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Essential tips for studying in the United States


Once your mind has been opened to the idea of studying in the United States you'll find the Fulbright Commission is your best source of information if you are applying from the UK. Their website will guide you through the steps. They can also tell you about financial awards they offer British students who study in the US at postgraduate level. 

Making the right choice

The USA has 4,000 universities and colleges and there are many different types. Beyond the prestigious Ivy League group, which includes Princeton and Yale, they range from small private liberal arts colleges with their focus on undergraduate teaching to the large public research universities with a greater student population and breadth of courses.

The Fulbright website directs you to www.petersons.com and bigfuture.collegeboard.org which are good places to begin searching for a university or college that has strong expertise in the subject area you plan to study. You’ll want to think about the kind of environment you’d be spending up to four years in, be it a large city or a college town. Wherever you choose, you are likely to find that student life in the US revolves around a close-knit campus experience.

Narrowing down the choices

Once you’ve prioritised the factors important to you when choosing a university, draw up a list of 20. Narrow it down to six or so by checking prospectuses, reading student blogs, talking to UK students who have returned from the USA and, ideally, visiting the campuses themselves. If you can’t get to the US, there are online tours and virtual open house days. You could also attend Fulbright’s annual USA College Day, which will give you the chance to talk to admissions staff and alumni from 150 American universities offering undergraduate degrees. It runs from 28-29 September at Kensington Town Hall, Hornton Street London W8 7NX.  You can register online via their website.

What qualifications are available?

At undergraduate level in the US, there are four-year Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Sciences (BSc) degrees. There are also two-year Associate degrees available at community colleges, which could lead into a full university degree course. The BA aims to give students a well-rounded academic experience. You’ll start by taking a wide range of courses in the arts, humanities, languages and the social and physical sciences. At the end of the first year, or some way into the second, students can decide on the subject in which they want to major. From that point, 50 per cent of your classes will be in your specialist area. As in the UK, a BA or BSc can lead on to study at graduate level.

What exam results will I need?

According to the Fulbright Commission, American universities will expect to see a similar qualifications and results as British universities of a similar level within the rankings.

At the top end, Yale looks for three or more As and A*s at A-level or the equivalent, but many universities with a good reputation will be flexible in their approach to UK exam results. Community colleges may accept the equivalent of NVQs.

Do US universities have their own entry tests?

Most American universities will expect you to take SAT or ACT admission tests. Samples of these tests can be found at www.collegeboard.org or www.actstudent.org so you can practice in advance. The most competitive universities will ask you to take SAT subject tests or the ACT with the optional writing section as well.

Will I need a visa?

Yes. Once you have received your offers by April, you will need to start the visa application process, which will include paperwork plus an interview at the US Embassy in London.

How much will it cost to study in the US?

There are wide variations in the cost of studying at different universities and colleges in the US. The annual average cost at a private university can exceed £37,000 including food and accommodation, but will be considerably less at a public university or community college. The Fulbright Commission recommends looking closely at funding options when you are applying to avoid the disappointment of having to turn a place down if funding doesn’t materialise. The good news is that every year, students from the UK get a significant amount of assistance with paying for their studies at American colleges and universities. In fact, nearly 200 US universities offered international students full scholarships last year on the basis of academic merit, financial need or talent. To find out which universities offer funding to overseas students check bigfuture.collegeboard.org.


Once you’ve completed your initial research into the course that will work best for you, the key message is – don’t delay. You’ll need to set the ball rolling 12-18 months ahead. Check the Fulbright website for a full timeline of the process of applying to American universities

Profile: Sophia Johnston

Sophia Johnston, 19, from London, is in her second year of a four year undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College New Hampshire.

“I chose to study in the US as I was attracted by the liberal arts degree programme. I also felt that the experience of studying abroad for four years would really broaden my outlook. I visited Dartmouth during the autumn of my AS-level year. The leaves were changing colour and I fell in love with what seemed the quintessential American campus.

“The academic resources here are phenomenal and I’m really pleased I’ve had the chance to pursue different subjects. During my freshman year I took a wide range of courses from Dante’s Divine Comedy to a comparative literature course on the Holocaust. I now plan to major in history. Roughly seven per cent of students are from outside the US and there’s a great support network for us on campus. American colleges really emphasise pastoral care. I’ve met an incredible mix of passionate, driven people and see this as a tremendous opportunity to immerse myself in American culture and learn about its history.”