How to Prepare for College in the U.S. as an International Student

Making the decision to attend college in another country can be daunting. If you’re left wondering what you need to do to get ready, you’ve come to the right place! We’re here to help you learn about how to prepare for college in the United States.

1. Understand what life in the U.S. is like.

While it’s difficult to plan for any culture shocks you may encounter once you’re here, it’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about life in the U.S. before you make the big move.

For instance, when you attend a U.S. college, you may be surprised to hear that the majority of your time won’t be spent in the classroom. The average student takes around 15 credit hours per semester, meaning you’ll be in class around 15 hours each week. The rest of your 153 hours will be one big balancing act of studying, working, participating in extracurricular activities (like clubs, exercising, and volunteering), hanging with friends, eating, and sleeping. What you spend your time on and how you schedule it is really up to you. What classes you take (other than those required for your major) are up to you, too!

2. Research your options.

The sheer number of universities in the U.S. can be overwhelming. You may be asking yourself, “Where do I even begin?” For this reason, we thought we’d kick things off by providing you with some sources you can trust as you start your college search.


This U.S. Department of State network is one of the best resources specifically geared toward international students. If you want to talk to someone in person, it also includes over 425 advising centers in more than 175 countries!

College Scorecard

The U.S. Department of Education provides official data for every school, allowing you to compare your options based on size, location, majors offered, and more.

Big Future College Board

College Board provides countless tools for you to use during your college search, including ones related to college comparison and career exploration. Note that you’ll need to create an account to utilize many of them.

Looking Beyond Rankings

Many students look at rankings to guide their college search process. However, rankings don’t give you the full picture. Instead, focus on fit. For example, does the college offer your intended major? Do your academic achievements match the school’s standards? Will you feel comfortable with the college’s size, location, and lifestyle?

3. Maximize your education.

Many U.S. colleges (including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) require you to take specific courses while in secondary school. Now is a great time to enhance your academic skills and add to your record of achievements!

Colleges like to see that you’re challenging yourself, so taking advanced courses can increase your chance of being accepted. Don’t get down if you receive slightly lower grades in these courses—we take the level of difficulty into consideration.

4. Learn what’s required.

Different colleges are going to require different things from you as part of the application process. Some of these requirements, like standardized tests and English proficiency exams, shouldn’t wait until your final year of school. When you decide which colleges you plan to apply to, make a list of everything they’re going to need from you. You’ll thank yourself for your amazing forethought later!

Trusting Your Counselor

If you’re confused about how to prepare for college in the U.S., including which courses to take or different colleges’ requirements, talk to your high school counselor or college advisor. They work very closely with college admissions counselors, meaning they have a wealth of information to impart to you! They can be one of your greatest resources throughout the college search process.

5. Visit virtually.

Many colleges (including UIUC) offer virtual presentations and tours, allowing you to explore your options without ever leaving home. Virtual visits are a great way to learn more about a college’s culture and discover whether a school is right for you. You can also use social media to get a better feel for your colleges, too.

Bonus Tip: Ask questions!

Last but not least, don’t ever be afraid to reach out to a college you’re interested in. No question is too small or silly to ask. We’re here to help, and we love hearing from you!

Contacting UIUC

If you have questions about our university, email us at or call us at +1 217-333-0302.

UIUC Admissions

UIUC Admissions

We're here for you as you prepare for college. Whether you're looking for guidance on the college search process or have questions about Illinois, we hope our blogs will help!

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