What to Think About Once Enrolled on Campus in the US?

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What to Think About Once Enrolled on Campus in the US?

The United States is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world. Furthermore, it is home to many world-renowned educational institutions, which makes it a popular destination for students seeking international education and, eventually, international employment. But, how do you cope with the stress of school while trying to navigate life in a new country? On top of that, when and where can you legally find a job? Whether you’re thinking about enrolling in a U.S. college, or you’ve already been accepted, here is some information about handling culture shock, as well as the various work opportunities during and after your degree program.

  • 1. Handling Culture Shock

    Even if you arrive at your new school thoroughly prepared, you will likely experience some degree of culture shock. This refers to the positive or negative effect of going from a familiar place to an unfamiliar place. Weather, for instance, might be the first difference you notice. If you suddenly move from a tropical climate to a northern city like Chicago or New York, it might take you a while for your body and mind to adjust to the cold. Language is another common shock. Although most international students in the U.S. already know English, it can be intimidating to suddenly be forced to completely rely on your second or third language. Many students find that the pace of speaking is difficult to follow, particularly in the classroom. And with that, they may feel too shy to ask a professor or friend to repeat a phrase or two. Finally, you may experience trouble navigating or responding to social roles and etiquette in the U.S. You may be surprised when you see certain public displays of affection, or when people appear more or less casual than you are accustomed to. Just like they are back home, social norms are ingrained in the culture of America. Even subcultures within the U.S. have unique characteristics and unspoken rules. The best way to navigate this new environment is to think about your own culture back home and try to understand new perspectives in the context of social norms. This will help you develop better relationships with your peers.

  • 2. Working While Studying

    If you are like most international students in the U.S., you will study under an F-1 Visa, which is governed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). There are a number of work restrictions and rules for international students, as the process of gaining employment is not the same as it is for citizens. On-campus Work – a good option for new students. This refers to a job performed directly for your college or university and is often part of an assistantship or grant. In some cases, the work may be performed off campus, but only with a party that is directly affiliated with your school in an educational capacity. As a rule under F-1 status, international students must maintain their visa status and may not work more than 20 hours per week on campus. Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) – work performed in correlation with your degree program. Some degrees require hands-on training or an off-campus internship. This is where CPT comes in. Again, you must maintain your F-1 status. The job must also be in your specific field of study, and you must have received the actual offer before you can apply for work authorization. This authorization will specify how many hours you can work and during which period of time you can work. Not all degree programs require you to hold a job while in school, but many do require practical training, in which case, you will need to go through the proper channels. This is the case for sandwich programs, during which one of your academic years will be spent working in the industry. While formal sandwich programs or more common in the United Kingdom, many industries in the United States expect students to have completed, at the very least, a summer internship. Even if your degree does not require you to work during school, having practical experience will make you much more marketable after graduation.

  • 3. Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    Like CPT, OPT requires you to maintain your F-1 student status. However, it provides work authorization both during school and after you have completed your degree. Although your degree program may not require practical training, your OPT work must still be related to your field of study. You are eligible to apply once you’ve been in school for at least nine months, but you cannot officially work until you’ve been enrolled for at least one year. You don’t need to have a job offer in order to apply, and you are permitted to work for any sponsoring employer within the United States. OPT authorization is available for a total of 12 months, assuming that you work full-time, or 40 hours per week. However, it is also available for part-time work at a reduced rate. For example, suppose you chose to work part-time (20 hours per week) under OPT for six months. At the end of the six months, you would still be eligible for an additional nine months of full-time OPT. If you elect OPT during school, you can only work part time. Furthermore, you must be enrolled full-time in classes. This is important to keep in mind, as working during school can add more stress on top of the culture shock you may already be experiencing. Nonetheless, it is a great way to get a jump-start on your professional experience. You also have the option to work under OPT during your summer break, in which case you would be permitted to work full-time hours, as long as you plan to return to school in the fall. This also applies to winter breaks. If you elect OPT after graduation, you are permitted to work full-time, or 40 hours per week. Keep in mind, however, that you must complete your OPT work within 14 months following the completion of your degree. This means that you must apply before you graduate and you must start working no later than two months after you graduate. In addition, if you have already worked 12 months full-time on CPT, you will no longer be eligible for OPT when you graduate. This is why it is important to pay close attention to the rules. If you work part-time CPT or less than 12 months of full-time CPT, you will then still be eligible for OPT. OPT is a great way to legally obtain practical experience that may possibly lead to full-time sponsorship. In other words, this gets your foot in the door as an international student. Just be sure to understand the process and all the rules that govern the program. For instance, if you decide to go home for a visit after you graduate, but you have not yet applied for OPT, you will no longer be eligible when you return. On the other hand, if you have already applied and received authorization and a job offer, you can leave the country after graduation. Just be sure to return with all of your documents, including your F-1 visa, I-20s, passport, OPT authorization (EAD card) and an offer letter from your employer.

  • 4. Working After Graduation

    The job market in the United States is competitive. Therefore, as an international student, it is important to stand out and understand what career opportunities are available under your status after graduation. Students pursuing highly-marketable degrees, such as engineering or medicine are likely to have the most options. In fact, if you earn a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), you are eligible to apply for a 24-month OPT extension. Examples of eligible STEM programs include: Computer science Engineering and Engineering Technology Finance Mathematics Actuarial Science Military Technology Pre-Medical and Medical ScienceBiologyChemistryPhysics The STEM extension requires a separate application: Form I-765. Additionally, you can only work for an employer that has completed the E-Verify process and obtained an E-Verify Client Company ID number. You will need this number when you apply for the extension, along with a copy of your visa documents and your diploma.

  • 5. Making the Most of Your Education

    The key thing to remember is that in order to work in the United States as a non-student, you need an employer to sponsor you. Unfortunately, not all companies are willing to make this investment, so you should begin the process early. Research companies that have a track record for hiring international students, and try to network with those people early on in your education. Additionally, attending career fairs and workshops will help you improve your communication and interview skills. Above all, you should fully understand your work authorization options and be able to articulate the specific requirements and procedures to potential employers. Not all companies have experience hiring international students. Fortunately, many colleges and universities in the US have designated offices to facilitate work and study opportunities directly through the CPT and OPT programs. At SchoolApply, we offer a wide variety of resources to help you navigate the process of living and working in America. Visit our school page for information on STEM, work-study programs and the unique career culture in the United States.



Levels Explained

  • Bachelor's

    A bachelor's degree (also called a first degree or undergraduate degree) is attained after receiving a post-secondary (high school) education and generally spans four years. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as bachelor or undergraduate students. A bachelor's degree is usually offered at an institution of higher education, such as a university.

  • Master's

    A master’s degree (or postgraduate or graduate education) involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees. This degree is preceded by a bachelor’s degree and generally takes two years to complete. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as master's, or grad students.

  • Pathway

    Bachelor’s and master’s pathway programs are designed for international students who need additional English language and academic preparation before continuing to a degree program at a university. The purpose of these programs are to give students the confidence and skills needed to succeed in college.