Study in the USA – Why study in the USA?

The USA is the most popular global study destination, with over a million international students currently studying in the USA. The country is so large and incredibly diverse that it offers students a huge variety of experiences and ecosystems. Students studying in the USA are spread across six time zones – ranging from the beauty of Hawaii to the Canadian border, and ultimately across to the shores of the Atlantic in the east. 

The United States has dominated the education sector for decades. Ambitious students compete to study in the USA at the prestigious Ivy League and many other top ranked US universities. Thirteen American universities rank among the Top 30 global universities, based on QS rankings for 2024.


Study in the USA – choosing a university

To study a Bachelor degrees in the USA takes four years. Master’s degrees  last from two-three years and can be broadly divided into professional programs and academic programs. In addition, there are several one-year fast-track programs available to study in the USA. PhD’s take four to six years.

When choosing where to study in the USA for typically four years it is vital to ensure that you choose an environment which meets your academic interests and your personal needs. Are you a high-flyer who wants to study at an Ivy League institution, or do liberal arts colleges appeal more to you? Do you want to live on or off campus while you study in the USA? How much does American life and a busy social scene matter to you? Are winter sports your passion, or do you crave to study in California, with its sunshine and beaches?

The choice is daunting, since there are over 4000 institutions of higher education in which to study in the USA and they may be private or public, urban, or rural, huge or small. 

Elab’s US consultants are the people to turn to when you want help with choosing a university in the USA and completing a top-quality application. Our specialist knowledge and experience will guide you to make the right decision and find the best university for you.

Elab has placed students in the following top US universities, and many others:

Study in the USA – popular university rankings

Students wanting to study in the USA know that the universities are globally acknowledged leaders in education, research output and groundbreaking studies. Below are the 2024 QS rankings top 100 universities in the USA, however there are many more great institutions to choose from:

University  QS Global Ranking 2024
Harvard 4
Stanford 5
UCB 10
University of Chicago 11
UPenn 12
Cornell University 13
CalTech 15
Yale 16
Princeton 17
Columbia 23
Johns Hopkins 28
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 33
New York University 38
University of California San Diego (UCSD) 62
Brown University 73
Penn State 83
Boston University 93
Georgia Tech 97
Purdue University 99
Contact Elab to help you find your alma mater and launch a brilliant career.

Study in the USA – choosing a course

Studying in the USA is flexible and allows you to broaden your general knowledge and understanding of the world before you choose your degree courses and specializations. When you apply to study in the USA, you apply to a university, rather than for a place on a specific course, or undergraduate degree. Your first year will be an exploratory one. For example, in your first year you might decide to take courses in Greek mythology and physics, along with Italian, archaeology and political science.

It is only during your second year of studying in the USA that you finally commit to an academic path and choose your major subject and your minor. US study programmes offer flexible combinations, which might appear strange to European eyes, since they often span totally unrelated fields. However, by this point you will have sampled the courses and have a far better idea of what you are ultimately interested in studying.

Certain universities offer students a Common Curriculum, with plenty of options within each broad category, while others essentially allow you to create your own course – timetables permitting. If you want to get a clearer picture of what the Common Curriculum looks like, read our blog on the University of Chicago which has one of the best introductory programs in the country.

The most popular courses in the USA

Undergraduate level:

The most popular courses for international students studying for a bachelor’s degree in the USA are:

  • Engineering
  • Business Administration
  • Computer Science and IT
  • Business Analytics and Data Science
  • International Business
  • Physical and Life sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Social Sciences

Studying for a Master’s:

The majority of Master’s courses to study in the USA take two or more years and lead to gaining an MA, MSc, or a speciality degree. When you study in the USA, you will not find pure research programs, since all Masters are based on a combination of research and teaching.

There are also a number of courses to study in the USA which take one year to complete, for example: 

  • Master’s in Business Administration (MBA); Master’s in Education (M.Ed.);
  • Master’s of Science (MSc); 
  • One Year Master of Engineering (M.Eng); 
  • One Year Master of Arts (MA).

You can study for a Master’s at over 1800 universities, which offer two types of graduate degree: academic/research  degrees or professional degrees. Contact Elab for help with choosing the right Master’s course.


Specialist postgraduate paths:

Studying law in the USA and Canada 

Studying to be a lawyer in the USA requires students to complete a bachelor’s degree first, then carry on studying law at postgraduate level and do a JD (Juris Doctor) course, or an LLM.

If you have set your heart on studying law in the US or Canada, the best way forward is to choose a European university which works with an American law school, so that you can get an LLB and JD in five years.

There are options to complete undergraduate studies in your home country first, then transfer for postgrad studies in the USA.

Contact Elab for further information, guidance, and suggestions.

Studying medicine in the USA

Studying medicine in the US is extremely challenging, but if you have the passion and are willing to put in the effort required, it is worth the hard work. 

There are 172 medical schools in the USA – 50 of which accept international students – but they only offer postgraduate courses. There are a limited number of places for international students to study at US medical schools and current admission rates vary wildly, from Stanford’s acceptance rate of 1.4 per cent, to the University of Tennessee’s 9.1 per cent, with average medical school acceptance rates of 5.6 per cent.

If you wish to study medicine in the USA, you will need to complete a four-year first degree – preferably in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry or neuroscience, or a similar field. A good MCAT score is essential, so make sure you register and practise for the exam, a year in advance. Contact Elab for further information.

Study in the USA – applications


Studying in the USA requires international students to demonstrate not only their academic achievements and knowledge of English, but also their  extra-curricular activities. 

