The Definitive 7-Step Guide to Study in the United States
Planning for International Study: 7 Steps to Success
Myle Duong, Assistant Director of International Admissions & Recruitment at the University of Northern Iowa, specializes in knowing everything there is to know about the study abroad process. She’s helped us break the process down into seven comprehensive steps that cover everything from research to college acceptance.
Section 1: Research
There are 4,000+ schools in the U.S., but your school search can be made easier by filtering your options. There are four steps associated with research, and we’ll break those down for you below.
Step 1: Research destinations
When it comes to researching destinations, there are four things you should take into consideration:
- Cost of Living
- Career Opportunities
Lifestyle has to do with your day-to-day life. What do you enjoy? If you had a day all to yourself, would you spend it outside riding your bike, hiking up a mountain, or staying indoors listening to the rain pour as you read a book? For the outgoing and adventurous, you might choose a school that gives you access to nature or a big city; for my fellow introverts, maybe a cozy campus community that matches your lifestyle.
Weather plays a significant role in our mood, ability to focus, and the things we do. Because the U.S. is such a big country, each region has its own weather patterns. You have states that are sunny 365 days of the year, while others give you all four seasons.
Cost of living is particularly important considering the cost of education for international students. Money isn’t easy to come by, so how can you best make use of what you have? Remember, your dollar can go further in one state vs. another.
Career opportunities are essential if you want to build skills that translate to your future job. The benefits present in a larger state are apparent — the job market will be exponentially bigger, allowing for more internship opportunities. Another thing to note is that your future school is connected; it can help to ask around if anyone has any leads.
Step 2: Research degree programs
It’s not uncommon for students to select a degree without really knowing whether they’d enjoy it. According to CollegeRank.net, 50-70% of undergraduate students change their major at least once, with the majority of them changing their major upwards of 3 times.
Now, there’s no guarantee that you’ll know whether you’ll like a degree program until you’re in it, but there are steps you can take to identify whether it is something you’d enjoy studying. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your interests, and is there a major that aligns with them?
- What will the ROI of your chosen degree pathway look like?
- What is the industry landscape for that particular program?
Look at each school's website, research what the majors are there, and don’t underestimate the power of social media in your school search.
Step 3: Research schools
As we’ve mentioned before, there are 4,000+ schools in the U.S., and each school has traits that make them a good fit for someone. However, there is a difference between GOOD schools and the RIGHT school.
As Myle mentioned during her sit-down interview, “If you’re looking to be a video game designer and to get there, you need a computer science AND a graphic design degree, but the schools that you’re looking at only have one or the other, it’ll help if you choose a school that has both.” Rather than settle for something that doesn’t fit ALL your requirements, do the extra research and find a school that does — there are thousands of options, after all.
Another factor that can’t be overlooked is how involved a school is during your journey. Is there a school that’s gone the extra step to make your journey more accessible? How much guidance are you receiving? Accessibility is everything, and schools that take initiative to offer you that benefit are schools worth considering.
Step 4: Research English Language Proficiency Tests
The application process has several steps that take care of themself — you won’t have to go out of your way to complete them — English Language tests are NOT one of those steps. You should start practicing your English the moment you decide to study in the U.S., but beyond that, you should study with the goal of passing an English Language test in mind.
TOEFL is the one English Language test that you can almost always count on to be accepted by your potential school. For example, TOEFL at UNI is one of the requirements that are accepted for both undergraduate and graduate studies. The combination of widespread acceptance and the flexibility to take TOEFL at home or at a testing center makes it the best and most accessible test on the market.
If you’d like to know whether your future school accepts TOEFL for their English Language requirement, you can use TOEFL’s destination search tool to find out.
Section 2: Preparation
Now that your research is done and your list of potential schools is narrowed down to a select few — it’s time to take action.
Step 5: Prepare for the TOEFL Test
TOEFL’s website is the ultimate resource for any international student looking to take an English Language test. They offer numerous resources, including test overviews, courses, practice tests, guides, and various other study materials.
Follow their guides to equip yourself with the knowledge you need, then use these tips to prepare yourself for test day:
- Schedule your test early so that you won’t have to worry about deadlines
- Aim to complete your exam before the admissions window opens
- Rest the day before the test and eat a good meal before going to take it
- Read all the requirements ahead of time for what you can and can’t bring on test day
Step 6: Preparing your application
Application requirements vary from one school to another, but the general requirements are almost always the same. Having spoken to Myle, an Assistant Director of International Admissions & Recruitment, she was able to provide an in-depth look at the application requirements for the University of Northern Iowa.
At the undergraduate level, UNI is looking for:
- Academic transcripts that have been translated into English (you can either hire a professional translator to translate for you or try to translate it yourself)
- GPA over 2.5 on a 4.0 scale
- English Proficiency test scores: UNI has a minimum score of 79 for the internet-based TOEFL test and an 8.0 requirement for the TOEFL Essentials home edition.
Your application to UNI should take no more than 15 minutes to complete, but it will vary depending on the school you’re applying to.
Section 3: Acceptance
Step 7: Acceptance and Final Plans
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, it means that you’ve been accepted to your dream school, and you’re ready to start your journey. At this point, you should put all your energy toward preparing for arrival.
Here are a few tips to make your arrival a seamless experience:
- Firstly, read your emails! Your school will send critical information between your acceptance and your arrival — you don’t want to miss a single detail.
- Reach out to the international admissions team at your school. They can provide additional information on where to fly to, what to bring, and accommodation.
- Be patient. It’s easy to forget that your school is in a different time zone than you. What might be 8 AM for you will be 8 PM for your school. Give them some time, and they’ll get back to you.
In case you missed it…
You can rewatch our informative Facebook Live session with Myle Duong to hear the seven steps to success in its entirety.
Thank you to our friends at TOEFL for supporting this series. To learn more about TOEFL, click here.
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