You’re ready to study abroad in the U.S.! Here’s what to expect.
You spend months, sometimes years, thinking about studying abroad. The U.S. is a great place for international students, but the challenges you face will be new and unfamiliar. It would help if you knew what to expect, and that’s where we come in. Here are the 8 things international students should know about the U.S.:
1. The U.S. Education System
If you’d like a detailed explanation of the U.S. education system, we recommend our guide for an in-depth analysis. There’s a lot to know, and it can be overwhelming as an international student experiencing it for the first time. For our purposes here, we’ll cover the essentials.
The higher education grading system in the U.S. is built around your GPA (grade point average). You might be familiar with percentage or letter grades, both used in the U.S. These valuations are converted into a weighted average that reflects your academic success.
Types of institutions
Within higher education, several types of schools offer unique experiences. No one type is better than the next — they each serve different purposes, and one might fit your needs better than another.
- State college or university: Largest institutions
- Private college or university: Privately run, religious affiliation
- Community college: Two-year curriculum, affordable, transfer-preparation
- Institute of technology: STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) focus
2. How to Apply
How do you apply now that you’ve learned what the U.S. education system is like? With 4,000+ higher education institutions in the nation, it’s a good idea to build a set of criteria that you can use to narrow down your search. A few criteria to consider could include the location, cost, prestige, and the programs your potential school offers.
The requirements for each college and university vary, but a good rule of thumb is to expect to provide the following:
- A transcript of your academic history
- Applicable test scores (TOEFL, SAT, ACT, etc.)
- Application fee
- Personal statement/essay
- Proof of finances
For a more comprehensive list of requirements, visit us here to learn more.
3. Getting a Student Visa
The sometimes-stressful process of getting a student visa is, unfortunately, often just as inconvenient as you might think. For some, it can be as simple as following the instructions outlined by the U.S. Embassy, but for others, the process can be prolonged with additional documents, interviews, and more. If you’re looking for an in-depth overview of how to obtain your student visa, read this.
At a glance, the student visa process can be broken down into five steps:
- Apply to and get admitted by a school or program
- Complete the I-20 form provided by your school
- Complete Form DS-160 (online visa application)
- Pay the SEVIS fee (visa application fee)
- Schedule and complete your visa interview
We recommend collecting the documents above before your visa interview, as you may be asked to present them to your visa officer. Not sure how to prepare for your student visa interview? Here are our tips.
4. Understanding Student Finances
International education can be expensive, but it always pays to invest in yourself. There are an infinite number of financial options you can take advantage of, not to mention lower-cost study abroad alternatives — just look at how varied the annual cost of tuition is:
- Undergraduate tuition: $2,200–$33,480
- Graduate tuition: $8,340–$28,890
- Doctoral tuition: $10,510–$40,980
You can find scholarships and student loans or participate in work-study programs to help fund your education.
5. Finding Accommodation
Now we can finally move on to the fun stuff! Finding a place to stay and decorating your room, dorm, or apartment can be one of the most enjoyable parts of moving somewhere new. When it comes to picking out your accommodation, there are lots of options to choose from.
What housing options are available to you?
- University dormitories: The most uncomplicated and stress-free option is to find accommodation through your university (note: this option can be pretty expensive but provides many of the amenities you need).
- Private student housing: The perfect combination of dorm life and off-campus housing, private student housing is close to campus while giving you the freedom of an apartment.
- Homestays: Want to immerse yourself in American culture? Participate in a homestay where you’ll live with a local family who provides housing and meals.
- Off-campus housing: Rent an apartment, share a home, or find whatever accommodation is most comfortable for you. You can have complete flexibility over where you stay and what you do.
There’s a lot more to know about accommodation that we aren’t able to cover here, but we have an article dedicated to telling you everything you need to know. And these accommodation services may be a good place to start your search!
6. Healthcare Insurance
Life happens. We hope your study abroad is full of good health and great experiences, but protecting yourself from life’s twists and turns is never a bad idea. If you’re met with an unexpected health event during your study abroad, and you don’t have insurance, the cost of treatment can be astronomically higher than if you did.
Unlike many countries, the U.S. does not offer universal healthcare. Certain healthcare options can be expensive, but luckily, we offer healthcare specifically for international students at a fraction of the cost.
StudyUSA-Healthcare is available starting at $1.07/day! Visit us here for more information.
7. The English Language and Making Friends
Whether you’re in the U.S. or visiting another country, English connects people worldwide. Your classes will be in English, and your day-to-day conversations will be as well. The first step to success in the U.S. is building your foundation in the English language.
During your admissions process, you’ll be required to take an English language test that assesses your English ability. Your performance may require you to participate in an Intensive English Program through an English Language Institute. These institutes can be a great way to immerse yourself in the English language and accelerate your learning.
Need help studying for your English Language Test? The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) brand has everything you need to get started!
8. Network Building
You made it! You’ve officially arrived in the U.S. — now what?
As you navigate through your study abroad, we encourage you to pursue network-building opportunities. Your school will often host networking events, career fairs, and more so you can meet real-world professionals. Going from your college to an internship can lead to a career, and who you know will be just as important as what you know.
We’re so excited to see you go on this life-changing journey. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be able to navigate even the most challenging obstacles.
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