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Applying to College in North America: The Process

The application process, from getting information to applying for a student visa and preparation for departure, ideally should begin 12-18 months in advance.
By GPA Admin

Applying to College in North America: The Process

The application process, from getting information to applying for a student visa, ideally should begin 12-18 months in advance of the application deadlines. 

It is possible to get everything done in 6 months but starting later means that there is less of a chance of getting into preferred colleges and less chances of securing any scholarships and financial aidPlease note that the application process best comes after a student has made a short list of colleges that he or she finds suitable and whose requirements and cost he or she can fulfill. The following are some important things to keep in mind:

Know the Requirements for Admission

Look in the Admissions pages in college websites to find admission requirements and additional requirements for international students. Remember also that the school’s undergraduate international admissions office or the international students’ office can also answer any questions not addressed by the webpage.

Stay on Top of Required Tests 

If you plan to start college in the Fall semester (September), take any required tests by January of the same year at the latest.  Remember that registering for such tests may have deadlines of 5-6 weeks prior to the test date, that your test scores must reach the colleges by the application deadline date and that you need to allow about 4-6 weeks between test dates and application deadlines.  Except for the TOEFL and IELTS, confirm with the colleges if you also need the ACT, SAT or SAT Subject tests.  Remember that the SAT and SAT Subject tests cannot be taken on the same day.

Completing and Submitting Application Materials

Many schools ask for the same information but may want them presented in different ways, so read the instructions carefully.  They usually ask for the following items:

1) Application Forms

  • Create a good impression by being neat and clear; use a typewriter or word processor unless asked to fill out the form by hand
  • Keep personal information consistent and spell your name the same way in all places so that admissions can keep track of your materials more easily
  • Fit your information in the spaces provided and only use extra pages when necessary
  • Avoid using abbreviations and use full names for your schools, awards received, addresses, exams, etc.
  • Provide educational and employment information in a logical order as instructed (usually in chronological or reverse chronological order)
  • Indicate when you want to study, what level (freshman, transfer, etc.) and what degree you are pursuing.  It is usually alright to indicate “undecided” where asked for a proposed major.
  • If asked for a Social Security Number, indicate “none” or however instructed if you do not have one

2) Application Fee

Most schools have an application processing fee (non-refundable) that must be paid in U.S. dollars either by check drawn from a U.S. Bank, by international money order or by credit card.  Check the schools’ websites or application forms for their current fees and accepted forms of payment. Many colleges in America, some of whom are our partners, waive application fees for international students.

Please consult with Golden Path Academics about  application fee waivers.

3) Academic Credentials

  • Colleges require transcripts (official documents that list courses taken, when they were taken and what grades the student earned in past education)
  • For international students, colleges may also require forms to be filled out by the student’s teachers indicating the same information but with an evaluation of the student’s performance relative to other students in the current school.  If this form is not provided, the student’s current school will be required to submit the same information on official school letterhead and with an official stamp
  • The college may require an explanation of the current school’s grading and ranking system
  • If the college hires an outside credential evaluator as opposed to evaluating an applicant’s grades themselves, they may require the student to pay for this cost
  • In addition to transcripts, colleges usually require submission of copies of diplomas, certificates, final examination results, performance records in national examinations in the home country, etc.  Please note to send only certified copies (certified by the school or a public official) and not originals because these may not be returned.

4) Test Score Reporting

  • Know which colleges you want to apply to when you register for the ACT, SATSAT Subject, TOEFL and IELTS and other admissions tests so that score reports can be sent to the colleges directly (saves time and money in comparison to requesting for scores to be sent at a later date).
  • If you have a report of your test scores, you may send it directly to the schools along with your application materials so that colleges can more easily match your application to the official test scores when they receive them.

5) Personal Statement

College admissions officers use the personal statement or essay portion for several things: a) to gain personal insight into a student; b) to learn if a student can contribute to the school; c) to learn whether or not the school can meet the student’s needs; and d) to assess a student’s writing skills, organizational and academic abilities, a student’s intellectual curiosity and maturity, the student’s reasons for applying to the college and the student’s chosen area of study. 

