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If you can imagine yourself as a first year on that campus, go there and don't worry too much about where it sits on college rankings: if you enjoy yourself, you'll succeed....

Meet Colette Martin
at University of Virginia

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Factors to Consider

Impression of the sports atmosphere at a US campus
"Don't try to match yourself to a university, rather try to pick a university that matches you."
Joel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As there are so many universities in the US, we suggest students and parents discuss their expectations and goals for university study, as well as priorities for selecting a university, before using university search engines. As you will likely be completing a UCAS application and preparing for your A2s, your goal should be to narrow down your list to 6-8 universities that will help you meet these goals and expectations.

After selecting the type of university and degree (four year bachelor's v two year associate), there are many other factors to consider including:

How you prioritise these is an important decision as well. We suggest students and parents carefully consider which factors are the top priorities and then begin their search using our three step process.

Sports Scholarships Recruiting Process: Please note there is a separate timeline and steps for pursuing sports scholarships through the athletic recruiting process. For more information, please see our page on Sports Scholarships. You may also wish to contact one of the sports scholarship consultants listed on the Test Tutors and Educational Consultants page.

Minimum Academic Qualifications

When selecting universities, first consider whether you meet the minimum academic qualifications. As you prepare your applications, you should also keep in mind your application will be reviewed holistically and that both academic performance and non-academic, subjective criteria will be evaluated too, such as extracurricular involvement and compelling reasons for choosing a university.

Establishing that you meet the minimum academic criteria for admission to the universities of your choice does not guarantee entrance to those universities, but is instead the first step in assuring that your application is seriously considered. To have the best chance at admission to a highly-competitive university, it is important to pair high marks with a thorough, carefully considered application package.

As a general rule, US universities will expect to see a similar type of qualification and results as British universities of a similar level of prestige and competitiveness. 

As a minimum requirement for four-year bachelor's degrees, you should have completed at least five GCSEs at grade C or above (or five Scottish Standard Grades), including English and Math, plus be completing or have completed a post age 16 qualification. The most competitive universities will expect to see three or more A-Levels or their equivalent. This could include a minimum of three Scottish Highers, A-Levels alongside the Welsh Baccalaureate, the IB or Pre-U.

The slightly less competitive bachelor's programmes are likely to accept the BTEC. The Edexcel website provides a list of some universities who accept the BTEC. Many more do, and we encourage you to simply email or call the admissions office for more information.  Additionally, some institutions, particularly two-year or community colleges, will accept students with other UK qualifications, such as GNVQs, GSVQs, HNCs or HNDs.

We also suggest that you not assume that US universities will know about or accept qualifications beyond GCSEs, A-Levels and the IB (which is available in the US). You should therefore email or ring the admissions office to double check they accept your qualifications and ask if you should submit additional information about them. Although US universities do not use the UCAS Tariff, it doesn't hurt to include information about the UCAS Tariff points for your qualification or the description of the qualification provided by UCAS, along with your transcript.

If you have only completed your GCSEs, you may wish to apply for a two-year associate's programme at a community college, which will give you the option to transfer to a four-year bachelor's programme in a 2+2 arrangement.  If you plan to apply for a four-year bachelor's programme immediately, the university may require you to sit the GED high school equivalency exam.

Academics and Majors

"If you have not had the chance to go and visit yourself, email the admissions tutors as much as you need to, and go onto the universities' Facebook pages to ask people what they think or why they have chosen particular universities."
Lauren, University of Tampa

You do not have to decide your major at the point of application. However, if you have an idea of what you want to study, you will want to make sure the university offers degrees in your academic majors of interest. You may wish to consult the advice offered by EducationUSA on their Fields of Study handout

Additionally, you will want to investigate academic opportunities such as:

Location and Campus Setting/Size

The US is much larger than the UK, spanning six time zones and offering a wide range of geographic and cultural diversity, climates, ways of life, etc. Don't forget to take into account the location of a university, as it could be the place you live for the next four years.

