College (Translated): Terms Every International Applicant Should Know

This blog was written by members of the Office of Undergraduate Admission’s International Team. Thanks to Alex Alvendia-Wienkers, Julie Chiu, and Nathan Mack!


As we discussed last week on this blog, the lingo used in the college process can be confusing for students applying to college for the first time. Things are further complicated for international students who have an additional set of terms to learn, especially as these words and phrases can mean different things at different universities! Never fear—here is a list of words we think international students should know, defined specifically for USC’s process. 


Who does USC consider an international student? Any applicant who will need a student visa in order to study in the United States. Students already residing in the United States and holding other non-immigrant visas (for instance, an E2, H2, or L2) are also considered international students. 


The application process for students applying from abroad, whether as an international student or as a US citizen living abroad, is identical to admission review for students already living and studying in the US. We take into account all of the components of the Common Application, including the USC writing supplement. No single component will determine a student’s admission offer. We know your school’s curricula may look similar or very different than a traditional American high school, and that’s perfectly ok! Our team of international counselors are familiar with many types of curricula so your application is reviewed with the context and fairness your application deserves. 


USC offers robust merit scholarships for select groups of applicants, including international applicants, who demonstrate the highest level of qualifications in areas such as academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, and athletic or artistic talent. Generally, international applicants do not need to submit additional information for merit scholarship consideration nor are there minimum requirements for eligibility. For international student and applicants requiring a visa to study in the US, USC does not offer need-based financial aid. However, US citizens and permanent residents living abroad are eligible for need-based aid. For more information on scholarships available through USC, please review our comprehensive list: 


All international applicants whose native language is not English must submit official test scores from the SAT/ACT, TOEFL (or TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition), IELTS (or IELTS Indicator), PTE or Duolingo English Test in order to demonstrate English proficiency. The TOEFL ITP Plus for China is not accepted. 

  • Minimum score of 600 on the SAT Critical Reading exam (previous SAT) or 650 on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing exam (redesigned SAT) or 27 on the ACT English exam; OR 
  • A minimum score of 100 on the TOEFL iBT (with a minimum score of 20 in each section); OR 
  • A minimum IELTS score of 7; OR 
  • A minimum PTE score of 68; OR 
  • A minimum Duolingo English Test score of 120 


A non-immigrant student visa is required for all foreign nationals (except Canadian citizens) that wish to enter the United States to study at USC. Before the visa process begins, students must first apply to, be accepted by, and commit to attending USC. It is after these three steps that USC will issue proof of enrollment, which will be necessary to begin the visa application process. We will issue specific guidance to enrolled students at that time. Students must complete an online application with the U.S. Department of State, sit a visa interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy in their country of residence, and then await the visa issuance. All international students must have a visa in their passport to enter the United States to study at USC. For most applicants, the entire visa process will take 1-2 months.  


When a student applies for a visa to enter and study in the United States, they must show both proof of enrollment from USC and documentation of sufficient funding to live and study in the country. USC will generate and supply to committed students a document called an I-20, or specifically a “certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status.” USC will issue an I-20 to students only after they have applied to, been accepted by, and committed to enroll at USC. To receive their I-20, students must submit a copy of the photo page of their passport, as well as proof of funding equivalent to one year of study at USC (~$78,000 USD). Students are required to upload these documents as part of their application for admission. I-20s are typically issued 3-4 months prior to the start of the semester when a student will begin their studies at USC.  


International students must prove that they have sufficient funds available to pay for their educational and living expenses for the first academic year. Along with your application for admission, you must submit the Financial Statement of Personal or Family Support, accompanied by documentation for available funds (such as statements for savings deposits, checking accounts or portfolio of liquid assets), or a signed bank letter verifying the ability pay educational expenses.  


No matter where you live in the world, we have a dedicated team of USC international admission officers who can assist with questions and concerns you may have after researching and utilizing our robust online resources. We work with students based on where they currently attend high school, not based on citizenship or country of origin. Our experienced international admission counselors understand and help our entire admission team understand some of the unique opportunities and challenges for students applying from abroad, whether that’s curriculum offerings, different grading scales, length of secondary school enrollment, or some other difference compared to a US-centric educational system.  


USC awards students credit for certain secondary examinations that provide evidence of in-depth study of a particular subject at a level comparable to a USC course. This credit helps students earn progress toward their degree and/or can meet certain general education or major requirements. This credit provides students with increased flexibility during their studies. Currently, USC offers credit for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced Levels (A-level) exams. Other exams may qualify for credit upon request. For more information, please visit