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Step-by-Step Guide on Applying to US Schools

Make sure you have your passport and other essentials while studying abroad

Each US school has a different application process than the other. Not only that, but schools typically choose students based on a wide selection criterion. To help with that, we have the perfect step-by-step guide for you.

Choosing the perfect program, and the right university is already a complicated process. But abiding by the timeline for a university application is an even more complicated process. You can use this helpful step-by-step guide to apply for admission to U.S. universities:

1. Plan Well In Advance when applying to US schools

At least 1 year before school starts

Start planning your study at least one year in advance. Researching schools is not that easy. It is important to identify schools that have the field of study you are interested in, have the type of student organizations and extra-curricular groups that you want to involve yourself in, and most importantly have a good job placement rate. Not to forget, the US has a variety of weather conditions and you need to pay attention to the location of the school.

We recommend that you apply to at least 5 schools to increase your chances of getting admitted

Two ‘Dream schools’ – These should be schools with a rank higher than what you might expect to get into. You never know – if luck is on your side or if you underestimated your worth, you might actually get accepted!

Two ‘Within Reach’ schools – These are the schools where you might have a fair chance of getting in. Pay extra attention to detail on your applications to these schools. Thoroughly research and pick these ones.

One ‘Guaranteed Accept’ School – This can be a lower-tier school that you have almost a 90-95% chance of getting in. This option is for students who are desperate to start a school year when they apply. We recommend that if you don’t get through your dream school or ‘within reach’ school, you might actually benefit from waiting another year.

You could talk to an iSchoolConnect advisor and get some help when selecting your schools. The more schools you apply to, the better but be mindful of the money you will spend in application fees. iSchoolConnect will allow you to apply to 3 programs for free.

2. Complete Admission Tests and Get Your Scores Ready

At least 11 months before school starts

Test scores are an important aspect that schools consider when making an admission or scholarship decision. Once you have selected your programs you must go through the admission requirements for each of the programs and find out what tests you need to take. You will find it on the schools website itself. Most Masters programs will require you to take the GRE and business programs will specifically ask for GMAT. TOEFL is a test of your English and is required for most programs if you are applying as a student from an non-English speaking nation.

Preparing for these tests typically takes 2-3 months. If you are aiming for top tier schools that require a 700+ GMAT score you might need to put in 5-6 months of rigorous training. Make sure you take a lot of practice tests, because nothing else can prepare you for the test better than practice.

Test scores need to be sent directly to the school. Knowing beforehand, which schools you plan to attend will make it easy for you to send scores at the end of the test.

3. Start your application on the School Website

At least 9 months before school starts

Go to the school’s website and start your application process. Fill in all your basic profile information, submit your admission test scores, etc. Look for any additional information requested by the school in your application. This would be a good time to reach out to the Admissions Department of the school and let them know that you are interested in their program and have started your application. Admissions departments are always more than happy to assist students in the application filling process. There is a chance that they might inform you of a possible scholarship opportunity or even suggest any new programs that might be of interest.

Not just that, but reaching out to the schools lets them know that you are serious about your application. Who knows! You might actually be talking to a person who eventually might help your application get through by recommending you.

4. Create a Rockstar Resume and Essay for your Application

At least 7 months before school starts

You should remember that you are in a far away location and the admissions office is trying to evaluate you using your application form as your representative. This is your first and only chance to get a foot in the door.

RESUME– The resume is most likely the first document that the Admission Officer will look at. Even if you do not have many achievements that stand out, just the way you organize your information and highlight your best achievements tells a lot about you. Talk to seniors or people in the field and get their help to word it right. iSchoolConnect might be a good resource to take some help.

ESSAYS – Once you start filling the school application, navigate to the essay section and  pick a topic you want to write on. Most schools ask for 1 or 2 essays to be submitted. These are usually generic questions like “Whats the most difficult problem you faced and how did you react to it?” or “What is the achievement you are most proud of, and why?”. Essay questions are there to check not just your writing skills, but also to evaluate your thought process and to see how much you can involve the reader. Take this very seriously and prepare an essay that conveys clear and articulated thoughts within the prescribed word limit.

