Undergraduate Study in the U.S.

Improving your English Prior to U.S. Study

Proficiency in English is an important prerequisite for U.S. academic programs. Most U.S. degree programs require a minimum TOEFL iBT score somewhere between 79 and 90, or similar demonstration of advanced English proficiency. Even to grant admission conditional on further English language study, U.S. universities typically require reaching at least a high intermediate level of English.

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Tips on Admissions Essays

  1. Realize that the people who work in admissions offices must read many, many essays. You want yours to stand out and get their attention, not bore them!  

  2. Understand the purpose of the essay–basically, it is your chance to communicate who you are and what you are all about to the admissions committee. This is one way they can get to know you as a person. Think about what makes you unique, different from other candidates.  

  3. This is also your chance to sell why you would be a good match for their program. You will want to customize essays to fit each school to which you apply.  

  4. Make sure you answer the question you are being asked.  

  5. Most essays follow a formula: an introduction, a body, and then a conclusion. Create an introduction that grabs their attention, and a conclusion that sums it all up and ends on a positive note.  

  6. Pay attention to how long the application form says that the essay should be, and don’t go over that limit.  

  7. Use examples and details from your life–has there been a research project or some other relevant activity in your life that you’ve particularly enjoyed? What was it, what did you contribute, and what was the result? What have teachers or others said about you as a student or a human being? What are you most proud of? What is motivating you to pursue this degree? What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? Failures are also something you could write about if there was an important lesson you learned from the experience. These are all examples of things that could possibly be woven into your essay to make it come alive.  

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Links to More Information

Below are links to some additional useful sources for additional information on U.S. undergraduate study. Also check our Fields of Study section for additional links for students interested in particular fields of study.

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U.S. Undergraduate Admissions Terms and Policies

Different U.S. undergraduate institutions vary in their admissions policies and practices. Below some terms are defined that tend to be particularly confusing to international students.

  • Conditional Admission. Means the student must complete some step before being offered admission. This might include providing a missing final grade or secondary school completion document, improving English proficiency to a specific level, or doing well during the initial semester at the institution.

     
  • Open Admission. Some U.S. institutions admit all students who meet a few basic requirements, such as secondary school completion and English proficiency. Admission is noncompetitive though students will have to meet academic expectations to remain in the program.

     
  • Rolling Admission. Some U.S. institutions do not have a specific deadline for application materials, but process each whenever all required materials are received. It is still a good idea to apply early as programs will have a limited number of spaces to fill and financial aid (if offered) will be limited--early applicants have an advantage.

     
  • Early Decision. At some institutions, applicants can agree in advance to attend if accepted, and their applications are processed early. Students should only apply early decision to one institution and only then if they are sure they want to go to that institution—early decision involves a commitment to attend.

     
  • Early Action. At some schools, applications received by a certain date are processed early and the applicants are informed whether or not they will be admitted. No commitment to attend the school is involved.
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Quick and Easy Degree? Beware

There’s an old saying that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Getting a diploma saying that you’ve earned a Ph.D. for a few hundred dollars, within thirty days, and with little or no work on your part may sound great—but such a diploma is a worthless piece of paper that could cost you your career.

Any degree-granting U.S. institution of higher education that you are considering attending should be accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education. You can find a free, searchable database listing all institutions with recognized accreditation here.

(You will also want to check with the ministry of education, licensing authorities, etc. in the country where you plan to work regarding any additional requirements that they may have for degree recognition.)

Accept no substitutes for CHEA/U.S. Department of Education recognized accreditation. “Incorporated,” “legally operating,” “approved,” “state-approved,” “authorized,” “registered,” or “member of” are not the same and are not sufficient to ensure minimum educational quality. Being “accredited” by an organization that is not recognized by CHEA or the Department of Education may prove to be completely meaningless.

Don’t trust a beautiful Web site, misleading advertising, or persuasive salespeople. Legitimate degree-granting institutions that are not accredited are rare. Fake universities that will provide “degrees” for a summary of life experience, review of your resume, completion of a test or research paper, or even simply for a credit card payment….these are common, because running such a “diploma mill” is a profitable if fraudulent business.

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Questions and Answers on U.S. Undergraduate Study and Admissions


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Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation, most commonly written by professors (sometimes also by employers or others who know you well), are required for almost every U.S. graduate school application and are an extremely important part of the application process. Strong letters can improve your application significantly.

Generally three letters of recommendation are required per application (schools will specify).  When deciding who to ask to write your letters of recommendation consider how well the letter writer knows you, as well as how effective a writer he or she may be. 

A clever strategy you can use to get a good letter of recommendation is to provide your letter writer with information about yourself along with your request for the letter. This way, you can get a letter that includes specific details that you want mentioned, not just a general report on your grades.

When getting a letter of recommendation, look for a person who—

  • Is aware of your academic areas of interest and the schools you are applying to
  • Is able to evaluate your performance in your field of interest.
  • Is able to discuss your personal strengths
  • Can discuss your capacity to work with others
  • Can discuss your leadership skills
  • Can evaluate your level of professionalism (e.g., punctuality, efficiency, assertiveness)
  • Can discuss your academic skills—not simply experience, but your potential to succeed in graduate-level study
  • Will evaluate you positively in relation to others
  • Has some professional recognition and whose judgment will be valued within the field
  • Is able to write a good reference letter (i.e., can write well in English)
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Undergraduate Study in the U.S.

These articles for students from the Middle East/North Africa focus specifically on undergraduate study in the United States and the U.S. application process for undergraduate students.

Be sure to also visit our Fields of Study section and see what information we have related to your planned career and study area.

We will be updating and adding material to this web site so be sure to visit regularly.

If you have questions not currently answered on our site, please contact your nearest AMIDEAST office.

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