Real Talk: What You Need To Know To Apply To Schools in the United States of America

Ask any young Nigerian if they want to study abroad and you don’t have to wait for the answer because you already know it is a big “yes”. Everyone wants to leave Nigeria to some other country, and the funny thing is that most people do not even care what “some other country” is. Some people will just say they do not care where as long as it is not in Nigeria. There are obviously a lot of reasons to want to study in another country. Studying somewhere new gives you a global perspective and enriches the mind culturally and socially. Reasons might differ for individuals, some might want to experience a new culture, explore a different educational system, meet new people, and set up for themselves a new network. However, for others, it may just be because of the sheer fact that the Nigerian educational system lacks a lot of infrastructures that make learning easier.

Whatever your reason is for wanting to study abroad, just make sure that it is guided by the right motivations. Thousands of Nigerians already study across the globe and a lot of them do exceptionally well, so if you do go abroad, try to keep the legacy alive and well. One thing to note, however, is that there are quite a lot of places to study abroad, but the United States of America and the United Kingdom remain the top destinations for Nigerians. Although, more recently, Nigerians have been exploring other options like Cyprus, Ukraine, and Russia.

This article aims to help those looking to apply to programs in the United States of America (USA).

Let us start by acknowledging the obvious key facts. Every U.S university/college is unique and sets its admission standards. They get to decide which applicants are admitted. The simple consequence of this is that you must apply to every school differently.

One mistake a lot of students make is that they only apply to the very top schools like Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California Berkeley, Princeton University, Cornell University and so on. They forget to apply to others where they have higher chances of getting into. These kinds of schools are called safety schools, and they are where you and your academic counselor know that you are certain to get into. So even though you have selected places where you want to study, it is possible that your first-choice school may not accept you. Another key fact to keep in mind is that you are applying for a spot that someone in Kenya or Italy is also applying for, so you must make your application stand out in a lot of ways. Another key aspect of your whole application process is communication. International applicants are always encouraged to contact the admission offices of their schools at least a year before they plan to start their program.

By now I think you should be ready to apply to US schools. In this entire process, is really your best friend and best resource. You need to research schools that offer your desired program and come up with a potential list of schools that is a good combination of your choice and safety schools. Most people I have seen start with a list of about 10 to 15 schools with about 8 choice schools and 7 safety schools. This is not the best number of schools to apply to, of course, so you can produce your own list depending on your capabilities.

Now without further ado, let us dive into the nitty gritty of the application process.


Before you start your application, make sure you have gathered all the materials that you will be needing. This is not an exhaustive list but you can add whatever you think you will need; Official Transcripts, Letters of Recommendation, Official WAEC certificate, Award Certificates (if any), List of Extracurricular Activities, Leadership Experiences, Official Results from Tests like the SAT and TOEFL, Graduate Record Exam (for master’s programs) and so on.

Some students apply during their final year in high school. If you are one of those students, make sure you plan your application such that your transcripts, letters of recommendation and test results are all available before their submission deadlines.


Now that you are done selecting your schools, and gathering all the materials you will need, it is time to write to the admissions office to make some inquiries. You need to contact each of the schools on your list for an application form. Some schools already have online application forms so they will just point you to a URL where you can fill in your application. For some programs especially master’s programs you may need to apply directly to the specific department of your program instead of the admissions office. Nonetheless, the admissions office is often the best place to start looking for information, if there is any more information that you need to know, the admissions office will direct you to the right source of information. More resources for researching schools are coming soon on so check that out when it is available.


US schools typically have application fees and they range between 13,000 naira to 36,000 naira so you can see how this amount piles up when you have a lot of schools on your list. The application fee is not for nothing though, it is used to process your application and can not be refunded to you in any case, even if you are not admitted to the school. These days, you can receive confirmations from your application submissions via email, but if you mail in a hardcopy of your application, make sure to contact the admissions office to confirm that they have received it.  

