Oberon High School Pathways

Study in the US

Study in the US

Applying to US universities can be a challenging process; writing essays, navigating application portals, sitting standardised tests and keeping your nerve during interviews all takes preparation. Yet more Australian students are realising that the opportunities abroad are a springboard for success.

However, studying a degree overseas isn't for everyone. It's a decision that requires consideration, long-term planning and support from family and the school community.

Three key tips:

1. Start researching early - Year 10 or 11
    is ideal

2. Establish a timeline (and stick to it!)

3. Gather support to enable your goals

This guide aims to equip you with key information regarding the US university application processes.

There are more than 3,700 colleges to choose from in the US and it's becoming an increasingly popular study destination for international students.

With such a wide choice of colleges, it's important you do thorough research to help you look beyond brand-name colleges such as Harvard or Stanford and instead find colleges that would be the best fit for you depending on your interests and the kind of lifestyle you want.

At present, the most popular states for international students to study include Texas, New York and California. With the pace of entrepreneurship and growth of technology sectors in the US, the most popular degrees include engineering, business and management, mathematics and computer science. Remember, the vast majority of undergraduate courses in the US are four years.

In terms of education, the liberal arts degree in the US is one of the main reasons Australian students apply there. A liberal arts degree allows you to explore a wide variety of subjects in order to gain a more complex understanding of the world. Instead of majoring in something specific and vocational, such as astronomy, you would major in natural sciences. In this instance, many of your courses will be focused on natural sciences but you will also take a range of courses in other subjects.

This degree structure has the backing of some of the world's most prominent business people including billionaire Mark Cuban which you can read an article about here.

Here's a quote from a New Zealand student, Jeffrey, who is now studying at Duke University in North Carolina. "For the first two years of a liberal arts degree, you are able to explore different fields before deciding what you want to specialise in. For example, I've taken classes in Chinese, art history, computer science, biology, maths and writing. I'm intending to major in economics but now I've also decided to pick up a second major in computer science. It amazes me to think that if I stayed at the University of Auckland (I attended for one semester initially), I would have never been exposed to computer science and would not have the opportunity to pursue a career in tech."

Smaller liberal arts colleges don't often appear on rankings lists as they only have undergraduate courses. Some of the most well-known and competitive entry liberal arts colleges include Williams, Swarthmore and Amherst.

Application Platforms:

The vast majority of colleges from Harvard through to Alabama University use the Common App. You can apply to a maximum of 20 colleges using the Common App. A few exceptions to this are California public schools such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, which have their own application platforms as well as MIT and a few other smaller schools.

Applying Rounds and Application Strategy:

Knowing when to apply can be confusing in the US as there are three different rounds: early action, early decision and regular decision.

1. Early Action Round Applying for the early action round is looked upon favourably by colleges so it's a good idea to apply in this round if you have the time. If you get accepted, the decision is not final. You'll submit applications in December and get replies in January. Check each college for specific deadlines.
2. Early Decision Round This round is different because if the college accepts you, it is binding. This means you have committed to going to this college so be careful when considering where you apply to via early decision. Again, you'll submit applications in December and find out in January.
3. Regular Decision Round The majority of students will apply through the regular decision round which makes it more competitive. Applications are submitted between late December and early January (depending on the college) and decisions are released between March and April. You will get either accepted, waitlisted or rejected. If you get waitlisted by a college you wish to attend, it's a good idea to send a letter to admissions officers to say that you still want to be considered in case other students don't accept their offer.

The US college year starts late August/early September. We recommend students apply to local universities and start first semester here in Australia while waiting to hear from universities overseas. You can then defer your local university course to take up your offer overseas.

A typical strategy is to apply to eight colleges - two dream colleges, two to three colleges that you're likely to get into and two to three colleges you feel assured of securing an offer.

Keep an eye out for open days, student ambassador webinars, and information sessions, as it's not only a great chance to learn more about prospective colleges but it's a good way to demonstrate your interest to admissions officers who take record of attendance.

Personal Statements and Supplementary Essays:

The personal statement is your opportunity to convey your individual voice. Keep in mind that admissions officers are not only looking for academic students but those who will make a positive contribution to campus life and go on to be leaders of the future. You are required to write one personal statement of approximately 600 words which is submitted through the Common App. It is sent to all the universities you apply for.

Australian students are more accustomed to writing analytical essays than writing about themselves. For this reason, it is a good idea to download the free personal statement eBook written by Crimson Education consultants.

In addition, many universities will require two to three supplementary essays to be written, for which they provide prompts. This is where the unique character of each university starts to show. For example, University of Chicago is known for its quirky approach so they're looking for similarly alternative students. Some of their past essay prompts include 'Find X' and 'What's odd about odd numbers?'.

