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Articles / Applying to College / Studying in the U.S. or Abroad: 6 Differences to Know During The Application Process

Studying in the U.S. or Abroad: 6 Differences to Know During The Application Process

Rob Franek
Written by Rob Franek | Dec. 11, 2020
Studying in the U.S. or Abroad: 6 Differences to Know During The Application Process


The majority of colleges in the U.S. expect you to submit some combination of SAT or ACT scores, essays and letters of recommendation. However, international institutions may use alternative applications that ask for different submissions. Here are some differences that might take you by surprise.

Application Systems

Your guidance counselor has probably talked to you about the very popular Common App that nearly 900 U.S. colleges accept. You might even be familiar with other options such as the Coalition Application or school-specific application portals (like the one for The University of California system). These convenient methods allow students to submit their applications and all supporting documents through one centralized online platform, but you'll need to do some research to see which, if any, systems can be used for international institutions. In the UK, for example, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), is the centralized online platform used to oversee the application process for both undergraduate and postgraduate programs in the U.K. If you have any doubt about what system you'll need to use, contact the school's admissions office.

Deadlines, Fees and Restrictions

Studying in the U.S. or Abroad: 6 Differences to Know During The Application Process - 1

Application deadlines and fees vary wildly across countries. Take a look at how much in the image above.

In addition to the differences in timeline, some institutions have restrictions on how many schools you can apply to. While you have no limit in the U.S., France limits you to three and the UK to five.

Required and Accepted Tests

You study hard to do well on your APs, the SAT and ACT, and SAT Subject Tests, and that's good! Some international schools will accept them, like those in the United Kingdom, or will at least look favorably upon their inclusion in your records. (Note that overseas, the SAT tends to be the more widely accepted exam.) However, other schools, like those in France (with the French language proficiency TCF DAP exam), may be more concerned with other tests. Make sure you take the right ones.

Declaring Your Major

Whereas you don't often have to declare your major before applying to a school in the U.S., in places like China and Europe, applicants are expected to do so. This is probably the toughest realization for students from the U.S. With a number of programs and academic offerings, give yourself plenty of time to explore different schools' and department websites to learn as much as you can about your potential degree. Reach out to admissions officers, guidance counselors, and people in your field to determine which program is right for you. You'll want to think long and hard about your goals and aspirations before making a commitment that will define your college career.

What Makes You a Competitive Candidate

The Princeton Review emphasizes what we hear from colleges around the country: Applicants have better odds of admissions if they are not only successful students, but well-rounded individuals. However, admissions teams in Europe place much more emphasis on grades and test scores. An ideal applicant would instead be someone who has a strong academic performance, proven passion for their field of study and the ability to complete their degree.

To help you learn what each school values most in applicants, try to join a virtual information session or touch base with an admissions officer well in advance of applying. Current students or recent alumni can also offer advice and information from the perspective of someone who has been in your shoes. You'll want to tailor your application to any international schools based on what you've learned so you can position yourself competitively.

Visa Requirements

Lastly, to study in a different country you will need a student visa. While this isn't something you will need until you've been accepted and plan to attend an international university, it's important to keep in mind that the paperwork for obtaining a visa can be extensive and complicated if you're not familiar with the requirements. While requirements will vary depending on the country where you plan to study, typically you'll at least need (1) a passport, (2) a letter of admission from the institution you're attending, (3) proof of language proficiency, and (4) proof of sufficient financial support for living in the country. If you have any questions, you'll want to talk to someone in international student services or head over to the appropriate consulate or embassy website or nearest location.

Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

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