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Choosing American Universities: Tips for International Students

The United States is one of the most popular destinations for overseas studies. Having recently graduated magna cum laude from California State University, I’m very happy with the choice I made. I hope you’ll find my tips useful when considering your American options.

Types of Universities

An important thing to note when choosing where to apply is the distinction between state and private universities in the United States.

Each of the fifty states has at least one state university, which is run and partially funded by the state. California boasts two separate state university systems possessing a combined 33 universities, which was an important factor for me. While tuition at these universities tends to be less expensive than at private ones, the quality of education is still excellent. Many top-ranked schools in America are state universities.

Students are often drawn to private universities that specifically meet their needs, and are willing to pay a premium for this. These schools feature more variation, ranging from tiny arts colleges with populations of a few hundred to Ivy League schools matriculating thousands of students each year.  As with any school, research is key in finding a school that fits your needs.

Separate Applications and Dates

Unlike places such as Hong Kong and the UK, American universities often have school-specific application systems. Instead of filling out a common form, you will have to apply separately for each university you apply to. There are some state university systems or universities that have joined a common application program, but as a rule, the US system is more separated and complex. The requirements will likewise vary between schools. It is therefore vital to research requirements and submission dates beforehand to avoid surprises.

Exams Needed

While exam requirements vary between schools, there are two standardised tests that are widely used in the admissions process. These are the SAT and ACT (the SAT is more commonly requested).  Both tests are only administered on specific dates throughout the year and are not immediately graded, so it is prudent to take any required exams well ahead of time.


I hope this information will broaden your scope as you choose where to study and wish you the best of luck in your applications!