Application Procedure for Studies in the USA

Once the desired university and the right subject have been found, the next step is to apply. What is the first thing to organize? When do the application documents of the host university have to be submitted? Who should I send the application to and who decides on admission? These and similar questions go through many applicants‘ minds.

In the USA, it is up to each individual university and its departments to determine the type of application procedure, set application deadlines and define admission criteria. There is therefore no uniform application procedure for studies in the USA.

Nevertheless, certain similarities can be established for the individual study types with regard to the application procedure for studies in the USA.

Application procedure in checklist format

  • Choosing a university and study program in the USA
  • find out the admission requirements
  • Register for language and admission tests at an early stage
  • Please note the application deadline (s)
  • Compiling application documents:
    • application form
    • Transcript of Records
    • proof of financing
    • If necessary, sworn translation of the Bachelor’s and/or Master’s certificate
    • Course Wish List (International Semester and Summer Sessions)
    • Letter of motivation / essay and letter of recommendation (especially for a complete study in the USA)
    • Customers of College Contact: Fill in the contact form and agree to the terms and conditions
  • Submit complete application in good time
  • In the event of a commitment, the U. S. university issues a Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 / DS-2019), partly in combination with a welcome letter.
  • Depending on the university and study programme: acceptance of the offered study place required

Components of an application and application procedure for studies in the USA

Those who wish to study at a college or university in the USA usually apply directly to the respective university. The application procedure in the USA is therefore not centralised and is outsourced to a central registry.

Common Application is a standardized application form that allows prospective students to apply simultaneously for several bachelor programmes at different universities. However, only about 600 out of more than 4500 US universities with undergraduate programs use the Common Application. It is therefore not a national standard.

In addition, such a standardized application procedure has the disadvantage that the application cannot be tailored individually to the target university. This may reduce the chances of finding a place at university.

Clarification of the admission criteria

Since applying for a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in the USA is more complex than applying for a short-term course of study, it is advisable to contact the US university about one year in advance for the first time. Placement agencies such as College Contact take on this task for students. You clarify with the higher education institution in the USA which admission criteria apply to the individual applicant, e. g. whether he or she must take part in an admission test. They also provide applicants with the necessary application forms for their studies in the USA.

In addition, College Contact’s study counsellors will find out at this point in time whether an equivalence test may be necessary. This is sometimes the case with applicants from Germany, as bachelor students in the USA usually study for one year longer, i. e. four years.

In the event of an evaluation, the equivalence of the Bachelor’s degree obtained in Germany will be assessed on the basis of the applicant’s courses and achievements. As additional documents are often requested from the home university for this purpose, the process can take up to two months.

Special case: Application as a Transfer Student

The application process for transfer students is similar. A transfer student is defined as anyone who has already earned a certain number of credits at a university and would like to continue his or her studies at a US university. Different variants can be distinguished.

University transfer within the framework of a Transfer Degree Program

Many courses of study at community colleges are designed to enable students to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program at a U. S. university after two years if they meet the academic requirements. Courses can then normally be credited towards the Bachelor’s degree without any major difficulties, since the course contents are coordinated with each other.

Changeover from German to US universities as part of the Bachelor’s programme

Students from Germany who wish to continue their bachelor’s degree at a U. S. university must prepare for an in-depth examination of their previous academic achievements. Many US universities use the services of a so-called credential evaluator such as WES (World Education Services) for this purpose.

Crediting is sometimes made more difficult by the differing structure of studies in the USA: in the first two years of the Bachelor’s programme at American universities, it is mainly composed of general education courses. Some of these courses cannot be replaced by specialist courses in Germany. In this case, it is necessary for students to take General Studies courses at the U. S. university.

The „Advanced Standing“ is an exception. Applicants with 13 years of age are credited for the upper secondary level courses of the last school year for the Studium Generale. Conversely, transfer students from the USA may have to take certain subject courses if they change to a German university during their bachelor studies.

