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Bachelor Studies in the US: Application Checklist for International Students

If you want to study for your bachelor's degree in the US, you will need to navigate the college application process, which can be nerve-wracking. Let us guide you through the important documents and standardized test scores many US universities require to process your undergraduate application.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Study Abroad
  • Student Tips
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We've created an international student college application checklist as a first step to studying abroad in the USA.

Do international students have a different application process in the US?

Typically most aspects of the college application process are the same for all students, but there are a few separate considerations for international students.

US universities want high school transcripts in English, so you may need a certified translation if the original is in another language. It is wise to have other documents, such as letters of recommendation, in a certified English translation. You may also be required to complete English language proficiency tests such as:

  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

International students may also need to complete US standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT.

  • You are tested in grammar, mathematics, and analytical writing on the SAT test.
  • The ACT is scored between 1 to 36 and evaluates your skills with contextual reasoning, math, reading, and English grammar.

Depending on the university you are applying to, you may need to achieve a minimum score on these tests to successfully enroll in your chosen bachelor's degree.

Depending on the university you are applying to, you must achieve a specific minimum score on these tests to enroll in your preferred degree program.

Important to note that universities have their own application process and a specific process depending on the field of study, so it's important to clarify the application process on the university's admissions website.


Financial aid for International Bachelors Students in the US


As an international student in the US, you may not have access to some forms of US financial aid, such as Federal Student Aid or PLUS Loans. However, you may qualify for grants or scholarships based on your field of study or academic performance. Financial aid options have their own application requirements.

Personal statement or Essay for your Bachelor's Application in the US

A personal statement or essay should shine a light on your character and you as a student. It should explain why you have chosen your program, your motivations for wanting to study in the US as well as your goals and study plans. Your personal statement or essay will help you stand out from other applicants and helps the admissions team decide if you are a good fit.

Some universities allow you to answer a common application essay question or one that's used for multiple US college applications.

However, many universities will ask you to answer a unique question. Ensure you have addressed the question fully and proofread the document.


Letters of Recommendation for undergraduate international applicants in the US

US universities require letters of recommendation as part of their application process. A letter of recommendation is a written statement from an individual with authority who can comment on your professional, personal, and academic character and vouch for why you are a good fit for your preferred program.

Recommendation letters help the admissions team gain an objective understanding of your character through a trusted perspective. Your letter of recommendation should be written by someone with experience working with you or teaching you.

Your recommendation letters must be in English or translated into English before you submit them to your schools.

School Transcripts

Many universities want your high school or secondary school transcript as part of the application process. School transcripts show that you have the academic foundation to enroll in your preferred degree program. If you have applied for a specialized program, the university may ask for prior courses or credentials in a similar field, for example, specific STEM courses, student clubs, etc.

As an international applicant, you may need to convert your grades to a grade point average (GPA), - a standard academic grading system in the US.

You may want to work with a certified credential evaluator, ideally from the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services, to get these conversions.

Keep deadlines in mind

Note the application deadlines for the universities you are considering, which will vary according to your chosen bachelor's degree and university.

Many US universities offer fall and spring enrollments, and some may offer summer enrollments.


Deadlines create focus as some of the required documents, such as academic records or letters of recommendation, can be time intensive to collate. Allow yourself enough time to prepare and apply in advance.

English Test Requirements for International Students in the US

Universities in the US will most likely ask you to take one of the following English tests:

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  • International Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • Cambridge Assessment English (CAE) exam.

Most US universities accept these three exams, as well as several other options, such as the iTEP exam and PTE academic.

Each exam aims to grade your skill in English in similar ways; there are some differences:

  • The IELTS requires you to have a face-to-face interview as part of the exam, which the TOEFL does not have.
  • The TOEFL does not require a face-to-face interview. It has more emphasis on writing out your answers at length to questions.

Base your choice by knowing which exam format you prefer and choosing your English exam accordingly to ensure you excel.

SAT / ACT Test Scores

International bachelor's students in the US may need to take the

Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT).

The SAT

It involves reading, writing essays, and math sections.

The ACT

It contains reading, writing, essay, math, and science sections.

The SAT and ACT assess your academic performance, and you are only required to complete one exam as part of the US college application process.

When choosing which exam to take, it is important to consider your strengths; the SAT suits students skilled in numbers, while the ACT may be better for students who prefer verbal/written reasoning.

Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare for the test in advance of your application deadlines. Bear in mind any minimum ACT or SAT scores required by your chosen universities.

Get your financial documents in order.

As an international student wanting to study for a bachelor's degree in the US, you will need to submit bank statements to demonstrate your ability to pay for your program. You won't be expected to pay the cost immediately; the documents demonstrate you have the funds to meet expected costs over time.

Many US universities will ask you to send a certificate of financial responsibility and/or proof of funds.

These documents take time to source and may also be required if you apply for financial aid.


Financial aid for international students studying for a bachelor's degree in the US

Financial aid such as grants and scholarships help with study costs. Funding typically comes from third-party organizations or your university and may have its unique application process.

You will need to submit a copy of your Passport when applying for a Bachelor's Degree in the US.

As an international student applying for a bachelor's degree in the US, you will need a valid passport; without one, you will not be able to enter the country, and your university will not be able to issue you an I-20 form. You need an I-20 in order to get a student visa.

Processing times for passports can be long, so make sure you get your application underway as soon as possible if yours is expired.


Application Fees for International Students Applying for a Bachelor's Degree in the US

US college application fees will vary between universities.

It is essential to research how much your chosen schools charge as part of your college application process checklist so you can plan.

It can be daunting to navigate the application process when applying for a bachelor's degree as an international student in the US. We hope this checklist helps you prioritize your time and plan well to ensure efficiency and reduce the stress and organizational skills involved.

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