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.
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%.