Funding Your U.S. Education

For many students and their parents who may be helping pay for a higher education overseas, the total cost of a U.S education can be overwhelming. To think that the cost of a bachelor’s degree might be more than a cost of a family home is a hard concept to understand. The good news is that there is a difference between the “sticker price” of what the total cost is as advertised and the actual price of the education minus any scholarships or financial aid a student might earn or qualify for during the process of applying to U.S. colleges and universities.

Level of study

Understanding what kind of financial aid and/or scholarships that might be available to you will depend on your intended level of study. Here’s a quick breakdown of what those levels are:

  • Undergraduate – first post-secondary school degrees
    • Associate (2 years) – generally students who complete this type of degree start their studies at a community college which are often cost the least of any US higher education institution. Many international students start their undergraduate education at community colleges to save money in their first two years before they transfer to a 4-year college or university to complete their bachelor’s degree. Because of the lower cost of community colleges, few offer much in the way of scholarships for international students.
    • Bachelor’s (4 years) – Most international students enrol in 4-year colleges or universities for their undergraduate degrees. The costs will vary from lower cost public institutions and the out-of-state tuition rates for international students to very expensive elite private institutions where the total cost can be close to $100,000 a year when all expenses (tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other living costs) are factored. Scholarships are perhaps most readily available for international students at the bachelor’s degree level.
  • Graduate – degrees available after completion of a bachelor’s degree
    • Master’s (1-2 years) – For many international graduate applicants, starting with a master’s degree is where to begin. Most institutions do not necessarily have significant money available for first year master’s degree students but might have either on-campus scholarships or other types of aid available for continuing/2nd year students.
    • Doctoral (3-5 years) – In general terms, international students admitted to doctoral programs generally qualify for the most significant aid as many PhD programs invest heavily in the students they bring in each year.

How students are funded

According to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report, the primary source of funding for overseas students is international funding (60%). U.S. institutions are the primary source for another 39% of international students.

International funding consists of money from the student, his/her family and home country sources from private foundations or governmental scholarship programs. U.S. funding generally is from the institutions that enrol the students or US governmental or foundation scholarships.

Undergraduate sources

As international students, there are 4 general categories of assistance you should ask the institutions you are applying to for details on what is available to you:

  • Merit based scholarships – generally cover a portion between 10-50% of the tuition costs. Some more selective colleges do offer a small number of full-tuition scholarship which are obviously quite competitive. Merit awards can be for academic, music, art, athletic, leadership, or service based scholarships.
  • Need-based scholarships/grants – typically this kind of aid is only available to international students at the most selective of institutions. This type of money does not need to be repaid.
  • Loans – Some U.S. banks now offer loans (that must be repaid over a period of years after a student graduates with a degree) to international students, some requiring a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. There may also be banks in your home country that offer low interest educational loans to help you pay for your education as well.
  • Work on campus – Legally, international students who are in the U.S. on an F1 student visa are eligible to take a job on the college campus (as a student worker in various offices and departments) up to 20 hours a week while school is in session.


Graduate sources

For international students pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees, there are slightly different kinds of financial assistance available:

  • Fellowships – generally reserved for doctoral level students – merit-based awards.
  • Assistantships – students with this aid work for a department for up to 20 hours a week for a more significant wage that can cover much of a students living expenses – room and board, books and supplies – each year.
  • Scholarships – these awards tend to be fairly small but can cover a portion (up to 20-30% of tuition costs). Some of these scholarships may be specific for books.
  • Loans – very similar to the loans available to undergraduate international students.
  • Work – the same legal requirements for graduate international students apply to on-campus work.

Where to find scholarships

There are many databases out there where you can search for scholarships. Be wary, however, of any that would charge you a fee for accessing their databases. The best ones are free! Here are the links to three specific US scholarship search sites:

For more insight on this topic, check out our Facebook Live chat from February 2022

The View From Campus: How has Life Changed in the U.S. College Classroom?

Over the last two years the Covid-19 pandemic had caused significant changes to how classes are taught on U.S. college campuses. Many lecture classes with 100, 200, or more students that met in big rooms or auditoriums have largely gone online, supplemented by smaller, in-person lab or discussion sections with 15-25 students each. Students on many campuses are still wearing masks indoors and are socially distanced within the classroom. Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. All of these changes have been designed to stop the spread, but in the end, these are superficial changes to how different taking a university class in the United States is compared to many other countries.