Now, what does the admissions office look out for? They take a look at your scores from the most recent four years of your secondary education, which in Nigeria here means your SS1 – SS3 and your JSS3 too. And then they will also evaluate your WAEC and NECO. If you are applying to a graduate program, they will evaluate results from your university education.

It is your responsibility to contact your most recent secondary school or university to send in an official copy of your transcript. Think of yourself as a middleman here, you have to make sure your school sends in your transcript and you also have to confirm with the admissions office if they have received it. Additionally, prior to taking your admissions tests, you should plan via your exam registration to send your test results to the universities that you are applying to. The way to do this is quite simple, during your exam registration you will get prompted to add schools to your list. One last thing about scores is that you should send them well before the admission deadline so that there are no delay issues.


Test results are very crucial to your application. US schools usually take test results as a key criterion in their decision process. Applicable tests include TOEFL, the SAT or ACT (Most Nigerians take the SAT), and if you are applying to graduate schools then you have to take the GRE or GMAT depending on your program of study.

Most students applying to a US school have to take an aptitude test from the usual list (ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT), and applying from Nigeria you have to take tests like TOEFL that measure your English language proficiency. These tests are taken throughout the year at exams centers across Nigeria. These exams are standardized so that it feels the same for everyone across the board. Admission officers take your scores as an international standard for measuring your abilities against other applicants. Efforts spent doing well on these exams are certainly not wasted. Time to burn the midnight oil!!


You have finished studying and it is time to take your tests, do not panic. On your test application, you will be asked to indicate schools to which your scores will be sent directly. Usually, you might get up to four schools for free, but there will be a fee for additional schools.


Deadlines come and pass, and you cannot wait to start receiving decision emails or letters. This is the most nerve-wracking time in the entire process. You are sitting there waiting for an email to pop up and it does not for hours. Well, do not fret, you will get all your decisions on time. Some will be exciting, and some will not. Once you have all your decisions, it is now time to weigh your options. Some schools offer admission on a rolling basis so you might get your decision sooner than later depending on when you complete your application.


By now you have finished weighing your options and you have decided on a school to attend. It is now time to pay the deposit fee. Most universities require admitted applicants to pay a deposit fee to reserve their place in the entering class. This fee varies so you will have to confirm with the university. This fee should be paid at once after you round up your decision, especially if you are planning to apply for financial aid or planning on living in campus housing.

You will also have to supply some financial information about how much money you will have available over the course of your study. Also, if you are receiving sponsorship from a third-party organization like the government, a foundation, or your company, you will need to supply the details of your award.

Well, we have seen what you need to do and how to do them. The following is a summary timeline that you can follow to meet up with deadlines and make the whole process seamless.

18 Months Before U.S. Study

  • Research various colleges and universities programs
  • Register and prepare for required entrance exams
  • Keep working hard in school

12-14 Months Before U.S. Study

  • Choose the schools to which you will apply
  • Obtain all necessary information and forms for each school
  • Prepare for and take all required entrance exams

10-12 Months Before U.S. Study

  • Re-request forms if necessary
  • Identify your references and supply them with required reference forms
  • Request school transcripts
  • Write your application essay

10 Months Before U.S. Study

  • Retake entrance exams if scores were unsatisfactory
  • Line up all required financing
  • Complete and submit all college applications

3 Months Before U.S. Study

  • Apply for your student visa
  • Research health insurance options for your time abroad
  • Make travel arrangements for when you will arrive in the U.S.

1 Month Before U.S. Study

  • Important things to consider during this time
  • Final preparation for your trip to the U.S.
  • Ways to get ready for your classes before arriving

Finally, we are here. Feel free to drop comments and questions. I will be working on more resources for finishing your application, like how to write essays, complete your visa application and so on, so definitely look out for those. Bye for now!

Back to top button
EveryEvery We would like to show you notifications for the latest news and updates.
Allow Notifications