U.S University Entry Requirements

Each university and college in the U.S has its own international student entry requirements – the minimum requirements for grades and standardised tests, e.g. the TOEFL, ACT and SAT, varies from institution to institution.

Even within the same university there may be different admissions requirements, depending on which major you choose to study.

Usually, the higher your grades and test scores, the better chance you have of getting into one of the top institutions in the U.S, eg. Cornell, Harvard.

Admissions tests

Colleges and universities in the U.S ask all their applicants to take one or more standardised tests.

These tests include the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), and the ACT (American College Testing). Applicants who are not Americans are also required to take the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language).

Most standardised tests are designed to assess your skills, rather than your amount of knowledge. The questions in these tests evaluate your ability to solve problems, not your knowledge of facts.

The role of standardised tests is to provide institutions a way of evaluating all their applicants on an equal level.

Comparing grades received for coursework or exams is not always enough because different universities and colleges have different academic standards.

An admissions counsellor at a university has no way of determining how challenging the mathematics or economics course you took was.

By comparing your score on a standardised test to the score of another student who took the same standardised test, the counsellor has a better idea of how the two of you compare.

International students applying for a degree in the U.S will be required to take the TOEFL and the SAT I tests; some universities will also require the SAT II. There are also many institutions that will accept the ACT in place of the SAT I.


In most parts of the world, the TOEFL is a computer-based test. In some areas, paper-based testing is also available.

Paper-based tests are administered on predetermined dates, whereas computer-based tests can be taken on an appointment basis. The test consists of mostly multiple-choice questions, although an essay question is also required.

To find out more about the TOEFL test, including how to register, where to take the test, and how to obtain preparation materials, visit the ETS TOEFL website.

It is strongly recommended that you have some sort of experience with a TOEFL test preparation program before you sit the TOEFL exam.


There are two versions of the SAT test. The SAT I is the called the Reasoning Test and is designed to evaluate your mathematical and verbal skills. It consists mostly of multiple-choice questions.

The questions in the math sections cover arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, as well as logical reasoning, probability and counting.

In comparison, the SAT II contains 22 separate tests called Subject Tests. Each subject test covers a specific area such as world history, Spanish, or chemistry.

These tests are designed to determine your level of knowledge in each area and your ability to apply that knowledge to answer questions.

If the institution you are applying to requires the SAT II, you will normally be able to choose which subject test(s) you would like to take. You can sit up to three subject tests in one day. However, you cannot take the SAT I and the SAT II on the same day.

For more information on the SAT tests, including registration and preparation information, visit our dedicated SAT guide and www.collegeboard.com.

It’s a good idea to complete a SAT test preparation course before you sit the actual SAT exam.


The ACT differs from the SAT I in that it is a subject-based test, rather than an ability or aptitude test.

It is made up of multiple-choice questions covering four areas: English, Mathematics; Reading; Scientific reasoning.

Although the SAT I is more popular, some students prefer to take the ACT instead because they feel more comfortable with its knowledge-based format.

To read more about the ACT test, including registration and where you can take the test, visit our dedicated ACT guide and www.act.org.

Planning ahead

Check the university website(s) you are applying to and see how many of the above admissions tests you need to take.

Make sure you do this in plenty of time - you can only take the SAT test in the UK several times a year, and places usually fill up quick, so register for the test at collegeboard.com as early as possible.

Further information

For more help and advice on applying to university in the U.S, please see: