Frequently Asked Questions

(Can’t find the answer you are looking for? Try the EducationUSA search page.)

Go to EducationUSA and follow the links to learn about the high quality, flexibility, great choice of programs, and value for money offered by US universities. Under the International Students tab you will find information on: the 5 Steps to U.S. Study; including 1. Research your options, 2. Complete your application, 3. Finance your studies, 4. Apply for your student visa, and 5. Prepare for your departure.

Most students start at about 18 years old, but some much later, and some younger.

That depends on which universities you are applying to. Some universities have earlier deadlines than others, and some have rolling admissions which means they accept applications until they are full. Universities with a regular decision deadline usually respond to students in the end of March and students must confirm their admission by May 1. It is wise to begin the application process toward the end of grade 11 and plan to have submitted everything except your final Matric results by December 31 of your Matric year. In the United States the university academic year is from August-May.

It is expensive to study in the US – at least $20,000 per year including cost of living. This is why it is important to assess your suitability for the programs and also, if needed, for scholarship applications. Student visas do not allow employment except part time on campus, and that income cannot be factored into the visa application.

Many U.S. universities offer scholarships as well as financial aid (bursaries is not a term used in the U.S) that are open to international students. Scholarships are usually grants for which repayment is not required, and they are based on academic or sporting merit. All types of academic scholarships are extremely competitive and require outstanding academic records (80% aggregate). Sports Scholarships require good grades and demonstrated excellence in sport, usually at the provincial or national level. Financial aid is based on financial need, but may also be based on academic merit. These funds may be grants but more commonly are either work/study funds (payment in return for work on campus), or loans that must be repaid. Loans usually require an American citizen co-signer, and can become a larger burden than expected due to the fluctuation in the dollar/rand exchange rate.

The United States uses a web-based data base to monitor the entry, presence and exit of international students, exchange visitors and their dependents.  Currently, the school which accepts you will enter the necessary data into SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, and will issue you a Form I-20 which allows you to apply for student (F-1 or M-1 visa) or exchange visitor (J-1) visa.   SEVIS data is used by many government agencies which you will encounter in your journey to the United States:  the US embassy or consulate where you will apply for your visa, the US Customs and Border Protection which will review your documents when you apply to enter the US at a port of entry, and the colleges, universities and programs where you will study. SEVIS fees are currently $ 200.00 for F and M visa categories.  See the Student and Exchange Visitor Program for more information.

The security in the US has become quite strict in recent years. There are very careful systems to control access to the residences and buildings. In general, crime rates are very low in the US, especially outside of the big cities. Of course, one must always be careful and not leave oneself vulnerable to petty theft or other crime, as in anywhere in the world. But to answer your questions, the security on campuses is much tighter than on campuses in South Africa.

The Ivy League universities are very academically rigorous, with a rich history of research and scholarship. Top students apply in great numbers, so your classmates would all be very accomplished academically and also in extracurricular activities. But there are many, many excellent universities in the U.S. and the best approach to applications is to find the universities that are the best match for you. This requires some long thinking and research, and help from EducationUSA!

Generally, selective US universities want students who have taken the most challenging academic load available at their high school. If you are going for a short-term exchange program you would have to check with the exchange organization.

GPA stands for grade point average. It is a cumulative figure, based on points assigned to the marks (A, B, C etc.) on the academic transcript (record) from grade 9 through 12.  It is not really necessary to calculate an exact GPA from South African school records, because grades here are not weighted for classroom hours or academic rigor of the coursework. However, a rough calculation is possible. Take the aggregate of all your coursework over the four years (or up to the present) and translate that figure into a letter grade. For example, a 75% aggregate is a middle- to high-range B for high school in South Africa. An 82% aggregate is an A. (Don’t worry that the US uses a different scale for their grades—90% for an A, 80% for a B, and so on. South Africans work just as hard for their A’s!) Just use the letter symbol for the percentage or number (1-7) mark earned here. US GPA values are as follows: A=4.0; B=3.0; C=2.0; D=1.0; F=0.

