How do international students gain admissions into elite US universities?

What exactly is an “elite university”?

Some universities are considered elite by tradition, such as the Ivy League and “public Ivy universities”, other institutions are considered elite based on their rankings. And naturally, there is a lot of overlap among the above. 

One thing that elite universities have in common is that they are very selective in their admission process – only selecting the students that they consider the best match for their university.

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Many elite universities are US based

However you define “elite”, 35 out of the top-100 universities in the 2023 THE world University rankings are American institutions, so it’s no wonder that many international students are looking to get admitted to elite universities in the US.


Despite the stature of US universities, the proportion of international students in the US is relatively small. According to OECD figures, only around 5% of bachelor students are international, compared to 15% in the UK and 18% in Australia.


Getting into an elite US university as an international student

If you’re entering the US education system as an international student, it’s harder to get into an elite university. Even if your study results are stellar.


Admission officers at US universities find it harder to evaluate “foreign” credentials than credentials from US based schools. For example, many university admissions offices have regional officers placed in different states that know their regions down to the high school–but that’s just not possible for the entire world. Additionally, as an outsider, you may not understand all the intricacies of the US education system. 


This translates into lower admission rates for international students. For example, in 2022, UCLA accepted 9% of all freshmen applicants, but for international freshman applicants, the number dropped to 5.7%.

How to improve your chances of getting admitted into an elite US university?

There are several things you can do to improve your odds of admissions:


Prepare thoroughly before you apply

Before you start applying for your dream university, you need to understand what your target institution is looking for in its applicants, so you can highlight your strengths.


Most universities have minimum requirements such as Grade Point Averages (GPA) so you need to evaluate if you are a good match before you apply.

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If you’re set on studying in the US, it’s wise to apply to multiple universities, some of which are “safety schools” that you’re fairly confident you can get admitted in, while you also go through the admissions process at your dream university.


Apply for a community college in the US first, then transfer to an elite university after 2 years with a guaranteed admissions agreement

Your safety option can be to apply for a community college in the US. These colleges are inclusive in their admissions process, which means that as long as international students simply meet certain English language requirements, they are going to admit you.


Many community colleges offer an excellent study environment, where you can get to know the US education system while building your American academic credentials. 


Many of these community colleges have good relationships with elite universities, which allow their students to transfer into the elite university after 2 years. And, most importantly, these community colleges are the only place where students can receive guaranteed admissions into top-ranking US universities.


Get expert advice

While you can combine the above two strategies, it’s also important that you get expert advice when doing so!


There are professionals who know the US education system intimately and can advise you on the best strategy for gaining admissions based on your specific situation. But be warned! Anyone can claim to be an admissions professional and offer advice for a fee. Choose your expert wisely–you only have one shot at getting it right.

How does University Bridge help international students gain admission to elite US universities?

We thought you’d never ask! We work together with a select group of community colleges that offer the best pathways into elite US universities through amazing guaranteed admissions agreements.


While you could apply to these colleges directly, when you come through University Bridge, you get the benefit of intensive counseling and advice. During your first two years in the US, we’ll help you settle down and establish the right study path to maximize your chances and options for getting admitted in an elite US university.

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Your first two years at UBridge can help you to drastically increase your chances to gain admission into any elite US university. If you’re wondering about the possibilities for your specific situation, feel free to contact us about the possibilities. 


We have also set up a number of pathway programs that are geared towards helping international students gain admission into a number of elite US universities.



43% Acceptance rate into UC Berkeley for UBridge 2022 graduates vs. 5.5% for international direct freshman applications



86% Acceptance rate into UC Davis for UBridge 2022 graduates



78% Acceptance rate into UC Irvine for UBridge 2022 graduates



89% Acceptance rate into UC Santa Barbara for UBridge 2022 graduates



57% Acceptance rate into UCLA for UBridge 2022 graduates vs 5.7% for international direct freshman applications

Want to learn about transfer pathways into top US universities? Don’t hesitate to contact us