5 Tips For Applying to US Universities

Apr 2024

7 Minute Read

Tagged as: Applying to Elite Universities, How to Apply

A brief article that discusses 5 important things to know when choosing colleges to apply to (focuses on international students, but may also apply to US students too)

As you begin applying to American universities, there is no doubt you will have many questions and concerns.  While there are no set rules for navigating through the process, we hope that by discussing the five topics below you will go into this process with some important and helpful guidance.

1. Overall rankings do not apply to certain fields.

Harvard, Princeton, Yale… each of these schools, and many others, are well known for being elite. However, general ratings do not always tell the entire story.

For example, many highly ranked universities do not have business programs, and business school rankings are unrelated to the university’s overall ranking: The business school rankings for University of Michigan (ranked #3), and University of North Carolina (ranked #7) don’t resemble their overall rankings (University of Michigan is #28 overall, and the University of North Carolina is #30).

The same is true for engineering programs: Berkeley is ranked #3 in engineering programs but only #21 in overall rankings; Purdue University is ranked #8 for engineering but only #56 overall.

2. Know how you prefer to learn.

There’s a big difference in class size from one university to the next. Cornell University has 20,000 undergraduate students, while Amherst College has 1600. If you like smaller, discussion-based classes that allow you to develop relationships with your professors, then liberal arts schools like Amherst or Williams College might be best. Of course, part of this depends upon what you want to study.

3. Make a plan for your studies at each university to which you will apply.

Not every college or university offers every field of study, but that can be okay- you may be able to study what you are interested in in a nontraditional way.

For example: Many liberal arts schools do not offer engineering or business but may offer programs that still allow you to study or major the field: Dartmouth University has a dual-degree program is for students at other liberal arts colleges who want to study engineering at Dartmouth. You spend two years at your home university and then complete three years at Dartmouth, including a fifth year of engineering studies. Columbia University does not have a business school, but they offer a 2-year business management subspecialty.

4. Universities want to admit students that will attend.

Part of a university’s ranking comes from how many admitted students accept the places they are offered (this is called "yield"). Many universities use a student’s "demonstrated interest" as part of the admission process: Did the student visit? Did the student have an optional interview with us? Did the student get in touch with a professor in her/his projected field of study? Visiting is not always possible, but many other things can be done to demonstrate interest and look favorable to an admissions committee.

5. University life in the U.S. is very communal and insular.

This means that students often live, work, study and socialize together in a "bubble." Many international students apply only to universities located in large cities because they are worried they will have nothing to do in smaller towns. In fact, many large universities, with top-ranked programs such as the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC, or Indiana University in Bloomington, IN are wonderful examples of "college towns", where 60% or more of the inhabitants during the school year will be associated with the university. These towns offer rich social, academic, and cultural environments despite being in suburban settings. Many international students love their experiences in these communities though they would not often think to apply to universities outside of large U.S. cities.

For more tips on applying to college and to explore our free college search tool, download Occam's app, Wend, on the App Store!

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