What do you need to know about applying to colleges in the US?


Students of International School have the opportunity to continue their education at some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Some of the best colleges in the world are located in the USA, so it is no wonder that many students from Serbia, including our own, want to continue their education there. However, the application process is a mystery to many, so they need time to get all the information and prepare everything that is necessary.

Each college has a procedure of its own that must be followed. For this reason, students should learn all the details of the procedure on the website of the college they are interested in. However, over 650 colleges in the US have centralised applications, i.e. they use the Common App, while the rest have individual applications.

In order to help you apply to the desired college, we have prepared a step-by-step guide to the application process that applies to most American colleges.

Entry requirements for applying to US colleges

There are several factors that will affect your potential acceptance to colleges/universities in the United States:

  • Educational profile – Student overall performance (GPA) with all curriculars and extracurriculars the student attended, as well as the list of desired universities.
  • Recommendation letter – It would be best if the student had two or three such letters. Recommendation letters should preferably be written by one of the student’s English teachers from Cambridge International AS/A level, homeroom teacher (insight into the student’s overall academic performance), or the school coordinator (information of the curriculars and extracurriculars the student attended).
  • Essay – The essay is there to give the candidate the opportunity to introduce themselves in their own words, and show the admission committee what kind of person they are, what motivates them, what values they live by, etc. Students should check the main requirements that must be included in the essay on the website of the college they are applying to.
  • Interview – The final step of the application process. It is usually done immediately before or after the application deadline by phone, video call, or in person. Students of International School have the opportunity to practise this step at school so as to present themselves in the best way possible.
  • SAT/ACT test score – Depending on the college, the candidate may be required to submit their scores from these tests.
  • English language proficiency test – Some countries, such as the USA or Italy require TOEFL or IELTS tests as proof that the candidate possesses the necessary English language proficiency to meet the academic requirements. Universities in some other countries also accept Cambridge English C1 or C2, which can be obtained by taking these exams at our LINK Examinations Institute.

Common App – for easy application to universities

To apply to one of the prestigious American universities, students can use the Common App application which includes about 900 universities from all over the world in its database.

Thanks to Common App, students can learn everything they want about their desired university before applying to it, they can learn if their universities grants any benefits, and what are those benefits specifically, they can find out if the university has a campus, if it is a male-only, female-only or co-ed institution, and much more.

This application will certainly help students make the best choice regarding their continued education.

Candidate’s personality plays an important role in the application

The overall personality of the candidate will be taken into account during application, which, in addition to their academic performance, also includes extracurricular activities, values and ideals they live by.

The curriculum implemented in the high school the candidate attended can also be an important factor.

Our students should know that high school graduates who attended Cambridge International or IB Diploma curricula show excellent results as a rule, because these programmes are harmonised with the requirements of US colleges.

Extracurricular activities

It is clear that, in addition to academic success, US colleges highly value their candidates’ extracurricular activities. What you need to know is that:

There is no list of prescribed extracurricular activities

This means that students should participate in the activities they enjoy, or those which they are required to do. Extracurricular activities do not just include various school clubs, but also volunteer work, activism, or part-time jobs.

Colleges in the US will not rank the candidate’s extracurricular activities by their value, but try to see the broader context and assess how much the candidate has learned from them. In other words, they will assess how well students used the opportunities that have been presented to them during high school. Therefore, students should include everything they have done outside of school, and which may prove to be useful for their application, into their list of extracurricular activities.

Tip for students:

When participating in extracurricular activities in school, colleges/universities will especially value active participation. If you had led a school club, or initiated an action, it shows that you possess certain leadership skills, which is highly regarded in a student’s college application.

Given how much extracurricular activities are valued abroad, International School has implemented the Duke of Edinburgh’s programme in which students, along with the DofE coordinator, participate in various extracurricular activities throughout the year, which gives them a competitive advantage over other candidates.

How to make your college application essay stand out

Essay is the part of the application where the candidate can express what they want, and how they want it. In other words, you have the opportunity to present yourself to the admission committee in your own words.

Before you start writing the essay, keep in mind that:

  • Your grammar and spelling must be flawless. After writing your essay, it would be recommendable to give it to someone for proofreading;
  • The topic is important, but the way you will address it is equally important.

So, when choosing a topic for your essay, it does not have to be something monumental or exceptional. The committee knows that the candidates are very young and not very experienced. Therefore, they will value the story, i.e. the manner in which the candidate has addressed the topic more than the topic itself. Topics can be quite ordinary, such as a family dinner, football game, after-school duties, etc.

