Everyday conversations: Applying to U.S. colleges [audio]

A prospective student works on an application to a U.S. college. (State Dept./ D.A. Peterson)

Six students from around the world meet. What do they have in common? They are all exchange students studying at a U.S. university for a semester. Throughout the semester, they learn more English, learn about U.S. culture, and learn more about their fields of study. This series of Everyday Conversations is about these six students and their experiences during a semester at a university in the U.S. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

Three students (Akinyi, Lucía, and Jana) discuss the process of applying to college in the U.S.

Akinyi: Hey, I’m so glad you’re here. I need your help.

Lucía: You look really stressed out.

Jana: Yeah, what’s going on?

Akinyi: Well, I have a huge paper due for one of my business classes, plus my cousin wants to apply to college in the U.S., and her family is asking me all about the application process. Even though I went through a similar process not too long ago, I can’t remember everything I was required to do.

Lucía: We can help with that!

Jana: The actual application isn’t so bad. It’s the college essay and standardized tests that are awful!

Lucía: I agree. How about we make a list of all of the steps in the application process for your cousin?

Akinyi: That would be great.

Jana: Take the standardized tests — that would be the SAT and TOEFL for her. Get recommendation letters. Fill out the application form.

Lucía: Oh, don’t forget to mention the Common App. That can save a lot of time.

Jana: Right. Oh, and write the college essay.

Akinyi: And I remember paying all of those application fees too.

Lucía: This is a good list. Ajay wrote a great college essay. Maybe he can help your cousin with that part of the application process?

Akinyi: Yes, that’d be great. And thanks! I wouldn’t have remembered all of this without you.

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

To be stressed out means to be worried about problems in your life, at school or work, etc.

In the context of school, a paper is a piece of writing that is done for a class. For example, I have to write a paper about the water cycle for my science class. It can also be called an essay.

In the U.S., the words college and university are often used interchangeably (meaning the words can be used to mean the same thing). Students go to college or university after high school to earn a degree.

The college application process refers to everything one needs to do to apply to colleges and universities for undergraduate study. The process includes completing an application, writing an essay, taking standardized tests, and having an interview.

A college essay is part of the college application process. The person applying to college writes a short piece of writing that is about himself or herself.

A standardized test is a type of test. All people who take the test answer the same questions. The test is scored in the same way, so scores can be compared. Two examples of standardized tests are the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The SAT is used as part of the college application process in the U.S. The TOEFL is used as part of the college application process in the U.S. for students whose first language is not English.

The common application, or “Common App,” is a standard college admission application that students may use to apply to a large number of colleges and universities.

The application fee is the amount of money a student needs to pay when he or she applies to a college.

Ready to learn more English? Our materials can help.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.