The United States has thousands of accredited colleges and universities well known for their quality, flexibility, diverse programs of study and useful structure for graduate studies. More than 760,000 international students from around the world are furthering their higher education in the United States today and there are options available to meet everyone’s needs. This guide provides complete information on studying in the United States as an international student.
Structure of U.S. higher education
Higher education in the U.S. is comprised of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Undergraduate programs generally grant associate’s degrees (two years) and bachelor’s degrees (four years). Master’s degrees and doctoral degrees are conferred at the graduate level.
Colleges,institutes universities and community college
Degree-granting institutions, accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-approved accrediting organization, can be referred to by any of these terms. Colleges and institutes are not inferior to universities.
As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller than universities and may only offer undergraduate degrees, while universities offer graduate degrees. Institutes often specialize in certain fields such as business, engineering and art.
Community colleges provide two-‐year associate’s degree programs as well as technical and vocational programs. They can be public or private institutions and are sometimes called junior colleges or two year colleges. Tuition costs are often lower at two year institutions, and many have articulation/twinning agreements to allow students in transfer programs to move easily into the third year of a bachelor’s degree program at a university. A growing number of international students choose to study at community colleges.
Search for universities in the States
Selecting the right university or college is a crucial life decision and will influence your entire career. It is important that you take your time when researching your options
It is recommended that you begin your search 12-18 months before your intended departure date. For example if you plan to start study in the U.S. in September 2020, you should begin your search in June/July of 2019 or earlier.
Before you start Ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I want to study?
- Does my secondary school coursework prepare me for the demands of this major?
- Can I meet admission requirements?
- What kind of environment do I want to live in? (large city, small town,cold climate, close to family, etc.)
- Do I want to go to a small (Under 5,000 students), medium (10,000+students) or large (20,000+students) school?
- What is my budget and how much can my family afford?
- Do I want to go to a private or public institution?
- Do I want to attend a university that has services for international students?
There are some excellent websites that can help narrow your search. Information on college/university search engines is available under Research your options Research and Narrow your choices at : https://www.EducationUSA.state.gov
Accreditation is the approval of colleges and universities by nationally recognized professional associations or regional accrediting bodies, to ensure quality and continuous improvement. There are usually two very important steps to make sure that the college or university that you have chosen is accredited regionally and professionally in the United States:
Step One: The college or university should be recognized regionally by the regional accrediting bodies, which are members of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).Council for Higher Education Accreditation http://www.chea.org
Also, the U.S. Department of Education has an online database which provides the names of postsecondary institutions and programs accredited by a USDOE approved accrediting organization. The database has multiple search functions,allowing search options by name, location, type of institution, accrediting association, etc. http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation
For more information, refer to the following link which will give you a list of CHEA Recognized Accrediting Organizations: http://chea.org/pdf/CHEA_USDE_AllAccred.pdf
Step Two: The program that you are interested in studying in that college or university should be professionally accredited.
Documents to submit for admission to U.S. colleges and universities
Individual institutions set their own admission requirements and application procedures. Check college/university websites and/or printed application materials for details.
You may be required to submit the following items before universities evaluate your application:
- Completed application form
- Application fee (No cash! Most schools prefer a certified check or international money order, or through a credit card)
- Official copy of your academic transcripts stamped by the Ministry of Education/Higher Education. If the transcript is not in English, then it needs to be translated by a Ministry of Education/ Higher Education-approved translator and then stamped by the Ministry of Education/Higher Education
- Personal statement
- Two or three letters of recommendation (from teachers/school counselors)
- Financial documents proving you have adequate funds, or a scholarship, to study in the U.S.
- Official standardized test scores sent directly to the university from the testing company (TOEFL iBT/IELTS/SAT/ACT/GMAT/GRE, etc.)
Please Note: All items must be submitted according to application deadlines set by the college. Deadlines can range anywhere from 3 to 9 months before classes start.
Standardized tests required
Generally speaking, the TOEFL iBT is required of all international applicants, regardless of the intended field or level of study.
Undergraduate students are often required to take the SAT Reasoning Test or ACT. Some competitive institutions require scores from the SAT Subject Tests. With the exception of GMAT for MBA programs, graduate students are almost always required to take the GRE General Test. A few graduate programs will require scores from the GRE Subject Tests in addition to the GRE General Test.
You need a strong command of both spoken and written English. If an applicant cannot speak English, then that individual would need to enroll in an Intensive English or English as a Second Language (ESL) program and achieve a designated level of proficiency prior to matriculation. Always check university websites for specific details on standardized test requirements.
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For students interested in starting programs in August/September, deadlines may be as early as November of the previous year. Since every university has its own deadlines, it is best to locate these dates on each university’s website.
There are also universities that have rolling admissions where applications can be submitted throughout the year and decisions made on a monthly basis.
Tuition and Living cost in USA
The cost of study in the United States varies widely among universities and the cost of living from one location to the next. Comprehensive costs can range from US$18,000 per year to over US$65,000 per year.
The figures listed below are designed to provide some indication of how much students can expect to pay for 12 months of study in the U.S. When budgeting, you should estimate that tuition costs typically increase 6-‐10% each year.
Finances Per Year
Tuition : $10,000 - $60,000
Personal Expenses : $1,500 – $3,000
Room/board : $4,000 – $15,000
Travel to USA : $1,500 – $2,000
Book-Supplies : $700 – $1,500
Health Insurance : $800 - $1,000
Total : $18,000 - $65,000
Distance Education is an increasingly popular way to study for everything from a short professional course to a graduate degree in the United States. Under the distance education model, students no longer attend classes in a classroom on a campus; instead, classes are delivered “from a distance” through the use of technologies such as the Internet, satellite television, video conferencing, and other means of electronic delivery.
