The Guide to Studying in the USA for International Students
How do I study in the USA?
Your journey to the US as an international student begins with choosing the university and academic program that you wish to pursue. A two-year associate’s program at a US college or university is typical. In the USA, a bachelor’s degree typically takes three to four academic years. You can continue your education after obtaining a bachelor’s.
Graduate or postgraduate options include a master’s or PhD degree (two or more years of study). Graduate programs such as master’s or doctorate are usually more focused, while bachelor’s or associate’s degrees tend to be more general.
Find the best Universities and Colleges
Where to Start Your Research To Study In The USA
Start your search on how to study abroad in the USA at the U.S. Department of Education college navigator website, where you can look for associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and advanced degree programs (master’s and PhD). Some sites, such as College Board’s Big Future allow you to search US undergraduate colleges and universities by a variety of features or characteristics.
College rankings can help you identify the best colleges for international students . There are many official government lists which rate the best universities in each country (e.g. league table in the UK). In the United States there is no standard public ranking of colleges. In the USA, private companies measure and rank colleges. U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges is one of the most well-known ranking systems. News & World Report ranks colleges and universities in many categories including Top Universities for international students.
Other popular college rankings lists include Forbes The Princeton Review and Times Higher Education. Rankings can be used by foreign students to determine which colleges offer a high-quality education. Remember: Rankings are not the sole criteria for choosing a university.
Shorelight advisors can guide international students to universities that welcome students from all over the world and align with their academic and professional goals.
Contact a College Advisor
Speak to an expert in US higher education to learn more about studying in the USA, as well as find colleges that suit your academic interests, preferences and career plans.
EducationUSA is a network of U.S. Department of State educational advising centers that has 400 centers located in over 170 countries. You can therefore visit one in your region to get more information. Shorelight also offers sessions with counselors who can help foreign students find the right universities in the US.
You can also attend virtual webinars with university experts that you can watch online from home. You can also attend virtual web seminars online with university experts.
Select a University Program
Many international students choose colleges in the USA based on their majors (or focus of academic studies). You may be able complete a double degree at a college or university if you have multiple academic interest. You may also decide to add a second academic focus (which requires approximately half of the classes required for a major).
You don’t need to worry if you are not sure what you would like to study in America. In the United States most students will change their mind about their intended degree during their college years, and 40% of students start their first year with an undeclared degree.
When you are deciding where to go for your Bachelor’s degree in the USA, you should also consider what kind of experience you would like at the university. To get you started, here are some questions:
- What do I want to study? A large university or small college?
- What is the difference between a public and private college?
- Would I prefer a campus in the country, a town or a large city?
- What would I like to study?
- What types of student groups and campus activities do I want?
You can make an informed decision by answering these questions. Keep these preferences in your mind when you are researching colleges in the US.
You can also consider the location of each college in the US (climate), required tests (academic standardized and English proficiency exams), costs, scholarships and international student services. Campus facilities and internships are also important.
You can find rankings of graduate programs in U.S. News & World Report, Best Graduate Schools can help you find quality degree programs. You will need to go beyond rankings, and ask yourself key questions.
- When can I begin my graduate program? Is the university bringing in new students during the fall (August to September), the spring (January to February), or the summer (May to May)?
- Does the application require standardized tests like GRE or GMAT
- Are there any housing options for graduate students or married students on campus?
- Can I do an internship or coop during the program?
- Do you offer services to international students ?
Apply to University
It is now time to start applying. Once you’ve selected the program that you wish to pursue, and prepared a list of possible universities to select from, you can begin your application.
You can apply online for a US University program either by using the school’s website or a third party system such as the common app, which is accepted by nearly 900 colleges. Shorelight may be an option for you to apply directly with some universities. You will need to submit certain documents, regardless of the method you use.
Fill out college applications and tests
Applications for Undergraduate Students
There are some common admissions requirements that all US universities share. The following are the general requirements of American universities for international students:
- Standardized test scores
- What is the difference between SAT and ACT?
- English test scores
- Your passport copy
Some colleges and Universities may require proof of funding for international students. You can read more about the college application requirements in Shorelight’s checklist for international students. Some colleges require you to interview with alumni or staff members living abroad.
Remember that deadlines for college applications are very important. You may have to submit your application by November or even December for more selective colleges who admit students via early decision or.
You can apply to a Shorelight-partnered university in the US using a separate application. Many do not require that foreign students submit an essay, or SAT/ACT score.
Applications for Graduate Students
The application requirements for international students who apply to graduate programs is similar to those of undergraduate programs with some important differences. What you might need is:
- Your transcripts of your Bachelor’s degree studies
- Test scores
- Toefl, IELTS or PTE Academic?
- Statement of Purpose
- Research proposal
- Professors’ recommendations
- Your passport copy
- Proof of financial support — If you do not apply for fellowships or assistantships separately, you must show sufficient funding to cover your entire education costs (after subtracting any scholarships).
The admissions committee may require applicants to participate in an interview on campus or via videoconference (or similar).
Most colleges and universities in the US accept online applications for graduate students, usually through their own websites. Graduate applicants do not have a Common App. Shorelight Universities offer a simplified online application that does not require GRE, GMAT or Statement of Purpose for consideration for admission.
Learn about the costs of studying abroad
The cost of college in the United States is calculated annually and includes tuition, fees and living expenses as well as insurance.
Simply put, attending American universities is expensive. What is different when paying for college in America is that you may have access to academic, athletic or artistic scholarships, as well as financial aid based on need (such grants for international students).
Graduate programs tend to be shorter (e.g. one-to-two years for master’s degrees) and cost less, but are still comparable. Most undergraduate students receive financial support from their families to fund their bachelor’s degrees. However, international students in the USA usually pay for their own graduate education or get some help from their universities.