5. Letters of Recommendation

At least 7 months before school starts

Schools will require you to get recommendation letters from either your senior, Manager or someone known in the field. This is an anonymous recommendation that the school will directly ask the recommender to send. Do not takeyour recommender by surprise. Identify the people you will ask for recommendations and let them know in advance before you ask the school to send them a link. Since each school will ask for recommendations, let the person know if you will be sending them more in the future. Find someone with a good title and also good writing skills so that it can add some bonus points to your application.

6. Pay the Application Fee and Submit

At least 6 months before school starts

Your application will not be touched by the school Admissions office until you pay the application fee and hit the ‘Submit’ button. Before you submit, go through the entire application form once again. make sure all the essential items are filled in. You ID proof(passport preferred), essays, resume, cover letter and application fee should be properly filled in. Now take a deep breath, feel good about the hard work you put into the application and submit it to the school Check for a confirmation email from the school stating they received your application.

7. Don’t forget to apply for scholarships!

At least 8 months before school starts

You should know that US schools offer considerable scholarships to international students, especially to the ones who apply early. Scholarships can range anywhere from 5% to 70% (very rarely schools even can offer a 100% if you have a stellar profile). You will be surprised at how much impact even a small scholarship can make to your finances. There are many ways to get funded – Read this blog to know more.

8. Monitor your applications

After applying to the school

This can get tedious at times. Schools do not follow a standard practice on responding to your applications. Sometimes they might respond within a week and sometimes it could take upto 2 months. You need to be patient and check the status of your application regularly. Schools close admission decision in waves. It might help to know which wave of admissions you fall in. You can also choose to apply to schools through iSchoolConnect and our team will monitor your applications for you. This service comes at no cost to students.

9. Apply for a student loan if you need one

Upon receiving admit confirmation

Banks typically look for 2 things before approving a loan

1) An i-20 form (this is a letter from the school that states the total expenses you will incur) – Once you have a confirmation from the school on your admit, they will prepare and mail you a hard copy of the i-20. You will need to take that document to the bank.

2) Collateral against your loan – Most banks will ask for collateral against your loan. This could be in the form of property, gold, some documents, vehicles, etc. Talk to your bank first. You should also know that the bank might not give you 100% of the money. You might have to pitch in about 10-15% of your own money. Talk to your family in advance and get their consent if you need their support financially. You do not want to get an admit and then realize you cannot afford it.

10. Apply for an F-1 Student Visa

You will need a visa to live in the United States during the course of your study. Students usually require the F-1 visa which typically remains valid till the end of your school term. Go through the F1 visa checklist for your country and make sure you have all papers ready. You will need to book an appointment with the US Consulate closest to you in order to get the visa stamped on your passport. Spots are limited so do not delay this procedure. You can read more about this visa category on the USCIS website.

11. Book your flight and get ready for your life-changing experience

Airlines offer a lot of discounts on carry-on luggage and travel fares. Make sure to do your research before you book your flight. Pack carefully, the United States has strict laws on carrying items such as food grains, batteries, even computers. Don’t let your Day 1 experience turn out to be a bad one. Once you have your tickets and your visa, just relax, go for a small vacation, feel happy about the hard work you put in and prepare for lift-off. Make sure your documents are in place and you have taken the mandatory vaccinations. Get ready for an awesome experience that will change you for the better! Good luck with your applications.

The iSchoolConnect team is always available to provide you with important advice at each step of the way when applying to US schools. Sign up for free and get started today.  Note: If you’re not an iSchoolConnect member, you may need to fill up separate applications for each school while applying to US schools and submit along with separate essays, test scores, and other documentation.

About the author

A writer by day and a reader by night, Rashmi is a quirky cog, in the wheel that is iSchoolConnect. She spends her days writing intriguing and informative articles about all things Higher-Ed.


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