For international students seeking to study in the United States there are and will continue to be several important parts of academic life that will remain. While many courses have been taught online and those taught in-person having significant physical changes to the classroom space, the following areas remain consistent.

The Informality

What surprises most international students when they get into their first classes at U.S. colleges is how professors can be so friendly. You may be used to a very formal relationship between students and faculty members in your educational institutions in your home country. For many professors in the United States, the opportunities to help students become what they hope to be is a calling. Faculty members are routinely required to have a set number of hours each week that they are available outside of class periods for students to schedule appointments about topics in class that need clarification or even drop by to have a conversation. International students often develop close relationships with faculty members in their academic program who serve as mentors for students as they progress through their degree program.

The Syllabus

Typically, the first time each class meets, all students in the room receive what is called a syllabus. This document serves as an informal contract between students & the professor. The syllabus outlines all requirements for the duration the class meets, what textbooks or other resources will be studied, when assignments or papers would be due as well as the dates of quizzes, tests, and/or exams. Oftentimes, the syllabus breaks down all content that will be covered as well as how grades will be determined. Quizzes might be worth 10%, a mid-term test 25%, a paper 20%, final exam 30%, and classroom participation 15%. That’s right, you read that last part of the preceding sentence correctly – how well you participate in class can count as a significant portion of your academic grade for a course!

Asking Questions

While you take a minute to digest that last part, let us explain that whether it’s simply asking questions to demonstrate you are engaged in the conversation or need explanations of certain topics, the expectation is that students participate. Speaking with new international students over the years, I have found that while they can usually adapt to the informality of relationships with professors, the real challenge is in changing the way they approach class. Faculty members, in general (certainly not all), encourage debate and discussions on the issues that the topics of the day’s class cover.

Academic Integrity

The realities of the differences in how classrooms operate here compared to your home country may take you some time to become comfortable with them. But one area of how U.S. classrooms operate on college campuses that must be understood immediately after classes begin is academic integrity. In effect, this means there are university policies that require students to practice academic honesty and not engage in plagiarism or other forms of cheating while enrolled. See what the University of North Carolina’s policy on academic integrity involves. MIT breaks down what that prestigious institution means into simple dos and don’ts for issues that may come up in the classroom.

In the end, you’ll need to prepare for the academic transition to a U.S. college. For additional resources on these topics and more, check out this video playlist from our colleagues at EducationUSA that answers questions on the different facets of the classroom experience in U.S. colleges and universities. EducationUSA is the U.S. Department of State’s network of advising centers in 175 countries and territories that serve as the official source on U.S. higher education. The website for this network also has some excellent advice about study options in the United States.

The View From Campus: What’s Life Like On U.S. College Campuses in 2022?

Over the last two years there have been quite a few changes to everyday life on U.S. college campuses. With a global pandemic still impacting our daily lives in almost every country on earth, we’d be forgiven for thinking things may never be the same again. In many ways that may be true, but for many international students seeking to study in the United States there are and will continue to be several important parts of life that will remain the same.

Covid’s Impact in 2022

While the latest Omicron variant came soon after the Delta wave had affected the start of the academic year in August/September, the greater majority of college campuses are back with in-person classes this January. Many campuses had implemented Covid-19 vaccine requirements for students either at the beginning of the academic year or for this new academic term this January. Some U.S. colleges have even begun requiring students get booster shots to continue in-person education. While there may still be courses taught online, those taught in-person having significant physical changes to the classroom space with face masks required, social distancing with seats, the following areas remain consistent.

Implications for International Students

Because of new travel regulations to the United States that went into effect in November 2021, all travelers coming to the U.S. must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (unless you are coming from one of about fifty countries where vaccination rates are below 10%). If you are from one of those countries, most colleges will provide free vaccine shots after arrival, as well as booster shots (six months after you are fully vaccinated). For many international students, wearing a mask to protect yourself and others may be second nature, so that transition may be less of an issue.

The Informality

What surprises most international students when they get into their first classes at U.S. colleges is how professors can be so friendly. You may be used to a very formal relationship between students and faculty members in your educational institutions in your home country. For many professors in the United States, the opportunities to help students become what they hope to be is a calling. Faculty members are routinely required to have a set number of hours each week that they are available outside of class periods for students to schedule appointments about topics in class that need clarification or even drop by to have a conversation. International students often develop close relationships with faculty members in their academic program who serve as mentors for students as they progress through their degree program.

