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  • Debra M. Shively

The US application process - a holistic approach

Updated: May 9, 2023

Applying for admission at a US university is a complex process. Unlike the university system in NSW for example where admission is offered based on your ATAR, US universities take a holistic approach in assessing a student’s application. Application requirements to almost all four-year (or undergraduate) colleges and universities are made up of a personal statement and supplemental essays, teacher recommendations, ACT or SAT test scores if not test optional, the application itself, transcripts (usually year 9-12), extra and co curricular activities and an application fee. The more selective institutions will also require an interview.

The admission team at the respective universities will review all components of an application before making a decision. Similar to applying for a job, an offer is based on the strength of your application compared to other applicants and the institutional priorities. Universities are not solely looking for the highest SAT or ACT test scores or the highest high school subject marks but rather they are looking to ensure their incoming class is well-rounded in all things academic, community and volunteer work, marks, test scores, leadership roles, sports, music and other extracurricular activities. When applying for a US college or university I encourage you to consider what makes you UNIQUE - what sets you apart from other candidates? These areas should be emphasised in your application.

To give you an idea of how competitive an institution’s entry requirements are, have a look at the previous year’s average for Grade Point Average (GPA) and SAT/ACT test scores. This can act as a guide as to if your application falls within the range of applications they accept. These guidelines are just that - guidelines. It is not to say that if you exceed the average GPA and test score of an institution that you will definitely be offered a place in the class. The admission team will take a holistic approach to your application and assess all components before making a final decision.

If all this was not enough complexity there are almost no specific national or even state application systems – depending on your preferred institutions you may be required to create a completely separate application for each.

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