International students are allowed to work part-time during the semester and full-time during holidays, on campus. You are not allowed to work off campus until after your 1st year and then only with special permission.  You are allowed to apply for limited amount of practical training related to your field of study but would need to speak with the International Student Advisor at your university for details.

Many graduate students work on campus to pay for the cost of their education.  Teaching assistantships and research assistantships are the most common means of financing graduate study and are offered by most universities to their strongest applicants.  Other awards made by graduate schools include fellowships for the most outstanding students. Outside agencies also offer funds such as the Fulbright Program through the U.S. State Department.

You can order GRE and GMAT prep books from an on-line bookstore such as or you can purchase one from our advising centers.

Community service is a good way to demonstrate a true commitment to giving back to society, which is a strong recommendation for schools like Cornell, but it is even better to initiate some community project that you are passionate about and see it through.

In some cases schools will take your financial need into account in the admissions process, but it is not advisable to leave information out if you truly need financial aid. The highly selective universities do offer merit based scholarships. So, rather give the full story at the outset.

To match your study goals with U.S. universities, you can start on the EducationUSA website and also these free search facilities can assist: and  It is advisable to also attend a group session at the nearest EducationUSA center to better assess yourself for US study at the outset.

Yes, a teaching assistantship, as they are called in the U.S., is usually designed to support a student lifestyle adequately. It will not leave you cold and hungry, but will you will be expected to budget wisely with the funds made available.

There are excellent universities here in South Africa.  One of the highlights of U.S. universities however, is greater choice.  There are approximately 5,000 to choose from.  In addition most universities do not require students to declare their major area of study until after their first year of university.  Also, many U.S. universities allow students to have a double major (e.g., Physics and Creative writing), or to complete a double Bachelor’s degree in 5 years. What this means is that there is a lot of flexibility. Students are also required to take electives in subject areas outside their major.  A U.S. Bachelor’s degree is 4 years, not three, and there is no honors year.

Medicine is a post graduate degree in the U.S., and is very competitive and costly. International students wanting to study medicine in the U.S. must complete a Bachelor’s degree first (preferably in the US) and then apply to Medical Schools.  Go to EducationUSA for more information.

To apply for scholarships you will be filling in financial aid forms for each university you apply to.  Scholarships are usually sourced from the institution at which you enroll, and not from outside bodies or philanthropies.  There is very little aid available through such sources for individual applicants, and it is usually earmarked for advanced graduate (Master’s and PhD program) students.  Looking for aid for undergraduate study from these sources is probably a waste of time.

There is no set pass mark. US universities admission process is more holistic—looking at what courses you’ve done, your grades, extra-curriculars, etc. Having said that, if you are hoping for a full scholarship you pretty much need to have an A aggregate, and you will be competing with students from around the world. There is never a guarantee that even a straight A student will get a full scholarship.

We offer a pre-departure orientation to all students going to the US for the first time. In addition, there are many books and other resources online and at our American Spaces about cultural adjustment.

US universities want to see academic records that demonstrate academic preparation for university, but they also ask for letters of recommendation and a personal essay, so it is a bit more involved.

No, the only limit is on fields of study that require patient contact. Keep in mind that the spirit of Fulbright is to promote educational exchanges and on-going collaboration.

That is a big question, as there are over 5000 campuses!  Life on campus varies according to whether the school is in a city or a rural area, and what the weather is like.  At a residential campus, there will be plenty to make students feel at home and everyone in their first year receives a great deal of support.  But it is important to read websites and come to the Advising Center where you can look at books with students’ views on campus life, too.

Most colleges and universities in the United States require standardized testing for undergraduate admissions. Admissions requirements vary, so be sure to confirm which test(s) you need with the institutions that interest you.

ACT: a curriculum-based multiple-choice assessment that tests reading, English, mathematics, and science, with an optional essay section. The ACT is widely accepted at accredited two and four-year colleges and universities in the United States, and hundreds of institutions around the world.

SAT: a test that measures critical reading, writing, and mathematical abilities. The SAT Subject Tests measure knowledge in specific subject areas. The SAT is widely accepted at accredited two and four-year colleges and universities in the United States, and hundreds of institutions around the world.

