally and can research accordingly on each college's website.

Campus Life

Colleges offer a variety of opportunities for students to be involved on campus and enjoy extracurricular activities. Clubs, organizations, and sports teams, are all ways to be pursue your interests and hobbies, meet new people, and even acquire leadership experience.

Student body

Do you want a college with a high percentage of other international students, or would you prefer to be largely surrounded by American students? Take a look at the student demographics for this type of detail, as well as information on aspects such as male-to-female ratio, average student age, and ethnic and religious diversity.

Acceptance rates

A college with a very low acceptance rate indicates extremely strong competition for study places, while a college acceptance rate that is very high may not be as selective. Low acceptance rates often spell elevated entry requirements, so it’s important to have an idea of what your SAT scores/ACT scores may be to see if it’s an institution which matches your academic capabilities.

3.Prepare Your Documents and Have Your Transcripts Evaluated

As part of the college admissions process, some universities may need to evaluate transcripts of academic records. Because there may be a difference in subject names in your home country and the US, transcripts enable admissions officers to make sure all the subjects you have already studied are valid and recognized by the universities you may attend.

When applying to Kings for a US university program, this will be done by our Admissions team in conjunction with the university partner.

4.Get Informed On Language Requirements

When it comes to English language proficiency, most universities require a minimum test score for both undergraduate and graduate students. The minimum score is different depending on the university and program, so check the requirements before you apply.

The most common English language tests you can take are:

  • International English Language Testing System exam (IELTS)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

Each evaluates your English reading and writing skills, along with measuring your speaking and listening abilities. These tests are usually available in your country at centers certified for English language testing.

This requirement can be waived upon completing certain GO prepared programs at Kings.

5.Ready Your Recommendation Letters

When applying direct to a US university as an international student, there is usually a requirement from college admissions to provide a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation is a letter written on behalf of an applicant by someone who can vouch for that person's educational or professional performance. This letter is typically sent to an admissions officer.

A benefit of starting your US university journey with Kings is that this is not always required at the initial application stage.

6.Get to Know the Standardized Tests You Need to Take

When applying to American universities as an international student, required tests for international students differ between programs and whether you are studying for an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Undergraduate programs usually only require one of two tests:

  • SAT
  • ACT

While both measure a student’s college readiness and academic performance, there are some key differences: the SAT places more focus on analytical skills such as mathematics, while the ACT focuses more on verbal skills.

An important change during the Covid pandemic means that colleges have now introduced more flexibility and choice into the admissions process with regards to testing. Many have decided to adopt a “test-optional” policy regarding college entrance exams, either temporarily or permanently. Most colleges still encourage students to submit their scores when they can, but they don't require all students to do so in every instance. For most students who take the SAT, sending scores will strengthen their college application, though.

Graduate students need to take more specialized tests:

  • GRE—Usually needed for liberal arts programs in the humanities or sciences
  • GMAT—For programs with a business focus, such as a Master’s in Finance

7. Send Application Forms to Colleges of Your Choice

Again, as an international student applying to a US university directly, you would need to submit application forms to any university of your choice. It’s worth noting that most universities charge an application fee.

Alternatively, it’s possible to submit a university application via the Common Application (or Common App) in the USA. This is a streamlined college application system that allows you to apply to multiple schools at once and is accepted by approximately 950 colleges and universities across the USA.

The traditional college application essay usually requires an open-ended personal statement in response to broad or general prompts that might have you share a story, reflect on an event, or discuss a topic.

With Kings, a single application allows you to apply for our university programs, and ultimately graduate from a Top 100 US university.

8.Wait For Acceptance Letters

Again, as an international student applying to a US university directly, you would need to wait to hear back from each university regarding admissions decisions.

If applying to Kings for one of our Guaranteed Outcome programs, you can expect to hear very quickly from our dedicated admissions team whether you have been accepted for your chosen program, and if not, what a suitable alternative might be.

Study with Kings in the USA and go to a Top 100 USA university

At Kings, we have designed our programs specifically to offer paths to the best universities in the USA, with expert guidance and support along the way.

  • First you’ll enroll at one of our partner universities. Most offer a small, friendly campus environment; the perfect starting point for your degree. Current locations include New York, Boston, California, Wisconsin and Oregon.
  • Then, when you are ready, we’ll help you transfer to a Top 100 university. You’ll join as a second or third year student.
  • You can transfer to any Top 100 university. Or you can follow one of our dedicated transfer pathways, for example to Top 50 universities The University of Rochester.

You will be assigned your personal Student Success Advisor during your first year, they have a wealth of knowledge about the US education system, university pros and cons, course details, entry requirements, rankings and scholarship opportunities.

They’ll help with:

  • Developing study plans
  • Researching universities
  • Understanding admissions requirements
  • Supporting your application
  • Hosting workshops

Having access to in-person guidance and support on campus, and having time to acclimatize to life at a US university before making the all-important decision on which university you would like to transfer to (and graduate from) are priceless.

Ultimately, enrollment on one of Kings Guaranteed Outcome programs as an international student means that you are far likelier to be accepted to study at a Top 50 or Top 100 US university, and, crucially, to thrive once you transfer there.

After studying on one of Kings Guaranteed Outcome programs in California, Mexican student Luis Enrique Chavez Rubin was admitted to his dream school, USC W.V.T. Rusch Undergraduate Engineering Honors Program for Mechanical Engineering.


"I always wanted to go to college in the US so I did a lot of research and then applied to seven schools, all extremely competitive. At the time I didn't get in and by then I had missed the deadline to apply to alternative schools.

What happened to me, happened to a lot of my friends: they applied to different schools, didn't get in and ended up having to stay home as they couldn't find anything.

Here, I was helped choose the courses I would need to transfer to specific schools, they helped me identify the right universities for what I was looking for, corrected my essays and basically Kings help you present the best version of yourself and to get the things you need to go where you want to go."

Through Kings, any students with ambitious hopes for university but who first require English improvement are also able to start their journey. With the GO Prepared program, which includes English language development, college credits, academic skills, university visits, and a Global leadership course, they are fully prepared for degree-level study at a Top 100 University.

How to apply

We’ve made the application process as simple as possible, with four main steps:

  1. Fill in your application form, and upload supporting documents, including academic transcripts.
  2. Kings USA Admissions sends confirmation of receipt and begins reviewing the application with the host university partner.
  3. Once you accept your offer of admission, you’ll be advised how to pay your deposit.
  4. When you receive an I-20 form, you are eligible to apply for your student visa.

Find out more on how to apply

Find out more about our programs, and the Top 100 universities that have accepted our students for transfer.

We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the college application process in the US, and how Kings Guaranteed Outcome programs can help remove the stress that comes with applying independently as an international student, and increase your chances of graduating from a top tier US university.

If you would like to receive more detailed information about our programs and locations, please get in touch with us at