At Master’s level, applicants may also be required to provide details of their work experience in a related field, submit references, a CV, and any research they have undertaken.

English language proficiency 

Foreign Students intending to study in the USA will need to pass a recognised English exam. The best choice for the USA is without a doubt the TOEFL test – although a number of US universities will accept IELTS.  Universities will specify pass marks required.

SAT and ACT tests 

The recent pandemic has significantly changed American universities’ attitudes to standardised testing, and has seen major educational institutions move away from SAT and ACT requirements altogether, or make them optional. 

Over 1200 universities and colleges in the USA no longer require applicants to submit their SAT and ACT tests as part of the application process – and this is a growing trend. It is also important to differentiate between Test Optional, Test Flexible and Test Blind universities. Test flexible universities often ask candidates to provide supplementary material, such as portfolios, samples of writing, and details of experiments during the application process.

However the major you wish to study may well demand a SAT score. For example, the University of Iowa is test-optional, but its nursing program expects applicants to have a SAT score of 1300 and above.

When working with Elab in our US applications program, or IVY League program, your consultant will ensure you are aware of the requirements, deadlines, and that your application goes smoothly. 

For a detailed breakdown of the SAT and ACT exams, visit our blog: 
– ACT 

Postgraduate requirements to study in the USA

Postgraduate applicants will need to sit the GRE or GMAT – or the MCAT, if they are applying to study medicine.

Study in the USA – the application process

The process of applying to study in the USA is complex and made up of a series of steps and stages. Applications are done through the US Common App platform, or directly to universities. You must apply to study in the USA in good time, since the deadline for submitting your application is December of the year before you intend to begin your studies.

You will be asked to upload several documents, including but not limited to:

  • SAT/ACT score
  • Essays 
  • References
  • A school report which includes information about the school’s standing and reputation, the number of students and the courses it offers.
  • Your secondary school certificate or anticipated results.

If applying to study in the USA via the Common App, you will only need to upload your documents once, irrespective of the number of applications you wish to make.

 The State of California has its own application system which candidates must use, if they wish to study at a Californian university.

Many higher-ranked universities have their own supplements embedded within the Common App, which you will also have to complete. These can take the form of short essays or questions about your interests, experiences, worldview, and extracurricular activities. 

Check the blogs on individual universities for a full breakdown of their supplements, the most common essay titles, and other useful tips.


Higher ranked universities may require an online interview once all the academic results are published, so expect to hear from your universities between February and April. Interview preparation is recommended. 

When to apply

It is possible to submit application papers to study in the USA at three different points in time: regular decision, early action, and early decision. Contact Elab for more information.

Study in the USA– costs

Tuition fees

Tuition fees to study in the USA range from 15,000-60,000 US$ per year, however there are many generous scholarships available as well as need-based financial assistance.

On top of the tuition fees, you will have to add in the cost of travel, accommodation, living expenses, and the visa, all of which comes to approximately 1,200 euros a month.

Scholarships and grants

Universities in the USA are not as cheap as their European counterparts, and tuition fees are fairly high, but it is nevertheless possible for international students to cover a significant portion of their expenses by applying for scholarships or grants and taking part-time work.

The Fulbright Commission estimates that there are over 600 higher education institutions where you can study in the USA which offer scholarships worth $20,000 upwards.

Obviously, competition for scholarships in the USA is extremely fierce. Overall, there are more grants and scholarships available to postgraduates than undergraduates.

Contact Elab for assistance with the scholarships you can apply for, how to do it, and the criteria you must meet.

Need-blind and need-aware universities

In general, admissions committees will have a good idea of your financial status and ability to pay tuition fees, since they are “need-aware”. There has been a great deal of debate on whether this influences who is offered a place. 

Eight of the top 650 colleges and universities listed by Forbes to study in the USA – Princeton, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Bowdain, Brown, Dartmouth, and Amherst – apply a need-blind admission policy, which means that the admissions department will have no idea of your financial position.

If you are offered a place, and need financial help, these universities will give you full-need aid to cover your tuition fees, food, accommodation, and study expenses. However, places are in huge demand.

In addition, several other institutions provide generous financial aid to international students:

  • Dartmouth College
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Chicago
  • Swathmore College
  • Vassar College
  • Colgate College
  • Davidson College

Contact Elab to get an up-to-date breakdown of the financial aid you could receive at the university of your choice.

USA Sports scholarships

Sports scholarships to study in the USA are available for the most talented athletes in:

  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Tennis
  • Track
  • Volleyball
  • Golf
  • Rowing
  • Cross-Country
  • Fencing
  • Swimming etc

Elab has a sports scholarship program for students wanting to study in the USA ready to guide the best athletes through the process of applying for the NCAA’s $3.5 billion scholarship funds. Working with partners in the USA they will assess your potential based on information provided, then contact university coaches to find a placement and a suitable scholarship. Students will then need to complete the US university’s application process; however your grade requirements are often lower if you are a talented sportsperson.

Study in the USA – other useful information

  • To study in the USA you will need to get a student visa once you have been offered a place. This can take a little time to organise, so it is never too early to start preparing your documents.
  • If you are studying for a Master’s degree in the USA, you may well find work as a teaching or research assistant, and undergraduates often take campus-based part-time jobs, organised by their student union.
  • Introduction
  • Diagnostics
  • Personal Profile Map
  • Research
  • University Report
  • Final application choices
  • Application process plan
  • Mentor Program
  • Exam and Interview prep
  • Document completion
  • Application portal setup
  • Submission
  • Acceptance
  • Pre-departure procedures
  • Finances
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