Registration for language and admission tests

Non-native speakers who wish to take a full course of study in the USA are usually not able to avoid taking part in a standardized language test such as TOEFL or IELTS. In the case of semester and summer programmes, other language certificates are also accepted in some cases, such as the DAAD language certificate or very good to good grades of English in the Abitur.

In addition, many U. S. universities require one of the following academic aptitude tests in order to participate in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program:

  • SAT or ACT
  • GMAT
  • GRE
  • LSAT
  • MCAT

To ensure that applicants have enough time to prepare themselves thoroughly for the language and admission tests, it is advisable to register early, preferably around nine to twelve months in advance. At the beginning of the year at the latest, the test results should be available in applications for the semester case. Those who apply for the Spring Semester should take the necessary tests if possible six months before the planned start of their studies.

The application process for a semester abroad in the USA is usually less complex. Suitability tests are unusual in the semester area, for example. Therefore, a lead time of six to nine months is usually sufficient. Thus, there is still enough time left to apply for a foreign scholarship or a student visa for the USA, for example.

Organization of application documents

Prospective students need various documents for their application, which have to be organized in time. The application form is essential. Furthermore, the Transcript of Records belongs to the classic documents of an application for studies in the USA, as well as a proof of financing.

Transfer students must additionally submit additional certificates such as course descriptions (Syllabi) to the target university for the recognition of their academic achievements.

In addition, at many universities in the USA, certified translations of German language certificates from the Bachelor’s and, if necessary, also from the Master’s degree are required. At some institutions, the marks of a certificate decide on admission. In the semester area, however, most of the certificates are only used to get a better idea of the candidates‘ previous knowledge.

All these documents can be compiled comparatively quickly. Since, apart from the documents mentioned above, no further forms are usually required for a semester abroad and summer sessions, it is often possible to apply at short notice.

If you would like to use the application and placement service of College Contact, you only need to fill in a contact form and agree to the general terms and conditions in addition to the application documents.

Letter of motivation and recommendation for bachelor and master applicants

As a rule, the organisational effort for full-time studies is somewhat higher than for short-term studies. This is due to the fact that American universities almost always request letters of recommendation and motivation or essays from Bachelor’s and Master’s applicants.

The issuing of a letter of recommendation by a lecturer or professor can take four to six weeks. Prospective doctoral students often also have to enclose a so-called research proposal with their documents, in which they outline their research project.

Good to know: Those who apply for a transfer degree at a community college in the USA are usually assigned a transfer coordinator. When the time comes, he or she supports the student in applying for a bachelor’s degree at a US college or university.

When compiling the application documents, it is important not to lose sight of the US university’s application deadline. The earlier the application is submitted, the better. This leaves sufficient time for further preparation.

Application deadlines for studies in the USA

There are no uniform application deadlines at US universities. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that each college and university decides individually on the application deadline. On the other hand, application deadlines vary from type of study to type of study.

This means that applications for Summer Sessions are possible at shorter notice than for a Master’s programme. In addition, there are programmes such as language courses or further training, which usually take place several times a year, so that there are no fixed application deadlines. If all places in a language course are taken, the university will close the program and applications are possible for the next course.

Applicants for language courses should also submit their application at least three months before the start of the course so that there is sufficient time to apply for a visa. If you want to live in an on-campus accommodation, you will have to apply at some universities even earlier.

Bachelor and Master studies

In the case of Bachelor’s and Master’s applications for the fall semester, deadlines are often between January and March. However, there are also universities with application deadlines in November, May or June. As a guideline, applications should be submitted no later than the beginning of the year.

Due to the smaller number of applicants, it is sometimes possible to apply at short notice when starting a course of study in the USA for the spring semester. Nevertheless, it is advisable to apply early. Those who apply in October last year will have a good window of opportunity for further organisation.

In the graduate sector in particular, there are courses of study that start at each Academic Term and therefore have several application deadlines. However, the majority of international students start their studies in the USA in autumn.

