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Admission Requirements for North American Universities

Each college and university posts their unique admissions requirements on their own website. Here, we summarize the common requirements so you don’t have to search every individual college’s webpage yourself.
By Hien Dao

Admission Requirements for North American Universities

Requirements for admission to most North American universities consist of very similar things: a high school diploma, a U.S. standardized test score, a test score showing your English language ability.

Note that this article is about admission requirements, not the application, which will include forms, transcripts, letter(s) of recommendations, personal essays, and proof of financial means, etc.. Please refer to our article on application package for more information.

High School Diplomas

Most North American universities expect international students to have a high school diploma or high school completion examination results, or if you are an exchange student in the U.S. you can submit your General Education Development (GED). When you submit applications in December-March of the year before you start school in the U.S., you may not have the diploma or completion examination results. You will still be considered for admission, but you will have to submit these when you enroll. Universities will not usually accept international students who are younger than age 17.

Standardized Admissions Tests

As part of the application process, most U.S. colleges and universities require scores from a U.S. standardized tests.  The most common test accepted is the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests. However, some colleges and universities do not require international applicants to take these tests, so be sure to check with the school or your advisor. If you are expected to submit an SAT or SAT Subject Tests score, please see the section on preparing for required tests on this site for more information. Also, check out our school database to see if your dream schools require the SAT to be submitted as a component of the application package.

English Language Proficiency

If English is not your native language or you haven’t lived in the U.S. for more than two years, U.S. universities will require that you submit a score for an English language proficiency test. The most common tests are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Most schools will set a minimum score required, so check with the Golden Path Guide or the school’s website for that information. See our articles on the TOEFL for more information on how to prepare and register for the test.

Note that some schools may accept students with a TOEFL or IELTS score lower than the required minimum. That is called “conditional acceptance,” which means you will have to submit a higher score by the time you start school or you will have to spend the first year working on your English (in an English as a Second Language – or ESL – program). Some schools let you take some basic program courses while in ESL, while others do not. It is always best to work on your English early on and achieve the minimum required score, so you can start your college courses right away.

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