Blog 🍎 School 25th October 2021

The Essential Guide to Alternative US University Application Systems

Profile image of James Leach
James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

Many of your students might be wondering about the different US university application systems at the moment. Deadline season is approaching, and knowing the best (and most convenient) way to apply is doubtless a priority.

And we know that applying to the US can be daunting! There are so many systems, platforms, requirements and deadlines to juggle, plus the sheer range and volume of institutions and programmes, questions of whether to declare a major, collating letters of recommendation and more… It’s quite the puzzle!

Thankfully, there are centralised platforms that can make sending applications to the US a little simpler. You and your students are likely familiar with some of the most popular US university application systems like the Common App. But what about those lesser-known systems that are specific to certain regions or institutions?

As ever, understanding their options is the best way for students to make informed decisions that yield great results. To guide them, read on to get to grips with alternative US university application systems.

Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Studying in the USA

Learn about everything from different campus types to financial aid to writing the best possible applications so that you can support your students as they apply to universities in the US. 

Regional US university application systems

Certain geographical areas (often states) in the US have their own educational systems. Think of them as a network of connected institutions, each with its own student body, faculty and campus.

Logically, these networks can provide a centralised platform through which students can apply to any (or all!) of its member institutions with one single application. For students keen to study within a certain region, this is a great time-saving solution.

On the other hand, if students are submitting applications to several regions, opting for region-specific systems can create more work and more hoops to jump through.

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular regional US university application systems. While all of these systems broadly have the same required documents as other universities in the US (official and/or unofficial transcripts, standardised test scores, letters of recommendation and so on), we’ll outline any exceptions or notable aspects for each.


Students keen to study in the US’s second-most populous state (and the home of Dr. Pepper) might want to use its dedicated university application system, ApplyTexas.

Through it, students can send one application to any two or four year public college within the state of Texas. That includes all six public university systems in the state:

  • The Texas State University System
  • The Texas A&M System
  • The Texas Tech System
  • The University of Houston System
  • The University of North Texas System
  • The University of Texas System

It even allows students to apply to some private universities! In fact, there are over 100 institutions accepting ApplyTexas submissions.

Note: Many institutions in Texas do also accept applications via the Common App and/or the Coalition Application.


Although the platform itself is centralised, application requirements and deadlines aren’t. The academic achievements students should have vary between different institutions, as do aspects like supplemental essays. Some require essays, some make them optional, and some don’t have an essay option at all.

Nevertheless, universities that do have an essay option use a bank of questions common amongst all institutions on the platform – saving students from having to write separate essays for every application! You can review the different essay prompts here.


Much like the requirements, Texas institutions’ deadlines vary.

Many, like UT Austin, follow what is quite standard procedure within the US – with deadlines as early as the 1st November for priority applications, and 1st December for regular applications.

Others offer much later deadlines. For example, the University of Houston accepts applications all the way until the 31st May (although students applying for scholarships do need to apply much sooner).


Many students dream of enjoying California’s incomparable weather, varied landscapes and thriving cultural life – not forgetting, of course, its impressive slate of educational institutions.

If some of your students are in this bunch, there are two university application systems they should know about. That’s how vast California’s higher education offering is!

University of California Application

You and your students have probably heard of some ‘UC’ schools – particularly famous examples include UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Well, good news! Students can submit to all of these nine prestigious campuses with one single application: all the public University of California institutions are accessed by the dedicated UC application.


Unlike ApplyTexas, the UC system does have centralised guidance on academic requirements for students. You can read the guidance for international applicants in full here, but it’s essentially that students have been in education for at least 15 years and achieved a 3.4 GPA (or equivalent) across a range of core subjects, over specified minimum time periods.

Required subjects are:

  • History
  • Composition and literature
  • Maths
  • Sciences
  • Second language
  • Visual and performing arts

Of course, students whose first language isn’t English also need to prove their proficiency, and there are some country-specific guidelines that you can refer to as well.

There are also the personal insights questions to bear in mind. They give students the opportunity to tell admissions officers more about who they really are. There are 8 questions in total, of which students respond to 4, with each response totalling 350 words or fewer.


Students have just one month in which to submit their full UC application, so they should definitely work on gathering everything they need before the application system opens.

The application period for fall/autumn entry runs from 1st November to 30th November.

Cal State Apply

The Cal State university application system brings together the largest network of public universities in the US, comprising 23 campuses and thousands of different degrees to choose from.


This US university application system uses an “a-g” course requirements framework that might not be familiar to all your students – or even to you.

You can read all about it here, but it’s not dissimilar to the University of California’s requirements. Ultimately, it just ensures students have had a good range of academic experience before enrolling.

As such, it requires students to have studied these areas for specified periods of time:

  • History and social sciences
  • English
  • Maths
  • Laboratory sciences
  • Second language
  • Visual and performing arts

As in the UC application system, the requirements are the same for international applicants, but there’s some additional guidance you can read here.

It’s also important to be aware that certain majors and campuses have additional and/or higher requirements or supplementary admissions criteria. Some ask students to complete required or optional questions, essays or documentation, too.

There have also been some changes to Cal State Apply’s requirements due to COVID-19, including the CSU temporarily suspending SAT and ACT testing requirements – these scores won’t determine which students get a spot.


Universities in the CSU network almost all follow the same timeline, with applications opening on the 1st October. The priority deadline falls on 30th November, although some campuses might adjust it for international students, and depending on the major.