The Syllabus

Typically, the first time each class meets, all students in the room receive what is called a syllabus. This document serves as an informal contract between students & the professor. The syllabus outlines all requirements for the duration the class meets, what textbooks or other resources will be studied, when assignments or papers would be due as well as the dates of quizzes, tests, and/or exams. Oftentimes, the syllabus breaks down all content that will be covered as well as how grades will be determined. Quizzes might be worth 10%, a mid-term test 25%, a paper 20%, final exam 30%, and classroom participation 15%. That’s right, you read that last part of the preceding sentence correctly – how well you participate in class can count as a significant portion of your academic grade for a course!

Asking Questions

While you take a minute to digest that last part, let us explain that whether it’s simply asking questions to demonstrate you are engaged in the conversation or need explanations of certain topics, the expectation is that students participate. Speaking with new international students over the years, I have found that while they can usually adapt to the informality of relationships with professors, the real challenge is in changing the way they approach class. Faculty members, in general (certainly not all), encourage debate and discussions on the issues that the topics of the day’s class cover.

Academic Integrity

The realities of the differences in how classrooms operate here compared to your home country may take you some time to become comfortable with them. But one area of how U.S. classrooms operate on college campuses that must be understood immediately after classes begin is academic integrity. In effect, this means there are university policies that require students to practice academic honesty and not engage in plagiarism or other forms of cheating while enrolled. See what the University of North Carolina’s policy on academic integrity involves. MIT breaks down what that prestigious institution means into simple dos and don’ts for issues that may come up in the classroom.

In the end, you’ll need to prepare for the academic transition to a U.S. college. For additional resources on these topics and more, check out this video playlist from our colleagues at EducationUSA that answers questions on the different facets of campus life in U.S. colleges and universities.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Programs

Are you a student thinking about studying abroad for your first university experience? If so, you are to be commended. If you are considering the United States, you will be welcomed by the college you choose. Finding the right U.S. college, however, may well take some time, with most experts suggesting students start the process between 12-18 months in advance of when they might wish to start their studies. How can you best approach the U.S. college search?

Ask important self-discovery questions

For starters, before you pick colleges, take a few minutes to ask yourself the kinds of questions that will help you find a college or university that will be the best fit for what you need. Our friends at EducationUSA have put together a useful worksheet that is well worth trying called “Define Your Priorities.”

By determining your answers to questions like why do you want to study in the U.S., as well as preferences for living in a city, suburb, or more rural area, or whether you want to be on a large campus or a small one, you can begin to codify what’s important to you in this search.

Learn about different college types

Of course, understanding the kinds of colleges that exist in the United States is equally important. With over 4,000 accredited U.S. colleges and universities, there are many different types of institutions from which you can select: public v private, college v. university v. institute, etc. As you do your research on what those differences are, keep in mind that there will be terms that might sound familiar to what you know, but may have different meanings. There is a very useful FAQ on the EducationUSA site that helps explain many of these terms.

Use search engines to narrow your choices

Perhaps the most daunting task you will face in your search is narrowing your list of possible college options down to a manageable number. There are several college search engines out there to help you in this process. The two that many students use are College Navigator, and Big Future. Each has a variety of factors you can choose from to select institutions including:

  • Location by state
  • Institution type
  • Selectivity of the institution
  • Sports and activities available
  • Types of campus housing
  • Diversity of the student body

By using all of these various criteria, you should be able to put together an appropriate list of colleges that match your wants and needs. From a list of perhaps 10-20 institutions, the next step will be to investigate each of those colleges online to learn more about how close of a fit each may be for you.

Prepare for standardized tests

If there’s one area that has changed considerably in the college search this year it is the role of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. As you may have realized, due to the pandemic, college admissions has changed in recent years. At present, over seventy-five percent of four year (and all of the two-year) colleges either do not require or won’t consider SAT or ACT scores for applicants for admissions intakes in 2022. Be sure, when you start to further narrow your choices down, to check what tests beyond an IELTS would be needed to apply to the U.S. colleges on your list.

More on applying to U.S. colleges in the months to come!