Ask the advisors of the colleges you are applying to about scholarships, grants and assistantships available for foreign students. You may qualify for academic merit scholarships or graduate assistantships if you’re applying to a masters program. Funding assistantships or fellowships may be available for doctorate programs.
Do not exclude certain colleges based on the total cost of their tuition. To help with expenses, check if the colleges in question offer financial aid to international students.
Accept the Offer of Admission
It is exciting to hear that you’ve been accepted by one or more universities in the USA. You will have to make a decision on which university to attend.
You will find out if you have been accepted before the 1st of January for early-decision colleges. You will find out if you are accepted to a college that has an application deadline in February or January. If you have applied to a college that offers rolling admissions and you submitted your application in January or February, you should receive a decision from the institution within 1-2 weeks.
It can be difficult to decide which of the multiple offers you want. Consider what you’ve learned since you applied — interactions with representatives, current students or recent graduates, and what you already know about the campus. You can also seek out students from your own country to ask their opinion before you make a final decision.
It will tell you how to accept your offer, where to get the I-20 form (https://shorelight.com/student-stories/student-visa-usa_i20_form/” title=”I-20 form”>I-20 Form/a>), and when to arrive on campus for classes. You will find information on how to accept the offer, receive the I-20 Form required to apply for a Student Visa and when to arrive at the campus to begin classes. Many US colleges require a deposit (often tuition and housing) by a certain date to guarantee your place.
Student Visa Application
After you’ve decided where to study, the next thing is to get your visa. Each visa has its own requirements.
- F-1 : This student visa allows you to study in US colleges or universities with the help of friends, family or yourself. You can also work on campus part-time for up to 20 hours a week during your academic term.
- J-1 : This student visa allows you to participate in exchange programs that include both study and work at US colleges and universities. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State approves this visa. The program must be sponsored by a nonprofit or educational institution. You have the same restrictions on work as F-1 students but you cannot work outside of campus.
- M-1 If you are interested in vocational studies, then you can apply for an M-1 visa. This allows you to study in institutes that have been certified by Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP). The funding for the program can come from family members, friends or you. You will be subject to the same restrictions on work as F-1 or J-1 visas. However, you can only work for six months at a time.
For a J-1, you’ll need a DS2019 form. An I-20 is required for an F-1, M-1, or a J-2 visa. Each form differs slightly depending on the type of visa. However, all forms require personal information, including full name, birthdate and SEVIS ID number, academic program, English language proficiency standard, start dates, funding sources, etc.
You may receive an I-20, or DS-2019, with your acceptance letter if you can prove that you are able to fund at least a year of study. Some US universities only issue an I-20 or DS-19 after the funding has been documented, institutional financial awards have been made and a deposit paid.
There are four steps that you must take after receiving the I-20 from your college or University.
- Online payment of $350 for SEVIS I-901 fee (and retain your electronic receipt).
- Online DS-161 form to apply for your visa.
- Schedule your Visa Interview with the US Embassy or Consulate
- Fill out the interview
For more information on the DS-160, you can read our DS160 explained or contact a Shorelight advisor. Our advisors are available to act as your guide for US universities, help you understand how to study in USA for international students and provide visa assistance. They can also prepare you for the Student Visa Process.
Prepare for your departure to the US
As you prepare for your visa, don’t forget about your arrival on campus. You will be told by your US college or school when to arrive in the US for the start of the academic year or optional orientation. Arrive early. It’s a good idea for you to arrive as early as possible so that you can prepare yourself before the first day of class.
Booking travel is a top priority. There are two dates more important than your academic term or orientation date: 1) immigration regulations require that you arrive in the United States at least 30 days before the start of your program on your I-20. 2) you must arrive within that I-20 start date.
Double-check before you board the plane that you have the documents required to be presented at the border. (I-20s, financial documents and documents of admission, receipt for SEVIS fees, passport with F-1 visa). They should be kept in your carry-on bag so that you can easily find them. Keep official copies of all your documents, including your immunization record, medication, and transcripts.
Accommodation for International Students
You will know your housing options and assignments before you leave your university. Many universities have on-campus housing options, including dormitories. They also offer off-campus housing, such as apartments, complexes and shared houses. Research each option before leaving, and select the one that suits your needs.
You will be able to participate in a welcome orientation upon arrival at Shorelight Colleges and Universities, as well as ongoing advising sessions during your first year. This will help you with the campus adjustment. You will be welcomed with sessions on international student housing and health insurance plans. On-campus employment options, student organizations and activities, and more.
Students from abroad may be surprised to find out that campus life in the US is quite different than life back home. It can be useful to create a list of essentials to bring with you. Consider bringing or setting up:
- Cell phone – Check with your provider to see if you can make calls using your cell phone in the US. You may need to purchase a US cell phone and a calling plan if yours does not work.
- Open a bank account Research banks in your area to open a US account . Some banks are affiliated with universities and offer benefits like discounts on campus or special offers from local retailers.
- An electronic adapter The chargers and power cables of some electronics may not be compatible with US power sockets. You may want to bring adapters or change your cables.
- Documentation : Make sure to have all the important documents you need for your international student life, including copies of your I-20 and student visa, your passport, letters of recommendation, and your test scores.
- Personal medications: Ask your advisor whether any medication that you depend on is available at pharmacies close to your campus. You may want to carry extra medications in case you need them.
Visit the USA.gov site to learn more about studying in USA.
What are your next steps to studying in the USA? Attend classes, work hard and make new friends. We wish you a wonderful experience as an international student in the USA.