Study abroad year-round

How to apply to college outside the U.S. – and why you should try it


Credit: Alice Kasdan ’24

Many students dream of attending an academically challenging, affordable college that will introduce them to new people and places. College tuition at private institutions in the United States increased by 44 percent between 2009 and 2019, leaving many graduates with overwhelming student debt, according to CNBC. So, what should a high school student do if they want to get a good education and a rewarding experience without spending $90,000 a year? 

I’ve spent the past year trying to answer this question, and I’ve come to an unexpected conclusion: more Americans should go to college outside of the United States. Studying at an international university can seem like a daunting prospect, so this is a step-by-step guide to help students make it through their college application process with their sanity (and bank account) intact.


1. Choosing Schools

Researching international schools isn’t much different than researching schools in the U.S. A good place to start is the school’s website for student life, along with the U.S. News and World Report for academic rankings. Most schools will have a page specifically for international students to give you more information on the application process and academic requirements. If you’re interested in attending a school in a country that doesn’t have English as its primary language, you should also check the language requirements, as you might need to take an exam to prove your fluency in the language of instruction. Some schools instruct in English even if that is not the primary language spoken in the area, but you should still consider whether you’ll be able to adequately communicate with people in and around your school community before applying.


2. Choosing a Major

One distinct difference between most international schools and schools in the U.S. is how they approach majors. In the U.S., you generally don’t apply for a specific major unless you want to be in a special program such as law, medicine, nursing, etc. However, most international schools will have you apply to a specific “course” at the school, and if you are accepted to that course you will only take classes in that subject. It’s also very difficult to switch majors once you’ve started your course, so you should be confident that the course you apply for is something you will enjoy and will set you up for your future goals.


3. Completing Your Application

For me, figuring out how to fill out the application was the most difficult part of the process. Most international schools are not available on the Common App, so you will need to fill out a separate application. Some schools have institutional applications, while others mainly work through an international equivalent of the Common App. I applied to schools in the United Kingdom (UK), which uses a system called UCAS. The steps will vary depending on the country you’re applying in, so you should check on the school’s website to learn more. From my experience, international applications require most of the same information as U.S. ones, and they generally have fewer essays and supplementary materials. ACT and SAT scores are also not especially important for most international schools, as many instead focus on high grades and AP scores in subjects related to your chosen major. Your counselor can help you send transcripts and test scores, which schools usually request individually over email or through your applicant portal. 


4. After Submitting

Most international schools use a rolling admissions schedule, meaning you can submit your application much later than most U.S. schools and usually expect a response two weeks to a couple months after you submit. If you’re accepted, there’s a number of things to consider, which is why many schools will put you in contact with a member of the school administration who will help you figure out what you need to do to adjust to college life and life in another country. You’ll need a passport, and you may need to apply for a student visa, which these administrators can help you with. There’s also, of course, the issue of tuition. One of the major draws of international schools is that they tend to be much cheaper than many U.S. universities. Annual tuition for an international student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland is about $29,000, which is comparable to the cost of an out-of-state public school in the U.S. and significantly less expensive than most private schools. You can’t use federal financial aid to pay for an international school, but many schools have scholarships for international students that you can apply for.


The idea of applying and going to college is scary for a lot of people, and understandably so. It’s a major life change, and the choice you make could have a large impact on your future. If you haven’t thought about applying outside the U.S., I really encourage you to do some research. If you’ve always wanted to get away from home and try something new, know that it’s more accessible than you may think.