Extracurricular Activities and Leadership:

In the Common App, there are 10 spaces for you to show admissions officers your involvement in extracurricular activities and leadership initiatives, and extra spaces for awards and honours. This is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd and to give your application a strong narrative. For example, if you are passionate about environmental science, you would ideally be involved in extracurricular and leadership activities related to this, such as planting trees and volunteering for environmental charities or clubs. Most universities will be looking to see your involvement in activities that you have created yourself in addition to existing institutional activities such as school sport and music. For more information, download this free eBook on how to excel in your US application written by Crimson Education.


To attend a US college, you must take either the SAT or ACT exam. The majority of the content on these tests are based on material you would have already covered in high school and because you live in an English speaking country, you have a distinct advantage for the writing and reading sections.

Added advantages of the SAT and ACT is that they are valid for five years, you can take the test multiple times and many colleges (but not all) accept a 'super score' which combines your highest scoring sections across multiple tests.

Both exams have reading, writing and maths sections. The ACT also has a science section. There are six testing dates throughout the year and testing centres are located around Australia. It costs approximately $80AUD to register and take the SAT or ACT.

It is generally recommended students interested in studying in the US take the SAT or ACT once in Year 11 and again in Year 12 to maximise the chance of getting a high score.

Top universities will also require you to sit two SAT Subject Tests. The tests you take are chosen by you although some courses may ask you to take specific tests that align with that course e.g. maths subject test is required by most engineering courses.

For a guide on SAT/ACT scores required to gain admission to US universities, download this free eBook provided by Crimson Education.

Colleges will also take into account your final high school exam marks whether that's an ATAR or IB score but there are no cut-off scores. If you are applying in the early rounds, you can ask your school to provide a predicted ATAR which will usually suffice.

References and Academic Transcripts:

The majority of universities will ask you to provide two written references. These are commonly sourced from a school teacher, sports coach or community leader. It is your responsibility to make sure you ask for these references well in advance and provide your referees with all the necessary information about your achievements and interests.

Colleges also commonly ask to see your academic transcripts from Year 9 through to Year 12. You can request official transcripts from your school.


As a final step, many universities will require you to be interviewed. This is usually with an alumni of the university either face-to-face or over the phone and can be quite informal. This interview is the final step to determine whether you are not only a good fit for the university from a social and cultural standpoint.


As a general guide, US applications are weighted as follows:
50% Academics (SAT / ACT & SAT Subject Tests as well as high school marks and academic transcripts)
30% Extracurricular and Leadership Activities
20% Application Essays and Interview

Admissions Rates:

Top universities are notoriously competitive to gain admission to. As a result, you can expect the top 20 universities in the US will have an admissions rate under 10%.


In Australia, many students go through uni acquiring a HECS debt and in the US, approximately 95% of students are on some kind of Financial Aid. The difference between the two systems is that Financial Aid is not a loan and you will not be asked to pay it back. Financial Aid is awarded to students on a 'needs basis' after reviewing the financial details of families who apply.

As a case study, in 2016 at Harvard, 98% of students were on some kind of financial aid. The average family received approximately $50,000USD a year in aid and contributed $12,000USD which is inclusive of living expenses. Universities are able to afford Financial Aid due to the generosity of alumni donors. For more information on costs, Google 'net calculator' along with the name of the university you're interested in to get rough estimates of the cost per year based on your family's financial situation.

If you have dual citizenship between Australia and the US, we recommend you apply as a US citizen.  

Other Reasons to Consider Overseas Study:

Employability Students attending top-ranked universities may not have to go looking for a job after the degree as the jobs come to them. World-leading companies such as Goldman Sachs, Bain and McKinsey & Co actively recruit on-campus at top universities. See university employability rankings for more information.
Facilities What sets top universities apart from the rest of the world are the exceptional facilities they have. This could be cutting edge science labs through to professional level sport facilities. Whatever your passions are, find the university that has concentrated its investment in that particular field.
Professors Top universities are also top research institutes. This means that places like Stanford University have 19 Nobel laureates on staff. If you have a specific passion for a subject, research the best professors in the field and apply for universities they teach at. In some cases, it may be a university you had never even heard of.
Alumni Network Top-ranked universities are well-known for having an extensive and supportive alumni network which runs even deeper if you happen to be members of the same clubs and activities.
Lifestyle And finally there is the on-campus lifestyle. This includes everything from the hundreds of extracurricular clubs on campus, the fraternities and sororities and the unique university spirit in the US to the collegiate life and sense of history in the UK.

Further Research Links:

QS World University Rankings
Times Higher Education Rankings
Forbes - US Colleges Only
Crimson Education Blog
College Board - register for SAT tests
ACT - register for ACT tests

This information was provided to you by Crimson Education, a global mentoring company specialising in the US & UK admissions process, sport scholarships, local med school entry and tutoring for high school curriculums. In Australia, Crimson Education has offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Support is provided online and the initial consultation with an Academic Advisor is free.