Generally speaking, the East Coast may seem the most familiar (socially and culturally) to the UK. In terms of the weather, expect hot and humid summers with mild winters in the South, but mild summers and cold winters in the Northeast. If you do not like snow, the Northeast is not for you! The South and Midwest are known for their more slow-paced lifestyle, friendly atmosphere, conservative values and lower cost of living than the Northeast and West Coast. But be prepared for people to say hi when they pass you in the street and strike up conversations in the grocery store queue! The West Coast is famous for its carefree and more liberal lifestyle. The region also generally boasts nice weather and beautiful outdoor scenery.

You will also want to consider the campus setting (urban- more expensive, but more public transport and likely to be close to international airports, suburban or rural) and size, as some universities are as small as 1,000 students and some are larger than 30,000. Also consider universities and areas that are centres of excellence in your field, where you may find related internships, work experience and networking opportunities.

For more information about living in the US you may want to visit Discover, which provides information about each state.

Please note it is also possible to obtain an undergraduate degree following a US curriculum at an institution located outside the US. Visit our page on US universities abroad for more information.

Campus Life

Each university has its own distinct atmosphere. It is important to choose the place that is the best fit for you. You may want to consider what type of experience you are looking for – an academically rigorous experience in which you are constantly challenged and kept on your toes or more of a balance between your academic demands and extracurricular interests. You will also want to make sure the universities you select have your desired organisations, clubs, sports, community service opportunities, facilities (libraries and research labs), etc. on offer.

Competitiveness of Admission

We would be remiss if we did not point out that some of the top-tier US universities have an admission rate of around 10%. Therefore, to help ensure you receive several admissions offers from which to choose, you will want to select a well-rounded list of universities. We recommend applying to:

If you require university funding in order to be able to attend university in the US, you will want to read the section below. As merit-based funding will be reserved for top applicants, consider applying to:

Please keep the minimum admissions criteria in mind as well and read about which types of universities will require which type of qualifications. 

View the article Before They Were Titans, Moguls and Newsmakers, These People Were...Rejected (featured in the Wall Street Journal) as it discusses finding the university that is the "best fit". 

Costs and Availability of Funding

Tuition and fee rates can vary significantly from university to university, as there are no standard government set fees as in the UK. The cost of living can vary by location as well. For more information on funding options and expenses, please see the finances section.

If college affordability is a key consideration for your university selections, you may wish to try some of these strategies for choosing universities:

Accreditation and Reputation

"Keep an open mind about all US schools.  While statistics and reputations of different institutions are important, nothing is more valuable than the instinctive feeling about a university."
Colette, University of Virginia

If you have any questions about the reputation of a US university, you want to, at a minimum, ensure the university is accredited by a regional accreditation body recognised by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or in the US Department of Education's Database of Accredited Programs and Institutions.

As you conduct your search, keep in mind that there is no centralised, authoritative ranking system of US universities. Many students only consider universities that they've heard of, such as Ivy League and 'brand-name' universities. While this is fine, we do encourage students to consider a wide range of universities to find the best fit possible. Unofficial rankings, such as US News and World ReportPrinceton Review's rankings and Forbes Top Colleges list will give you a general idea of the academic reputation and relative prestige of a university. However, it is important to realise that a top 20, or even top 100, list of universities covers only a small percentage of the universities available. Further, you should read the fine print on how rankings are determined. Rankings are not always based upon factors that could impact you or your child’s quality of education most, such as class size, teaching quality, student advising, faculty access and opportunities for research, internships, campus activities, etc.

US News and World Report also provides rankings of top undergraduate and liberal arts US institutions to help direct students in their university search. Check out similar rankings from Peterson’s and Princeton Review.

Please note, the Fulbright Commission does not endorse any product or service. Bear in mind data used in ranking universities for these organisations may not be the factors that are most important to you. While a university may not be in the top rankings, it may be an institution of academic interest to your pursuits and could be the perfect fit for you! To find out more about the ranking system, visit US News and World Report's website here.

Article on College Rankings Aren't Meaningless; They're Just Misleading


Advanced Standing

Many US universities will award advanced standing for students who have done well at their A-levels, IB, the Pre-U or have postsecondary qualifications.  See our page on Advanced Standing for more information and links to university policies.