The View From Campus: What are current testing requirements at U.S. universities

Over the last two years our world has changed dramatically. In higher education terms, some countries have had to completely close their borders to international students, others tried. Since March of 2020 many students have been unable to take the standardized tests that most colleges and universities require for admissions. As a result, U.S. institutions of higher education have changed the testing policies for students.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s happened. For most international students considering the United States as a destination for studies, there are two types of tests normally required:

  • English proficiency tests
  • Academic ability or aptitude tests

English proficiency tests

As you well know, studying in an English language education system requires a certain level of familiarity with the language. That’s why you’ve either already taken the IELTS or will soon be. In addition to the IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic, iTEP, and Duolingo are accepted (at varying levels) by U.S. colleges and universities requiring an English language test for admissions. By far, IELTS and TOEFL are nearly universally accepted by US colleges. IELTS is, in fact, accepted by more than 3400 U.S. institutions.

Academic ability tests

If you are seeking an undergraduate (bachelor’s degree), in past years most U.S. colleges required international students to take either an SAT or an ACT test. Designed initially to test U.S. students’ academic skills in verbal and quantitative reasoning, mathematics, writing, and, in the case of the ACT, science, these two exams have been seen as a reliable standard of measuring those abilities for years.

If you are considering a master’s or doctoral program, the two tests most commonly required are the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or GMAT (General Management Admissions Test). Graduate/post-graduate business schools in the U.S. have in the past relied on the GMAT to assess applicant’s general preparedness for programs like the MBA. Some have also begun to accept the GRE as well.

If you are thinking about professional programs in the U.S., like medical, dental, or pharmacy school (as well as other doctoral level studies) that require a professional license to practice in the United States, there are a different set of exams required: MCAT (medical doctor), DAT (dentist), PCAT (pharmacist), etc.

The rise of test-optional policies

One of the few bright spots that has emerged out of the pandemic regarding U.S. university admissions is the increased popularity of test-optional policies. Because many testing centers overseas (and in the United States) have not been able to offer academic ability tests where all who want to take the exams can, many colleges and universities have decided, in the interests of equity and access, to not penalize students who could not take these exams, and have become test-optional.

For this current 2021 admissions year, over 75% of all U.S. four-year (bachelor’s degree) universities are test-optional or test-blind. Most major state university systems have made the shift in the past few months mostly in response to the lack of availability of the SAT and ACT for prospective students due to the pandemic.

U.S. graduate schools have also been drawn to the test-optional movement, including the University of Miami which dropped the GRE and GMAT for most of its programs. Many top graduate/post-graduate business programs in the United States have gone test-optional for this year. Even at the University of California, Berkeley many of the graduate programs have gone GRE/GMAT optional for 2022.

Final thoughts

In the end, while these academic ability tests have become increasingly optional the last two years and may even become permanently optional, English proficiency tests are still needed. The most significant reason for this is that U.S. immigration regulations require that to start a degree program (associates, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) international students must have the required English language proficiency. Tests like IETLS are the primary way, at present, for U.S. colleges to assess English ability.

If you’re scores are not at the minimum levels for degree studies from the outset, that doesn’t mean your dream is over! Many U.S. colleges offer conditional admissions and/or full-time intensive English or pathway programs that gives you the opportunity to settle in to the country while improving your English ability before you start your degree program.

We wish you all the best on your study journey!

The View From Campus: Researching U.S. master’s and doctoral programs

Over the past twenty months, many international students seeking to study in the United States have had their dreams put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty surrounding whether universities would be open has caused many students to either defer enrollment for a year or begin their studies online from their home countries. But as travel restrictions loosen, changes to admission requirements happen, and the guarantee of vaccinations being available to new international students on arrival, the United States is seeing a significant spike in student interest this year. When it comes to researching master’s and doctoral degree programs in the United States, while the process is largely the same, there are some important changes to keep in mind.

Start early

When should you begin your search? Most U.S. experts now say you should start at least 12-24 months ahead of when you wish to start studies. With the quickly moving landscape on which countries are even open to accept international students, it can be hard to plan effectively for what your future might look like, let alone where you may be studying. However, in the United States there are over 1100 colleges and universities that offer master’s and doctoral programs.