Knowing this, write essays well in advance of the deadline to give yourself time to put it aside and then to read it again, making sure that it is written well and carefully.  Giving yourself time is important because the statement is also your way of telling admissions officers why they should choose you over other students applying.  The following are general tips for essay-writing:

  • Answer the question for the essay
  • Focus on events and incidents you remember well because details are important
  • Explain anything unusual that has influenced your personal and educational life
  • Have other people proofread your essay for grammatical errors and misspellings
  • Tell the truth and be honest; do not pick a topic just to look good or to simply write what you think the college wants to hear
  • Write the essay yourself; do not have someone else do it for you; admissions officers can tell fake essays from truthful ones 
  • Represent yourself well by taking opportunities to write more about yourself honestly
  • Give yourself plenty of time to write; do not procrastinate and leave it to the night before the due date

6) Recommendation Letters and Forms

Recommendations are presented in letters and/or recommendation forms.  Typically, schools ask for at least two recommendation letters.  Choose recommenders who can write about your work and who can make assessments of your potential as a college student.  They can include a teacher who knows you well, a school counselor, a tutor, or if you know what subject you would like to major in, your teacher in that particular subject.  Remember to choose recommenders who write well and who will submit your recommendation on time as this will reflect positively on your judgment in choosing people to present you as best as possible. 

Some schools may also ask for recommendation forms to be filled out.  These are questionnaires that may contain several questions or just one general question.  Some recommendation forms may offer a waiver for you to give up your right to read what is written about you. 

Remember that admissions officers prefer recommendations wherein students have waived their rights because they feel that in this way, recommenders are more open to writing honestly in their evaluations of the students.  Here are a few more points to consider regarding recommendations and references:

  • Recommendations carry a lot of weight so tell your recommenders what you plan to study and which college you would like to attend.
  • Very importantly, remember to tell your recommenders to sign their names across the envelope seal that they put the recommendations in.
  • If the recommendation forms must be mailed by the recommenders as instructed by the school, provide your recommenders with stamped  addressed envelopes and give them plenty of time before the deadline.

7) Financial Statement

Most application packets to universities include an “Affidavit of Financial Support” or a “Declaration and Certification of Finances” which must be signed by your parents or by whomever will be funding your educational expenses and then certified by a bank or a lawyer.  This same form is also required in applying for a student visa so remember to keep a copy.  Most universities want to see proof that at least the first year of expenses is fully covered although some will want proof of financial support (income, etc.) for the duration of the degree program.  If you will need some sort of financial assistance from the university, indicate how much assistance you will need at the time of application.  Most schools use a “need-blind” policy during the admissions process meaning that your financial position will not be considered in your admission decision process.  However, the school will only issue the certificate of eligibility for a student visa to students who can present proof and full documentation of sources of income and support. Read more aboud funding in Paying for College.

8) Interviews when Outside of the U.S.

Some institutions have provisions for student interviews outside of the U.S.  Usually they have their graduates who are residing in certain countries interview applicants within that country for them.  Although international students are not at a disadvantage if they do not interview, if this is offered in your country, take the opportunity to be interviewed and to learn about the school through a former student who has experienced life and studies in that school. Contact Golden Path Academics to schedule a mock interview with us.


If you have applied for admission for studies beginning in September, you will be hearing from the colleges around April.  Colleges who have admitted you will probably ask for deposits to secure your position in class and will give you a deadline for holding your place.  Send in your acceptance and deposit if required before that date.  If you have been admitted to more than one institution, do inform the colleges you are turning down as soon as possible so that they can offer the place to waitlisted students.  Remember to return the certificate of eligibility for student visas that you receive to colleges that you turn down.  It will also be around this time that you will receive information on housing, insurance and student orientation.

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