Studying abroad in America
Essential tips for Students
The United States is home to 150 Universities which feature on the renowned QS World Rankings. This makes it very likely that students coming to the U.S. from other countries will be able to find a university with both the right setting and the right degree program for their needs. In the 2014/15 school year, the United States boasted almost 975,000 international students, a record high.
Many experts tracking higher education trends predict that number will continue to increase and that the U.S. will eventually have over 1 million international students attending its universities at a given time. If you are looking at studying in the United States for your degree, here is what you need to know about the application and acceptance process. As our discussion progresses, the conversation will include both bureaucratic necessities and information about access to basic resources such as food and housing.
The Application Process
Universities in the United States do not follow a standardised university application process, so you will need to apply directly to each school you are considering. Generally speaking, all of the necessary application materials are available online, with instructions that cover the school’s specific admissions process. Since different schools in the U.S. have different application windows for their programmes, it is necessary to obtain information about the timing of applications and about application fees from each school.
In addition to the paper application, most schools will also request a copy of your test scores for either the SAT or ACT test. If you are applying to a wide variety of schools, it is wise to take both tests, because schools in different regions or with different institutional missions will require one test over the other. It is likely that students applying to multiple schools will wind up with both requests. Upon acceptance, new students are placed into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, a database that tracks international students enrolled in U.S. degree programmes. Make sure you include the cost ($200) with any other institutional application fees in your packet.
Testing for Proficiency in English
The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL test, is the standard assessment that universities in the United States tend to use to assess English proficiency. Generally speaking, all universities require it for nonnative speakers of English. It is important to understand that not all universities treat these scores in the same way. For many, they are used more to help with placement in English language courses than with determining admission status. For others, they play a more active role in the overall determination.
Testing early helps, because if the desired result is not obtained, you will still have a chance to study and retake the exam before the application window closes. For the best results, take the test before applying to schools so that you have more flexibility if retesting becomes necessary. This advice also holds for the more general standardised tests used to assess student readiness.
The Visa Process
Students will need an F-1 Immigrant Visa to study in America. This is obtained by following these instructions:
- Pay the Machine Readable Visa fee of $160. The embassy will tell you where to do this.
- Go online and complete Form DS-160. Upload a picture with it.
- When you have the interview, bring your acceptance letter, proof you have paid all fees so far, and either Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to confirm your eligibility. You will also likely need a passport that will not expire until at least six months after you graduate unless your home country is on the list of exempted countries.
- The decision rests on the consular officials. They consider your ability to support yourself while in the country, your proof of academic credentials, and whether you show that you intend to return to your home country after graduation.
- Wait times for determinations can take up to 120 days. Keep in mind that additional documents may be required if you have extenuating circumstances like a past criminal record that complicate the decision-making process.
Accommodations and Housing
Most major universities will offer accessible on-campus housing for international students, but it is also possible to rent a private apartment or room off-campus at most schools. Check to see whether your prospective schools require on-campus living for international students. Many of the ones that do not will also have departments dedicated to connecting students with accommodations in the community.
Working and Financial Assistance
Working in the United States requires a work visa, which is a totally different process from applying for a student visa. That is why one of the primary factors in determining your qualification for an F-1 Immigrant Visa is the ability to support yourself. Students who need to be eligible for employment in the United States will need assistance with the work visa process.
The federal financial aid system in the U.S. excludes international students from participation, but many individual universities offer aid programmes designed to attract international students. These range from student loans with preferential rates to scholarships, fellowships, and even research opportunities. Assistantships and other forms of financial aid with an experiential learning or work study arrangement do not require a separate work visa either, as they are considered to be student financial aid as long as you are enrolled and receiving some kind of tuition or on campus housing assistance as part of your compensation.
Students in the SEVIS database can easily obtain a U.S. driver’s licence that will allow them to drive while in the country. Since different states and localities have different requirements about licensing, you will want to talk to school officials about the process when you select a school.
After completing their degrees, international students in America face a variety of choices. Many wish to return to their home countries to put the knowledge and skills earned during their degree studies to use, but the transition back can be just as difficult as the original transition to the United States. Consulting with schools about their support for international students upon graduation is important because of this. It’s also important because many students wish to remain in the United States, and the job hunt for international students can be challenging due to the extra paperwork and uncertainty regarding visa applications. When your graduation is coming up, it is important to check in with school officials about your choices and to get help with the visa process if you intend to stay in the country for work or if you wish to continue your education by pursuing additional degrees.
Studying abroad in America provides students with the opportunity to attend some of the leading schools in the world, but getting into the right school is a complex process. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to obtain all the records and test scores you need, and remember that planning for every stage of your education abroad is important—and that includes being prepared for life after graduation.