Define your priorities

As part of your search, before you go looking for academic programs that meet your needs, a necessary first step should be to ask yourself defining questions as to what’s most important to you. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of advising centers in 170+ countries, have prepared a great resource on researching graduate study options to assist students. One of those tools to consider using is the Define Your Priorities worksheet. Some of those self-discovery questions to ask include:

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How will you pay for your graduate program in the United States?
  • What are your academic grades?
  • What are your English test scores?
  • What size institution do you like?
  • Would you like to attend a private or public institution?
  • Do you prefer living in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?
  • Would you like to live on campus or off campus?

Once you have identified those answers, you will have the most valuable criteria you need to begin you search in a more circumspect manner.

Narrow your options

EducationUSA lists four search engines you can use to begin to find a possible list of the academic programs, locations, institutions that meet your needs. Those search sites will only give you so much information about the colleges and universities that match some of the broad strokes of what you need. Once you have identified those programs, to get much closer to what you need to know about each institution, you will need to review each school’s website where the real details are you need to know on costs, deadlines, tests, and admissions process.  

Because this year, like the last one, there really are no in-person college fairs and events where direct representatives have not been able to connect with you in your home country, it is more important than ever to connect virtually with the U.S. colleges that you’re considering. Whether that be in a virtual university fair, a live chat with representatives from your top choices, a webinar with other international students who may already be attending those institutions, and/or a visit to a local EducationUSA advising center for more specific resources, you have several ways to narrow your options.

Find your right fit

In the end, there may be several schools/programs that you research that you can see yourself attending. At this stage it’s time to do deep look at the institutions involved, the strength of the program, and the quality and areas of research conducted by the faculty. Only after getting this next level details will you be able to make the decisions on where you wish to apply.

Prepare for tests

And, finally, before physically applying to these programs, it is essential to know which tests might be required. Certainly, rest assured that for most all quality master’s and doctoral program in the U.S. will accept an IELTS score toward meeting the English proficiency standards set by each program. The question will be whether any other academic standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT are required. Because of the pandemic, there are an increasingly large number of programs that are test-optional this year when it comes to GRE or GMAT requirements. Even top business schools in the United States are, for this current 2021 recruitment cycle, not requiring GRE or GMAT scores. More recently, over 85% of the graduate degree programs at the University of California, Berkeley (one of the top 25 U.S. national universities) decided to make the GRE optional for all applicants.

The View From Campus: The Importance of International Student Orientation

Looking out across America these last few weeks, the excitement on college and university campuses is high. With the anticipation for the start of a new academic year and, for international students, the opportunity to realize their dreams. Unlike last year, when most international students began their studies online from their home countries, this fall in the United States, new overseas students have been able to return to campus with more normal circumstances.  

Adjust to your new environment

More than anything else, once your arrive in the United States for studies, getting over jet lag (travel fatigue) is priority one. There are many strategies out there, but one that seems to work well is on your first day, to go to sleep at a time (in your new time zone) when you would normally do so. By any measure, getting yourself on a schedule is an important first step. The climate may also be very different from what you know, so your body clock may take some time in making that adjustment.

One item that may very well be in place at your U.S. college or university is for new international students coming direct from overseas, is a quarantine period. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not require travelers to quarantine if they have been vaccinated, those who have not yet been vaccinated are strongly recommended to get a Covid-19 test within 3-5 days after arrival and self-isolate for 7 days. Some college campuses may still have a required quarantine time, particular for unvaccinated students. Typically, this would mean isolating in university housing for a short period before you would be able to join in regular activities.

Get Settled on campus

While most new international student orientations this fall have been in person, some may still have elements that will be held virtually. These virtual orientations may mean that initial movements on campus will be limited as facilities are re-opened slowly or in phases to further limit the spread of Covid-19.

One way to get to know your campus, if you haven’t already done a “virtual tour” of campus, is to get a virtual map of your college or university (from the website or college’s mobile app) on your phone and/or tablet and wander around campus to find the buildings you will be using most often.

Learn the rules

As a new international student on campus, one of the most important sessions you will need to attend is on immigration regulations. While not always the most exciting topic, pay attention to the requirements your college sets out in this session when it comes to maintaining your student status. Besides immigration rules, health insurance also ranks up there as a critical component that you may not know well. The U.S. system of health care relies on primarily private insurance to cover the costs involved. Most all U.S. colleges now require students purchase such coverage while they are in the country.

