The United States offers a lot of opportunities for foreign students, but immigration laws are often a major obstacle. If you’re thinking of trying your luck in an American college, here’s a quick guide to help you avoid common pitfalls.
Step 1: Choosing a college
If you’re not on a scholarship or exchange program, your first step should be finding a college or university to attend. Most schools now have online applications, so applying from overseas shouldn’t be a problem. Do this at least a year in advance—you may have to mail in some of the requirements, so it’s best to anticipate delays. Be sure to have “backup” schools in case your first choice doesn’t take you in.
Step 2: Getting a visa
For studies lasting less than 18 months, a student visa is usually not required. Otherwise, most prospective students from overseas will need a non-immigrant visa. Different study conditions call for different visa types. There are three visa types granted to foreign students:
Student Visa (F-1): This is the most common type of visa for academic study. The F-1 is for students who get accepted into accredited colleges and universities in the U.S., or who want to study intensive English in universities or language centers.
Student Visa (M-1): This is meant for students in non-academic study, such as vocational programs or trainings. The program should be offered by accredited U.S. institutions.
Exchange Visitor (J-1): The J visa class is for cultural and educational exchange programs. J-1 visas are given to students who are participating in international exchange programs.
The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends that students apply well in advance, because the large number of applicants can lengthen the processing times. Applicants aged 14 to 79 are usually called in for an interview at the local embassy. In most cases, you’ll need to be accepted into a school before you can apply. Your school will then give you the documents you need for the interview. Other things you should have in hand include:
-A valid passport
-Official application forms from the embassy (these are usually downloadable)
-Proof of financial capacity (bank statements for whoever is funding your stay; either you, your parents or a sponsor)
-Receipt of the visa application fee
-Diplomas and transcripts from previous institutions you attended
-Scores from international standardized tests, such as the TOEFL and SATs
Step 3: Financing your education
U.S. schools cost from $7,000 to over $40,000 a year. That’s hard enough for some Americans, but as a foreign student, you also have to think about food, lodging, books, and day-to-day expenses. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get foreign student aid from schools or even the US government. Your best bet is to look for colleges that promote a multi-ethnic student community. These schools are more open to foreign applicants and may even offer scholarships to deserving students. If you think you can make the cut, you can also try getting an athletic or academic scholarship.