Some campuses also offer later deadlines – many on the 15th December, with others extending even further into February.

New York

New York attracts a truly staggering amount of international students, and for good reason! It has a huge variety of higher education programmes and an incomparable cultural and artistic offering.

Students stuck on choosing a university within this great state can find solace in the applySUNY system which lets them send applications to many New York universities. 


This university application system brings together a huge 58 of the 64 total State University of New York campuses, including specialist (and celebrated) institutions like the Fashion Institute of Technology and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Note: SUNY universities also accept applications through the Common App.


Unsurprisingly given the very specialist nature of some of the institutions in the SUNY network, specific requirements vary, with certain programmes or universities setting additional standards for applicants.

Applicants to any of its universities do need to prove their English proficiency, although minimum TOEFL requirements also vary. Generally speaking, a score of 450 or higher on the verbal section of the SAT can be provided in lieu of TOEFL scores.

Like the CSU, SUNY has temporarily suspended ACT and SAT requirements, with the exemption lasting until at least spring 2023. Students can report their scores if they wish, but it’s no longer mandatory.


The less organised amongst your students with hopes of studying in New York, or those who make a later decision to do so, can rest easy. SUNY has no formal application deadline!

That being said, students hoping to secure scholarships/financial aid or on-campus accommodation are strongly advised to apply sooner – ideally by the 1st of December. That can also help ensure they’re accepted onto their chosen degree major.

Students should definitely try to research early if they can, as some of the universities do set deadlines for certain programmes. Some also offer Early Decision or Early Action which mean students need to apply by 1st of November or 15th of November respectively.

Institution-specific US university application systems

There are also some institutions that use their own university application system rather than joining other popular platforms.

Two of the most notable examples are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University, which we’ll look into in a bit more detail.

Other prestigious universities with their own application systems include Brigham Young University, the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A hugely popular and prestigious university, MIT takes quite an individual approach to admissions. Fittingly, it has chosen to create its own, individual application system – a decision that its website explains in-depth.

Alongside academic excellence and achievement, MIT looks for students who align with its core values and modus operandi. That includes:

  • Collaboration and cooperation
  • Initiative
  • Risk-taking
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity and excitement

To assess these more subjective criteria, the MIT application system takes a more holistic approach. Nevertheless, there are some specific requirements to bear in mind.

Ask any admissions officer at MIT, and they will tell you that while grades and scores are important, it’s really the match between the applicant and the Institute that drives our selection process.

Admissions department: Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Like several of the systems we’ve encountered, MIT has suspended its SAT and ACT test requirements. It doesn’t require English proficiency tests either, although they are strongly recommended.

Rather than having black and white requirements and cut-offs for applicants, the university provides some suggestions of the level of academic achievements which successful applicants tend to have (and which mean that the student is well-prepared for the academic rigour of MIT).

International applicants might be interested (and perhaps relieved) to know that MIT doesn’t request or calculate grade equivalents for non-US qualifications.

MIT has also adopted its own stance to admissions essays. Rather than requiring a single essay, it asks students to answer several shorter questions and essay prompts that are intended to give admissions officers a fuller sense of each student.

It’s definitely important that students know MIT fully embraces the less common practice of holding university interviews for all applicants, something which is still done virtually for the time being.

Georgetown University

Another US university application system that prides itself on being highly personalised is that of Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Applicants’ academic achievements are still the strongest deciding factor, but admissions officers are really interested in hearing about students’ accomplishments beyond the classroom.

Qualities which Georgetown University particularly values include:

  • Resiliency
  • Motivation
  • Ambition
  • Commitment to their community


Unlike MIT, Georgetown does have some clear requirements for its applicants, including SAT/ACT scores and the College Board Scholastic Assessment Test or the American College Testing Program examination.

Note: Georgetown’s admissions website states that it is willing to acknowledge some students might not have access to testing centres due to COVID-19. The university will therefore accept some applications without results, provided applicants explain their inability to complete the tests in their applications.

English language proficiency tests aren’t required but, like at MIT, they are strongly recommended.

Students also have a selection of essay prompts to choose from as they approach the required essay.

After submitting their applications, students will be invited to an interview with a Georgetown alumnus/alumna wherever possible. Unlike MIT, Georgetown doesn’t appear to have made the move to virtual interviews, meaning their availability is still geographically determined. If there are no alumni in your region, your students’ interviews will be waived.

And you and your colleagues will need to be aware that the university application system at Georgetown has a number of special requirements for you, too:

  • Secondary school report
  • Midyear school report
  • Teacher’s report


Georgetown University’s deadlines fall broadly in line with the general application timeline in the US. Early Application submissions need to be in by 1st of November, and Regular Decision applications are required by 10th of January.

Support your students’ US university applications whichever system they use

Ultimately, the university application system your students choose depends on where they’d like to study.

For those interested in spreading their applications beyond a delineated network of universities, it often makes sense to opt for a broader platform (we’d recommend BridgeU!). But students set on a specific area or university might prefer to apply to them directly – and in some cases won’t have a choice!

Whatever they decide, there is much more to the application than the system itself. All students’ applications include thorough research, personal essays and recommendations.

To help you and them understand all aspects of the US’s university system, download our free, in-depth Ultimate Guide to Studying in the USA. You’ll learn about key topics like public vs private institutions, scholarships and the application process.

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