Other than immigration and health care, the most significant area of rules that can directly impact international students are the academic policies of your institution. From Issues of classroom attendance, the course syllabus, exam policies, plagiarism, to academic integrity violations, knowing these guidelines will ensure a smooth passage through your academic career.

Make lifelong friends

What really makes your time at a U.S. college memorable are the people you interact with on a regular basis. For many international students, their fondest early memories of being on campus are the shared experiences they had with other students from overseas. Yet, for many, the relationships you get to establish with your U.S. classmates are the most impactful. Not only will you get a chance to make American friends, but you will get to share your culture, your history, your experiences with them as they learn about the world outside their own borders.


Broadening your horizons at a U.S. college will be much easier than you think. Especially if you choose to get involved in clubs and organizations on campus, you will find multiple opportunities to make your experiences at your college more fulfilling than you might ever have expect. So, even if you’re a bit shy or worried about your English ability, take the chance, get involved!

Whichever way your U.S. college or university is starting its academic year, make the most of this time. Getting off to a good start makes all the difference in how successful you will be in your classes, on campus, and in the community. Good luck!



Preparing for Your Journey to the United States for Study

Over the last eighteen months, international travel has become very difficult as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. This virus has impacted every continent in ways we never thought imaginable just two years ago. As a result, things in everyday life for students seeking higher education outside their home country have changed substantially. If you’ve been planning to study in the United States and have been admitted for study, gotten your visa, and are now ready to go, what do you need to know?

Get your documents in order

Now more than ever, be aware of recent changes in guidance for travellers to the United States due to the pandemic, and have your documents in order before you travel. From your I-20, to your passport and F-1 student visa, to your admissions letter, academic and financial documents, everything must reflect who you are and what your institution’s plan is for classes this coming academic year. At present most US colleges are planning for in-person study this fall. So, for new international students should be able to pass through immigration control without many issues. However, if your intended college has recently made the decision to go completely online, you may not be allowed in the country.

Communicate with your university regularly

Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of educational advising centres in 170 countries, traditionally hold pre-departure orientations for international students before they head to the United States for study. While most of these sessions have still been virtual due to the pandemic, they are still happening and can be great resources for students like yourself trying to make sense of a very confusing time in our world. As you get ready to begin your U.S. study journey, the most important people you need to maintain regular communication with are the international student office staff at your college or university. For many U.S. higher education institutions, the past few months have been ones that have been dramatically disrupted, like much of the world, by this global pandemic. Plans these colleges made in April for how the next academic year would look like for new students may very well have changed. As a result it is essential for you to be aware of what those plans are and know what you should do.

Know the immigration and airline rules

Entering the United States as an international student is a fairly straightforward process in normal times if you’ve taken all the required steps and are well-prepared for this last step of your journey to U.S. study. However, these are not normal times. You must know what the current procedures both for the airlines you may be flying into the United States and the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) division that handles immigration control at the borders. As of earlier this year, all US-bound airlines are requiring all passengers to have had a negative Covid-19 test documented within three days before flying internationally. Even if you have been vaccinated you will still need to show a negative test result.

Moreover, when entering the United States, the officials at CBP who interview each person seeking entry have to ask questions about your intended studies when you present your documents at the immigration checkpoint at the airport. The Department of Homeland Security which oversees CBP has put together important resources in its Study in the States site that discusses the current regulations. Be sure to review this guidance before you leave.

Best of luck with your journey!

The View From Campus: Applying for a student visa during a pandemic

The past eighteen months during the Covid-19 global pandemic have upended many students’ study plans. But for those who have persevered, congratulations, you are almost there! The next step, getting your student visa, is perhaps the most nerve-wracking time for international students headed for the United States. The good news is with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa.

Here is what you should do as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic:

1. Got your I-20?  

Make sure you have received the I-20 & admission letter from the college/university you plan to attend. You may have been accepted and received I-20s from more than one school. We recommend that you decide which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

2. Check your passport

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S. Your name on your I-20 must be spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport.

3. Pay your SEVIS fee.

Students can pay this $350 fee online. You will need an e-receipt for the next steps in the process.

4. Complete the Visa Application Form.

You will need most of the following items to complete this form (online DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application):

Passport

SEVIS ID (from your I-20 form)

Address of the college you will attend (usually on the I-20)

Travel itinerary to the U.S. if you have made arrangements already

Admission letter from the college you will attend

Proof of funding – bank statements, scholarship award letters, etc.