Semester abroad

There are often no fixed application deadlines for semesters in the USA. Colleges and universities open the application procedure at a certain time, for example in late summer. From then on, it is possible to submit applications. A few universities set quotas so that the number of study places is limited. Generally speaking, international students have a very good chance of getting a semester place.

Summer Sessions

There are also often no fixed deadlines for summer sessions in the USA. Courses are awarded directly after receipt of the application. Since Summer Schools take place between May and September, applications are usually possible from February or March.

Types of application deadlines in the USA

The application process for studying in the USA seems confusing at first glance, as there are several application deadlines:

  • University Application Deadline: Application deadlines that apply to the entire university
  • Department deadline: At graduate level, it is customary for each faculty to set its own application deadline. This deadline has priority for master applicants over the general University Application Deadline.
  • Document deadline: At US universities with document deadline it is possible to submit certain documents after the official application deadline. However, this should be avoided as far as possible, since some universities take the documents submitted at a later date into account in the order in which they are received. Applicants may therefore have less chance of finding a place at university.

There are also various types of application deadlines at US universities:

  • Rolling Admissions: The „rolling admissions“ procedure is mainly used in semester and summer programs, but is also used in full-time studies, for example in MBA programs. In this case there is no fixed application deadline. Instead, applications can be submitted over a longer period of time. They are processed immediately after receipt. Some universities also have a priority deadline. Applications received by this date will be given preferential treatment.
  • Regular application deadline: In this case, the university or faculty determines a regular deadline by which all applications must be received. Some international applicants have earlier deadlines than local students.
  • Early Action: Some universities and colleges offer bachelor applicants the option of submitting their applications before the regular application period. If you would like to start studying in the USA for the semester, you can normally submit your documents in November of the previous year. The university already informs applicants in mid-December whether they will receive a place at the university. In the Early Action procedure, the applicant is not bound by the university’s commitment. He or she can also choose another university.
  • Early Decision / Early Binding: The „Early Decision“ principle is similar to the „Early Action“ procedure. The difference is that an „early decision“ application is only possible at one university. In the event of a commitment, the applicant undertakes to accept the study place at this and no other university. Prospective students should first consider whether they want to commit themselves to a university.

Date of admission to a study in the USA

Once the application has been submitted, waiting begins and thus one of the most unpleasant phases of the application process for studying in the USA. When applicants can expect to receive a message from the university depends on the institution in question.

The time of application is also decisive. Usually, most applications are submitted in the case of the fall semester, at least for bachelor programmes and semesters. Accordingly, the processing time is on average longer than at the beginning of a semester in the USA in spring.

The host university often returns comparatively quickly, especially in the case of applications for short-term programmes. This is due to the fact that the documents are usually received and processed at the International Admission Office.

Students who apply for a semester abroad wait an average of four to eight weeks for an answer. In summer sessions, feedback can be given after a few hours or even several weeks. The average processing time is between four and six weeks. How long applicants wait for an answer depends on how thoroughly the university tests the participants‘ previous knowledge.

In the case of transfer students, admission to study places and the placement in a subject semester is sometimes delayed. This is due to the fact that the university often first examines the courses taken so far and the academic achievements acquired. Only then does it decide whether to classify the applicant as „Freshman“ (first year of study),“Sophomore“ (second year of study),“Junior“ (third year of study) or „Senior“ (fourth year of study).

More complex application procedure for a Master’s degree in the USA

The application process for a master’s degree in the USA is more complex. Applications are first submitted frequently to the International Admission Office. Since applications at the Master’s level are generally more subject-specific than at the Bachelor’s level, the Admission Office then forwards the documents to the relevant department.

It is not uncommon for applications to be first collected and then viewed by a panel of professors. Usually, all documents must also be in the original before any promises are sent. This explains why master applicants often have to wait longer until they finally get hold of the desired preliminary document for the F-1 visa, the I-20.