Tip for students:

When choosing a topic, do not turn to the list in the book for inspiration. The right topic is the one you care about, and the one that will help others learn something about you. Before writing the essay, be sure to read the requirements:

  • If there is a question, be sure to answer it in the essay.


  • People who will decide on your application already know your grades, results, and academic performance. The essay should help them learn more about you as a person.

Therefore, the essay does not have to be perfect, but it should say something about you and the way you think, values you live by, and passions that drive you.

Scholarships for international students

Many colleges in the US offer scholarships to international students. What you should know is that there are:

Merit-based and need-based scholarships

In addition, some colleges are need-aware, while others are need-blind, meaning that there are colleges which recognise that some students need aid in the form of scholarships, whereas others do not.

Students should carefully inspect the desired college’s website and see what kind of scholarship programmes it offers.

Tip for students:

When choosing potential colleges, focus on those institutions that meet your academic ambitions, and offer scholarship programmes that suit your needs. The information on the tuition fees without a scholarship can usually be found on the official website of the college, so look it up and calculate the scholarship amount that you would need. It is best to start inquiring about scholarships in advance, and you can also talk to your mentor, who will help you find all the information you need.

How to get a visa after being admitted to college

Every country has its own visa requirements and procedure. What you need to know is that:

Colleges collaborate closely with each student to help them get a visa

They have appointed personnel that help students through the visa process, which is realised as a partnership between the candidate’s school, their family, and the college he/she has been admitted to.

Tip for students:

If you already know that you want to study abroad, prepare yourself in advance by asking about visa requirements.

What if you are refused

When applying to colleges in the United States, students should know this:

There are many reasons why colleges do not accept all exceptional candidates

A student may think that there is something wrong with them, or their academic preparation if they are not admitted to the college that was their first choice. Many colleges lack the capacity to admit all exceptional candidates who applied, which is the main reason for rejection.

Tip for students:

Focus on those colleges that you have been accepted to, and you can always transfer later. In addition, sometimes your second, or even the third choice may prove to be the best.


There are certain deadlines in the application process that a candidate must strictly adhere to, if they want their application to be considered at all.

There are five stages in the application process:

  • Submission of applications: from May to October of the current year.
  • Early action: for applications received by November 15, the decision will be sent by mid-December, which is when the candidate can decide on one college.
  • Quick response: if a candidate applies in the early action period, they are not obliged to withdraw other applications, if they are applying to several universities at the same time.
  • Final deadline: the last chance to apply to colleges in the United States is by late January, or early February, when the candidate can only choose one option. The candidate will receive the response on their acceptance, or the rejection letter by late March, or early April.
  • Final choice: the candidate must choose the college/university where they want to study by May 1, after which the waiting lists are published. After receiving acceptance letters from one or several colleges, the candidate is obliged to inform the institutions they will NOT be attending, so that they could make room for other candidates.After that, the candidate pays a tuition fee deposit to the chosen university/college, thus reserving their spot.

Students of International School can contact their mentors about any question or dilemma regarding the application process to colleges in the United States.

We wish you the best of luck in this process!

Savremena gimnazija

This program is performed at the International School, which, like Savremena Gimnazija, is part of LINKgroup Edu Alliance.

Enrolment for the class of 2024/25 is underway! Register here »
I am extremely pleased and proud to be the parent of a Savremena student. During my first encounter with the school management, when I asked about my child’s potential enrolment, I saw how much love, enthusiasm and professionalism you put in your work. I was impressed by your approach, ideas and methods. I couldn’t believe something like this existed in our country! It doesn’t take long to realise that this is a school you would recommend to everyone. Creativity, modern technology, top-quality education, and most of all, the humaneness that can be seen throughout the school, make it truly different and worthy of its name – Savremena Gimnazija. With such an approach, the success of this school and, consequently, our children’s success, is unavoidable. Congratulations! Jelena Đorđević, Andrija’s mum
Contemporary in any sense of the word, our school offers functional knowledge and quality preparation for tertiary education in Serbia and abroad. Implementing modern and creative teaching in the classroom, where the teachers’ pedagogy and students’ performance are aligned with the highest academic standards for the high-school finals, our school develops linguistic, mathematical, scientific, artistic, cultural, technical and ICT competence, which is a prerequisite for further education and professional development. Teaching is supported by the interactive whiteboards and educational software, whereas practice exercises research and critical thinking.