Dates of your last 5 visits to the United States (if any)

Profile names on your social media accounts over the last 5 years.

After completing the online DS-160 application, print off the DS-160 Bar Code page. You will not need to print the entire application.

Plan ahead!

You can schedule your visa appointment up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 (when your new school requires you to be on campus). Because this summer there is two years’ worth of international students seeking visas to enter the United States, in some countries there may be a substantial wait time to get an appointment, and, more importantly, to process your application. The good news is that student visa applicants are given priority, even in countries where U.S. consulates are open for emergency appointments only.

Schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest you.

Using this site you’ll learn whether you can make your appointment online or by telephone. You will also need to pay the visa application fee (approximately $160, the price varies slightly per country).

Attend a Visa Session at an EducationUSA Advising Center in your country.

EducationUSA works closely with the U.S. consular officers that conduct the visa interviews. At these sessions (which may still be held virtually this year) they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

Enjoy the experience.

A few years ago our friends at the U.S. Embassy in London put together a great video to help ease your fears, Mission: Possible – Get Your U.S. Student Visa.

Talk to your friends

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask for their advice about their interview experiences and ask for their recommendations. You can also check out how successful students help demystify the student visa process.

Breathe, relax, and be honest.

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to get to this visa interview. Try not to be too nervous. You are almost there. Answer the visa officer’s questions honestly – Why did you pick the particular college you want to attend? How are you funding your studies? What are your plans after you finish your studies?  You may not know the exact answer to this last question, but be thinking about how you might answer that question.

Good luck to you as you take this important next step!

The View From Campus: What to Expect When Applying to U.S. Colleges Post-pandemic

In the course of the last sixteen months, the world has changed. Many students seeking study opportunities in the United States (and other English-speaking countries) have had their plans cancelled, delayed, or dramatically altered due to the pandemic. As we in the United States are coming out of the pandemic with vaccines readily available, mask orders and other social distancing requirements being lifted, a sense of normalcy is beginning to return to everyday life, slowly. While there are many countries still struggling with the effects of Covid, we want to provide some tips for how you can go about applying to U.S. colleges and universities in the coming months.

College social media and website

While never a substitute for physically visiting campus or interacting with an admissions officers, faculty, or alumni from a college or university you are interested in, institutional websites and social media accounts can provide useful information to assist you in making informed decisions. Here are a few examples of what you can access to get what you need.

  • Reviewing Facebook pages and groups for important updates on changes and announcements.
  • Viewing YouTube videos from international student offices explaining how students can travel.
  • Checking out Instagram posts about what’s happening at the college.
  • Watching students talk about their success stories during Covid-19
  • Visiting university Covid-19 web pages, like this one from the University of Washington.

Particularly if you are looking for admissions information, these university sites that have specific details about any changes to the application process in terms of tests required, alternatives available, and changes in deadlines or deposits.

Virtual tours and events online

One unintended consequence of the impact of Covid-19 is how U.S. colleges increasingly connect with their prospective students through digital means.  Here’s a regularly updated list of different virtual events and tours for prospective and admitted students.  These resources will help you in:

  • Seeing campus through online videos and self-guided tours gives you a window into what life would look like for you at colleges you are considering.
  • Hearing student experiences about everything from arrival on campus, attending class, studying, participating in activities and events paints an important picture.
  • Learning process/procedures related to applying for admission, funding your studies, getting your visa and more.
  • Attending student pre-departure events to make sure you are ready for your journey to campus.

These virtual connections will be essential as you ensure you are making the right choice for your higher education options in the United States.

Chats with current international students

In the end, nothing means more for prospective students like yourself to have conversations with currently enrolled students at the colleges and universities you are considering. That insight from a fellow international student, maybe even someone from your country, is invaluable to get the full perspective you need about where you will spend the next two to four years (or more).

  • Asking questions directly
  • Connecting with students from your country
  • Dispelling rumors about what’s happening

As you narrow down your list of colleges you may apply to, be sure to ask the international admissions office about opportunities to chat with their international students. To hear some of the discussion around this topic, check out a recent Facebook Live Chat we did that shares some useful insights. Good luck!

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