Studying Abroad

Applying for American Universities

Ben Maples  · Jul 11th 2024

Plenty of students have been travelling from the UK to the USA to study, but have been running into a few complications, with what paperwork they need, what qualifications are accepted in the US and how the financial side of things work.


Over the years, the UK has seen an upsurge in students that are coming from overseas to study at UK universities.

However, one figure that is less common to come across, is the amount of UK students that are thinking of studying abroad. Plenty of students have been travelling from the UK to the USA to study, but have been running into a few complications, with what paperwork they need, what qualifications are accepted in the US and how the financial side of things work.

Luckily, we’ve created a guide for you to see how to apply to an American university from the UK, so take a look and see how we can answer your questions. If you have any other questions that aren’t answered in this article, then check out our FAQs page.

What is the American Equivalent of UCAS?

There isn’t one! The American educational system is run a little differently to the UK educational system. The systems are run by state, rather than one overall governing body, so if you want to apply, you won’t need to use any one system.

How Do I Apply to an American University?

As there is no centralised system in place like UCAS, you will need to apply directly to the university. Each university will be governed by both the American government as you would expect, but also by the laws that govern that state, so the rules for entry may be different depending on which state your university of choice happens to be in. You can apply either online or via the post, whichever is easiest for you!

Is There a Limit on the Number of Universities I Can Apply To?

Nope. You lucky sort! You can apply for as many as you like, but we wouldn’t recommend going mad with it. To give yourself the best chance, we recommend that you apply for no more than about 6 or 7 at a time, avoid going crazy so that you don’t lose track of what’s happening.

Do I Need a Personal Statement for Applying to Universities in the US?

You most certainly will. However, it may go under different names in the US, some universities refer to it as a personal statement, whereas others will refer to it as a mission statement or something along those lines. As with your personal statement in the UK, you need to make sure that you stand out from the other students that are applying, especially from the other international students, as there are likely to be a fair few! View our directory of personal statement examples, which help you complete it to the university acceptance standard and help understand what to include in a personal statement.

Do I Need a Reference for Applying to Universities in the US?

Yes, you will. Much like your references in the UK, it needs to be sent off by your school or college and will need to have a breakdown of all of your grades and various other academic achievements; your teachers will happily oblige if you need a reference, just remember to make sure that they know where to send it!

Do I Need to Pass Any Exams to Study in the US?

Yes you do. When students come to study in the UK, they have to study some of the various exams and courses that are offered, and the same can be said for the US, too. When going over there, you will need to pass a specific exam, called an SAT exam and another one called an ACT Test. These will need to be completed before you apply, and you can do them in the UK, so you won’t need to fly all the way across the pond just to sit an exam.

What Does SAT Stand For in American Education?

SAT stands for Scholastic Assessment Test, although it was previously known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and has been around since 1926. It is marked between 200-800 points with 10 mark increments for various questions, and essay questions will obviously mark higher.

What Does ACT Stand For in American Education?

ACT stands for American College Testing and was introduced in 1959 as a way of standardised questioning for American students. The ACT is scored between 1 and 36 points, with questions often being around 1 point per-question.

Will I Have to Pay for American University?

Unfortunately yes you will. This isn’t Scotland, where the fees are free for EU nationals or Scottish nationals (learn more – student finance Scotland), you will have to pay, and it is expensive. In fact, you will need to prove that you can actually cover the costs of the university fees before you apply, otherwise, you won’t be accepted. Check out our US Financial Guide, for more details.

Do I Need a Visa to Study in the US?

You certainly do! You will need a specific visa as well, which will be a Student Visa. When accepted into a university, you will be given an I-20 form with your university acceptance letter, which will allow you to apply for an international student visa.

If I Have a Student Visa, Does that Mean I Can Stay in the US After I Have Finished My Course?

Nice idea and one that basically anyone who has ever studied in the US has wanted to do, but it isn’t quite that simple. You won’t be able to stay in the US, in fact, the Immigration Office will even ask you for proof that you’re going to be leaving the country after you have completed your course.

What is the Deadline for Applications to American Universities?

The application deadline can change every year, but generally it will be between the 1st to the 15th January. So, you don’t have a huge amount of time to get your application in. Some universities will operate at different times and have different state rules, so double check the specific deadline with your chosen university.

Is There a Cost to Apply for a University in America?

Yep. It’s a relatively small amount, but that is another reason why we said not to apply for more than around seven universities at any one time. The fees are generally between $30 – $100, per application, so be conservative with your spending on this occasion.

So there you have it! Everything you’ll ever need to know about applying to American universities. If you do decide to jet off to study in America, be sure to keep in touch with family and friends in the UK. We’ve also got a number of articles on American universities, applications and finances on the website, so be sure to give them a read and check out our FAQs section, too. Good luck!

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