I’m really excited to write this post. I get a lot of questions about how to apply to study in the United States of America (USA), and I’m breaking down the steps in this post. Before we dive into our topic for today, I shared tips before you apply to study abroad that will be very helpful to anyone considering this educational path.

So without further ado, let’s hit it. To apply to study in the USA, you’ll need the following:

1) Standardized Test

I  think this should be the FIRST thing or among the earliest things you do. The rest of your application and admission depends heavily on how you do on these exams. High scores at your first try is the ideal scenario; however, you can take it more than once and still be successful. Different people have reported different experiences with SAT and/or ACT for undergraduate studies. Different schools also have their preferences. If you can afford it, take both and apply with your highest score. If you can’t, SAT is more acceptable; please verify with your school of interest. For graduate school, you have to take GRE. Exceptions are medical school, law school, pharmacy school, dental school, or other professional doctorate degrees; they have their specific standardized test. TOEFL or IELTS is another exam that most schools use to test your ability to speak and write English language. Some countries that are English-speaking may be exempt (verify with school). In summary, you either take {SAT and/or ACT} and {TOEFL or IELTS} for undergraduate application; or GRE and {TOEFL or IELTS} for graduate school application. Your scores will be sent directly to the school(s) by these organizations per your request.

2) Transcripts/Certificates

 The method of grading and certification vary in different countries. To put you on the same level with U.S applicants, your transcripts/certificates have to be converted and reweighed. This process could take a while, so it should also be done very early. WES is a very popular organization that does this and their report is accepted by most schools in the U.S. Their website is also easy to navigate and details the steps you need to take to send your document. ECE is another company and their prices are lower than WES; please verify with your choice school(s) if they have any preference. Neither these organizations nor your schools want unofficial documents; photocopies are not good. As much as possible, make sure any document you get has an official seal from the issuing body. For undergraduate studies, send your BGCSE, CXC, EASC, GCE, GCSE, HSC, SSC, WAEC, WASC or equivalent results with your secondary/high school transcript. For graduate studies, send your undergraduate transcript and certificate(s). These organizations will send the report(s) directly to the universities per your request.

3) Recommendation Letter

Most schools want a letter or form from someone who can vouch for you academically and/or professionally. Some schools may specify who they want, others will leave it to your discretion. No family members or friends can do this for you; teachers, professors, and/or employers are ideal. People that have those attractive credentials (Ph.D., MSc, MD, etc) make you look really good. Keep in mind your school might decide to verify your source, so AVOID ghost/non-existing people as your source (don’t make-up a letter). Most schools ask for three letters.

4) Essay/Personal statement

This is where you sell yourself to the school. They usually specify a word or character limit in addition to giving you a topic/area to write on. Most pitfalls come from horrible grammar construction and obviously fabricated essays. The admission committee can tell when someone who barely passed the English language part of their standardized test submits a professional essay with ‘big grammar’. I advise you be as original as possible and have people read your essay severally; especially people who have a strong background in writing and speaking English. For graduate students, there’s a little more pressure: your essay has to properly highlight your skills which should MIRROR the program you’re applying to.

5) Finances

Even if you’re interested in applying for a scholarship, you might still need to send financial documents. They include recent monthly bank statement and/or letter of sponsorship. The funds should show you have at least the cost of attendance for your first year. It is my prayer you get some form of financial assistance but bears in mind, the application process is expensive. The forms you’ll send to the different organizations and all the run-around will cost money.  Give yourself enough time to gradually do this, so that you don’t choke yourself; especially if you’re supporting yourself.



6) Application Form

 Every university will need you to fill an application. Some schools allow international applicants to do this online, others might specify you do it on paper and send to them. There are portions in this form for you to fill in your scores from the standardized test and sometimes your essay. In my opinion, this should be among the last things you do, after you’ve taken your exam and prepared your essay. This is because you want your application to be reviewed as soon as possible, without the delay from blank sections. You may also be required to pay an application fee. The easiest way is to have someone who is already in the U.S send a money order on your behalf. Other methods include credit card, PayPal, and direct transfer.


This is very important and most times it happens unintentionally. To be considered for financial aid, your applications cannot come in late. As a rule of thumb, students interested in Fall semester (August) admission must have documents in latest by January and for Spring semester (January), latest by October of the previous year.

I know this post is really long. In conclusion:

a) Submit your credentials for evaluation

b) Take and pass your exams

c) Prepare your essay

d) Complete and submit online/paper application

e) Pay application fee (if required)

f) Submit recommendation letters/forms and any other documents required

g) Request official scores to be sent to school(s) by exam bodies

h) Request report by WES/ECE to be sent to school(s)

i) Use reliable postal services


If this helped and/or you have more questions and suggestions, drop a comment

Note: SAT, ACT, TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, WES, and ECE are linked to their website



Make It a Winning-Day


3 Responses

  1. Winie! I wish you had this in Spanish so I can send this over to some people I know that are looking for information. It isn’t easy to find this type of information collected like this. Kind of step by step of how to become an student here, what schools to apply at, how to apply for scholarships or be eligible for them, etc as an international student who has never been here before. This is very helpful!

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