Not all universities require the SAT or ACT. For a list of these universities go to FairTest.

No, if you are applying as a transfer student you usually don’t have to take the SAT or ACT tests, if you have a certain number of credits. Generally, it is more difficult to gain admission as a transfer student, especially if you need funding. You may want to consider completing your Bachelor’s degree and going to the US to complete a Master’s.

It depends on the university.

The average ACT score on the three sections (Math, Reading, and Science) is 20.8

An average SAT score is about 525 on each of the three sections, but some universities expect much higher scores, some will accept lower, and some don’t require the SAT at all.

The TOEFL score indicates non-native speakers’ English ability at university level.

The TOEFL is required for many admissions processes. Register here, following the prompts for your country.  Preparation help is available online, and also from your nearest EducationUSA center.  This help prepares you for the test; don’t rely on it to learn English!

The TOEFL tests reading, speaking and listening skills in the English language, and expects a certain level of proficiency as a starting point.

There are a number of reasons: not all universities consider the ACT or SAT a good predictor of student performance. Others are not as selective, and some will accept good ACT or SAT English scores in place of the TOEFL.

International students whose home language is not English generally are required to take the TOEFL or the IELTS. For undergraduates this is sometimes waived if ACT or SAT English scores are high.

The SAT scores range from 200 to 800 for each section, and universities that are highly selective never name a score requirement as they take the SAT into account only in conjunction with school marks and other factors. The mid 50% range for highly selective schools tend to be in the 700 range, but there are many other schools with lower averages.

ACT scores range from a low of 1 to a max score of 36. Overall, ACT test scores are the average of test-takers’ sectional scores (also 1-36) in English, Math, Reading, and Science. So what is a good ACT score? The ACT score range for students admitted to different colleges varies, and the average ACT score is 20.8. However, various factors will affect what a “good” ACT score is for you.

An associate degree or certificate is usually either the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, or more technical in nature.  Depending on whether it leads to study at a four year institution, it may or may not be a good choice for study in the U.S.

UNISA (University of South Africa) is an accredited institution but the universities would have to see what your B.Sc. consisted of, course descriptions, etc.; admission is on a case-by-case basis.

There are hundreds of universities that offer this degree in the US! It is best to work with the EducationUSA advisor to assess your academic level and which schools would suit you from that list. You must keep in mind that scholarships are not available from most public universities, as well, so all these factors must be considered in where you would apply.

It is best to study something that interests you. If you truly don’t have a choice, then do your best where you are and it will open other doors for you in the future.

It is not necessary to declare your major until after your first year of study in the U.S. This allows you to explore across the disciplines in the first year.  If you change your mind four or five times, you are in good company!

Check with the university you applied to. You would need to request that your application be carried over and it would be best to add supplemental material explaining what you are doing in the meantime.

No, you will need a student visa (unless you are applying for permanent residency)

EducationUSA is a good place to find listings of accredited universities.

If you are hoping for funding such as a Graduate Assistantship, the GRE score is important. If it is low, you may want to do more preparation and retake it.

MIT is an excellent institution. It is also extremely competitive, accepting less than 10% of its applicants! There are many other U.S. universities that offer excellent IT programs; a good place to search is the CollegeBoard.

This is not recommended, and in fact you will not be able to obtain a student visa without being able to show that you have sufficient funds for your studies.

Sports scholarships are a wonderful way to attend university in the U.S., and some schools award these directly.  Other schools factor sporting merit into the application. Check out the National Collegiate Athletic Association for more information on how to qualify for sports scholarships and to locate schools that have women’s softball teams.

To apply for a master’s degree, it is best to start by looking at your own undergraduate qualifications.  Do you have a four year bachelor’s degree? If so, did you obtain high enough marks to pursue further study?  This would generally mean a B average minimum.  If yes to both these questions, you should take the GRE and see what score you obtain, and then begin to look at programs in your field of study. Ask the linguistics professors at your university what they would recommend, and also look through journal articles for current research and where it is being produced.  Then, begin to contact the universities.  As you read up and get replies, you will find some suit you better than others.  The applications are on their websites.