Why are so many students applying to US universities?

Why are so many students applying to US universities?

05 May 2023

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This informal CPD article ‘Why are so many students applying to US universities?’ was provided by UES Education, specialists in international university and school admissions, working with top schools across the UK and Europe to provide a bespoke service for those who want the best possible application support.

Over the past few years, more and more students have been applying to US universities. From 2020 to 2023, there were roughly thirty percent more applications put through the Common Application (the main portal for US college admissions), and in the UK, numbers of applicants have been increasing by more than 20% year on year. Why are so many students choosing to apply to US colleges?

About US Universities

One reason why US universities attract so many applicants is that they have a lot to offer students. For example, unlike UK universities, US universities give students lots of freedom to explore their academic interests without specialising immediately. Their educational model is that all students benefit from a broad knowledge base, so even after specialising in the second year, students will still take required courses in lots of other subject areas. So studying in America is a great option for students who are unsure of their chosen career paths. It’s hard for teenagers to have a strong sense of this, so US universities relieve some of that pressure by leaving it open for exploration.

There are 1500+ accredited US colleges and universities that offer undergraduate degrees, each with its own values and campus culture, meaning there are options to suit all types of students. There are also distinct types of universities: from technical schools, with a STEM and career-preparation focus, to liberal arts colleges, with an emphasis on intellectual exploration over job training. Additionally, the landscape of the US is extremely varied—from the beaches of California and Florida, to the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of New Mexico—so there is something for everyone, from skiers to hikers.

Increasingly, global experience is an excellent asset to job applicants’ CVs, so attending an American university is not just an adventure, but an investment in the future.

Test-optional policies

Before the pandemic, the majority of US universities required students to take entrance exams (the SAT or ACT) for admission. However, most US universities made these tests optional during COVID, as students were unable to access testing during the lockdowns, and many remain test-optional now. Although not needing to sit the tests might seem to make US admissions easier, a side effect is that colleges that already received lots of applications each cycle began to receive even more. Therefore, their admission rates became even lower. For example, admission rates at top colleges like Yale, Columbia, and Harvard were low before the pandemic at around 6%, but are now nearly halved at around 3-4%.

Increase in international admissions to US universities

US universities’ adoption of test-optional policies definitely drove more international students to apply, but we would recommend caution in not sitting the tests and not carefully considering where students apply, as that does not tend to lead to successful application outcomes.

The rise in tuition fees and Brexit

Another reason why numbers of applicants to US universities rose from overseas students might be that when UK university fees rose for domestic applicants in the early 2000s, students from then onwards became open to other options in the same price range. Furthermore, Brexit compounded this levelling of the playing field, making UK students ineligible for discounted fees at many European universities.

Although US universities remain very expensive in comparison on paper, there are many options for funding in America, from merit-based and sports scholarships, to means-tested financial aid. For high achieving UK students, there is a strong possibility of university being cheaper in the US than in the UK.

What are US universities looking for from students?

Do you have students considering applying to the US? They will want to keep in mind that studying in America, as well as being an exciting adventure, is a better fit for certain types of students than others. US universities tend to be best for students who have a broad range of academic interests, and don’t mind taking classes from lots of different subjects. Extracurricular activities are more important on US applications, and universities want to see students displaying leadership, community involvement, and emotional intelligence as well as academic prowess.

Overall, the US can be an excellent destination for UK students. By researching the rich and varied options on offer, getting prepared by taking the entrance exams, and getting involved with activities that reflect their passions and show community involvement, students can set themselves up for successful applications and a great experience.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from UES Education, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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For more information from UES Education, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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