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4 Key Facts About the U.S. College Admissions Process

International students may be surprised that U.S. colleges look for well-rounded applicants and are generally flexible about classes and majors.

By Indira Pranabudi


As a prospective international student, maybe you've been thinking about studying abroad for some time, but haven't decided yet which country to go to. There are, of course, many countries with top-notch universities.

However, there are some ways that U.S. universities differ from those in many other countries, especially when it comes to the undergraduate admissions process.


1. The U.S. does not have a centralized admissions process. As you may already know, you can apply to any university you want, and to as many universities as you want, in the U.S. Unlike many countries, the U.S. does not have a centralized admissions process, which can be both a good and bad thing.

It's a good thing because it gives you more liberty and freedom in choosing which schools to apply to, but it also means much more work on your part, because you then need to prepare different applications for different universities.

If you are looking to study somewhere with a wider variety of opportunities, then the U.S. could be the right place for you. Not only do you get to meet people from all around the world, but you also can become a well-rounded person.


2. Many colleges give the ability to apply early decision. Applying early decision is another concept that is pretty foreign to students outside of the U.S. Basically, if you really like a university and are set on that university as your top choice, early decision gives you the opportunity to apply and be accepted at an earlier date to that university.

However, there are certain restrictions. You can typically only apply early decision to one university, and are required to attend if you are admitted. 

The chances of getting accepted through early decision are higher than applying through the normal admissions processes, and getting accepted through early decision helps you avoid a stressful spring waiting for admissions decisions.


3. U.S. colleges employ a holistic admission process. Unlike that of universities in some other countries, the admissions process for U.S. universities is rather difficult. Students need more than just good grades to get accepted into top-notch universities.

Most U.S. college admissions committees believe that students need to do well academically as well as participate in extracurricular activities. And even if you are a chemistry major, you will still need to take classes in subjects like history and sociology.

This requirement to be well-rounded means that U.S. college admissions offices typically ask students for  a number of things as part of an application, including SAT or ACT scores, TOEFL results, recommendation letters and personal statements and essays.

The personal statement is a type of essay​ ​ where ​applicants​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ can highlight traits or information​ that might not be​ expressed on​​ a transcript. It's a chance to show a different side of yourself, and a chance to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Although this makes the application process somewhat more difficult, it can also make it easier. Maybe you didn't do as well in terms of academics, but showed passion and dedication through related activities outside of the classroom. There is still a possibility that the university will show interest in you and give you a chance.


4. U.S. colleges offer a variety of majors and don't require students to declare immediately. I personally found it very interesting that students at many U.S. colleges can attend university as an "undecided" major - up to the end of their second year, in some cases. In contrast, the education system in my home country asked that applicants most definitely have a concrete idea of what they want to study and what they want to do with their lives by the time they apply.


In fact, applying to universities in my home country means applying to a specific program. However​, in my experience, U.S. universities give students the first two years to experiment with different courses and see what they are most interested in - which means students are less likely to waste money doing things they don't enjoy.

There is also an incredibly wide range of courses and majors to choose from at U.S. colleges. This can be overwhelming at first, but on the other hand, it lets you explore many more fields. It also gives you the opportunity to learn things you would never have the opportunity to learn outside the U.S., and how to think through different perspectives. 


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