Admission Criteria

Applications to US universities are reviewed holistically. Grades and admissions exam scores will only get your application so far, so it’s important to construct a well-rounded application package.

The most competitive universities will expect you to have excelled in relation to your circumstances.

If you have had access to many opportunities and attend a high-performing school, but have not taken advantage of those opportunities and have performed averagely compared to your peers, it is unlikely these institutions will admit you.

But if you attend a low-performing school in a remote area with access to few opportunities, and have made the absolute best of your situation, your application will be looked upon favourably.

Most applications will follow a similar format:

  • Application form
  • Admissions exam scores (if required)
  • Two to three essays
  • Transcript
  • Arts portfolio or writing samples, if applicable
  • Two to three reference letters
  • Interview

Through these components, your application will be assessed across several criteria:

Academic performance

American universities will expect to see similar qualifications and results as British universities of a similar level of prestige and competitiveness.

You should always report your grades in the British format, as each university will weigh your grades in a slightly different way.

US universities don’t have specific entry requirements like British universities.

They do however publish the grade point average (GPA) that their first year (freshman) students achieved in high school. This can be usually be found on the admissions section of a university’s website, and is out of 4.0.

Use the table below to average all your GCSEs, A-levels and/or Scottish qualifications into a GPA.

This will help you know if a university’s academic profile is within your reach.

You should always report your UK grades when applying, not your GPA equivalent. This is not an official conversion, and is only to be used in judging your competitiveness.
GPA GCSEs pre-2017 GCSEs post-2017 National 5s A-levels Highers and Advanced Highers GPA
4 A/A* 9 A A/A* A 4
3.7   8       3.7
3.3 B 7   B   3.3
3 C 6 B   B 3
2.7   5   C   2.7
2.3 D 4       2.3
2 E 3 C D C 2
1.3 F 2       1.3
1 G 1 D E D 1
0 U U       0

Academic potential

Many universities will assess your academic potential through standardised admissions exams. This is a way to create a level playing field for applicants from across the USA and the world.

You will need to dedicate time to revising and practising for these exams to be a competitive applicant. There are some universities who do not require admissions exam results from students.

Universities publish the average range of admissions scores their admitted students typically receive on their websites.

Extracurricular involvement

US universities are looking for well-rounded applicants who will be active participants on their campuses and in their classrooms. They want to get a sense of an applicant’s character, personal interests and professional goals.

An extracurricular activity is any committed and constructive involvement not required to finish school, such as:

  • Employment
  • Volunteering
  • Caring for family members
  • Sports
  • School clubs
  • Interests in the arts
  • Hobbies

The most competitive schools will be looking for students who are leaders and innovators outside of the classroom.

Reasons for applying

Because universities in the USA are so individual, they are looking for the most suitable applicants for their ethos, ideology and culture.

Your application should made admission officers feel confident that you will thrive on their campus. Before you apply, make a list of reasons for why you are a good match for that university and why that university is a good match for you.