Preparing for university in the USA involves both academic and personal preparation.
International students applying directly from high school to a university in the USA, should begin planning early, since universities in the US--or particular programs within a university--can be competitive.
Academic preparation means making sure you have the necessary courses and grades to be accepted into a university in the USA. This will largely depend on the program you hope to apply to. For instance, if you are considering a science or technology-based program versus a more general program. Communication skills are important in any field, and English and math are the most-often required courses at universities in the USA. Most universities in the USA also have a minimum cut-off average for general admission between 60-70%. Quota or other highly competitive programs may require a grade point average (GPA) of up to 85%, but this can change from year to year.
Universities in the USA require international students to demonstrate proficiency in the language of instruction (i.e., English). The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is commonly accepted, but American universities may have their own tests for students or may accept other English tests, such as Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). Confirm language requirement details with the university.
University calendars, student handbooks or admissions offices are the best sources of academic preparation information. Most US universities now offer their calendars and student handbooks online. Be sure to also read up on specific application requirements (reports and transcripts, language tests, letters of recommendation, personal essays, portfolio, etc). Preparing for university in the USA also means getting your paperwork completed and organized (read more in our How to Apply and Student Visas sections).
Personal: In addition to academic preparation, there's a lot you can do in your home country to prepare personally.
Get more familiar with English: read English-language books, magazines or newspapers (either print or online); watch English TV or films; practice your conversation with any English-speaking friends you may know. To improve the vocabulary and comprehension skills for your program, do some English reading in the area you hope to study.
University admissions committees are often interested in an international student's personal qualities, which can be developed through extracurricular activities. Consider joining or even starting school clubs, whether related to your area of interest or not. This is a good way to demonstrate leadership skills: be able to show success within and outside the classroom.
Prove your work ethic. University study in the USA is rigorous; therefore, work experience -- paid or volunteer -- is an achievement regarded highly by admissions committees. Any work experience related to your chosen field is extremely beneficial.
Contact other international students already studying at the university. Most universities in the USA have international student offices and/ or student societies that can put you in touch with an international student who can share his or her experience and advice on what to expect and how best to prepare.
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