Studying for a degree using distance education requires students to have special qualities, including self-‐discipline and the ability to work on their own.
If you are interested in distance education you will want to make sure that the college/university you enroll in is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-approved accrediting organization. There are MANY online colleges and universities that are not recognized. If in doubt, contact an EducationUSA Advising Office in your country for assistance when selecting programs.
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What Students Should Know Before Enrolling in Online/Distance Education
Where are you thinking of enrolling?
• By whom is this institution accredited?
• Is the accrediting association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or CHEA?
What program are you thinking of enrolling in?
• Are there any residency requirements?
• What other institutions offer similar programs and do they grant the same
credentials for similar work?
• How does the variety of courses offered compare with similar on-‐site programs?
• How are course materials made available to students?
• What arrangements have been made for me to complete any required laboratory requirements?
Who designs, delivers and monitors the program?
• Who designs and delivers the program (and if they are different, how is the delivery controlled)?
• Where can the qualifications and current professional activities of the faculty be found in writing?
• What arrangements are made to ensure faculty-‐student and student-‐student interaction?
Other expectations of the institution and available student services
• What academic, linguistic, and technical skills does the institution require for students enrolling in this program?
• What equipment must I have access to and how will the institution help me in any problems that arise concerning the interface between my equipment and their offerings?
• What counseling, career, financial aid, or other non-‐classroom services are provided for distance education students?
• Is there a student handbook for distance education students? If not, where are these issues addressed?
• What is the process for filing complaints?
• What is the institution’s refund policy if I should have to withdraw from this program?
Final check on the integrity of the degree
• How can I assure outsiders that the degree represents an assessment of my work rather than that of someone else?
• Where is there official representation of faculty qualifications, the program’s course sequence and requirements, the nature of student/faculty interaction and assumptions about technical skills?
Visa application process
The United States welcomes thousands of bright students from around the world every year. Scholars of all ages and experiences are drawn to the cultural and academic diversity in America’s many fine colleges and universities and they benefit from challenging and innovative programs available at a wide range of schools. While there are many steps you must take, The following guidelines are intended to help you better prepare for the visa
application process. It is very important to carefully plan your visa application process to ensure that you are prepared and have enough time before the start date of your studies.
1. After a university accepts your application, it will send you Form I-‐20, which is proof-‐of-acceptance to a specific program with a specific start date and provides your SEVIS number.
2. Log into fmjfee.com and pay the SEVIS fee of $200 (AED735) to activate your SEVIS number, which starts with the letter N and is followed by nine digits.
3. Make sure your passport and visa photo are ready to go. The passport must have at least six months validity remaining and at least one blank page. The visa photo must be taken within the last six months, 5cm x 5cm, on white background, with hairline visible, without modification.
4.Before you can schedule a visa interview, you must complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) form located at ceac.state.gov/genniv and print the confirmation page. If someone completes the form on your behalf, you must review the information, as you are legally responsible for the document as submitted. If this information is not filled out completely and accurately, it may delay your visa processing or result in a refusal.
5. Log into usvisa-info.com to pay the visa application fee of $160 and schedule the visa appointment. Student visas are a priority; the wait time is usually no more than a few days.
6. On the day of your interview, arrive at the embassy or consulate 15 minutes prior to your interview time. Bring any relevant documentation. Relax and be truthful with the officer.
8. After a successful interview, the visa officer will most often give an estimated time for processing. Actual time may vary, so we recommend that you do not make non-refundable reservations until your visa is in hand. Empost will notify you when your visa is ready for pick-up.
9. If your application requires any additional documentation or administrative processing, make sure to follow the instructions provided at the time of the interview.
Schedule an interview several months before you plan to depart in some cases, it can take several months to receive a visa, so we always recommend you plan ahead and apply early.
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Student Visa Application Tips
1.You can apply for the visa any time up to four months before your scheduled start date, although you cannot arrive in the United States until one month before your scheduled start date. If the next available appointment time is less than three weeks before your start date, you may apply for an emergency appointment after scheduling a regular appointment.
2. Come prepared for the interview, some visas are delayed when students do not bring the proper required documentation. To avoid this, make sure you bring the necessary documents:
• Passport, valid for at least six months with at least one blank page
• Visa photo, taken with the last six months, 5cm x 5cm, on white background, with hairline visible, without modification
• Original Form I-‐20, issued by the institute/college/university in the United States
• Confirmation page from the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-‐160) form
• SEVIS receipt, payable at fmjfee.com
• Scholarship letter or bank documents for the last three months
• High School transcripts
3. Don’t stress about the interview. During the interview, the visa officer is interested in learning about your background, why you want to travel to the United States, why you selected your specific school and program, how you will pay for your education, and your general life goals. All non immigrant visa applicants must demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the visa category.
4.Expect delays. It is not uncommon for visas to take up to three months to process. While the embassy will work to process your visa as quickly as possible, some delays cannot be avoided.
At the end of the interview the visa officer will tell you the estimated time required for processing, but this is only an estimate, and processing times may vary. If you need your passport for travel to a third country, the visa officer will gladly return your passport after the interview and you can resubmit it later through Empost when the visa is ready. If more processing is required, the U.S. Embassy will return your passport at the time of the interview and provide information on how to resubmit it later for visa printing.
NOTE: Student visas cannot be expedited, so the only way to make sure the visa comes on time is to apply well in advance.
Good luck with your applications !!!!