The United States has long been an El Dorado for international students, thanks to the high standard of education from its reputed universities and the quality of life it offers. Although the cost of attendance is high, the number of international students in the country has crossed one million. China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada remain the top sources of students for the US, who contribute around $45 billion to its economy. Here’s a look at what America holds for these ambitious, adventurous students:
First, research campus safety before making your study plan. Schools are required by law to disclose crime statistics, and information provided by the student advisors at Educare. Does the institution have a security plan that it shares with students?
To feel safe on campus, it is important to know what facilities are available and when they are open. All campuses have security personnel who are often the first responders in an emergency, even before police arrive. You should save the emergency numbers on your phone, such as local/campus police, designated official and housing warden.
The next step is to research the security in the city or town where the school is located. As soon as you can, try to familiarize yourself with the routes and transport to the city center. US campuses are open to outsiders, and though they are generally safe, take the usual precautions. At home, don't open doors to strangers; always see who's at the door through a peephole. Take care of your belongings, and keep your doors and windows locked.
How the education system works in USA
To get into college, you need to have good grades from your previous classes and high test scores. Most schools use the semester or quarter systems (two, three, or four terms), but some use a trimester system (three terms). Some schools have an optional fourth summer term that can be part of a four-term system. The school year starts in August/September and ends in May/June.
The top universities in the US include Harvard University, Stanford University, MIT, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, and many more. Students can earn a four-year undergraduate degree at a community college or four-year college/university. In the first two years of study, students will focus on a wide variety of subjects to lay a foundation for future studies. If you plan to transfer to a four-year college/university after completing the first two years of study and earning an associate degree, you may want to choose your major at that time. Some degrees require additional work beyond the Bachelor's degree; this may involve additional costs.
You can get a master’s degree after earning your bachelor’s degree. For admission, you may need to take certain tests, such as the GRE or GMAT (for graduate school) or LSAT or MCAT (for law and medical school).
A masters program typically takes two years and qualifies you for a PhD program. Some schools allow students to enroll in doctoral programs with only a bachelor’s degree. In the US, higher education is provided by state colleges/universities, private colleges/universities, community colleges (two-year programs that offer associate degrees), and institutes of technology (four-year programs in science and technology).
Community colleges grant associate degrees that allow students to transfer to a university (in the case of an associate of arts and science) or that don’t allow transfer (applied science degrees). They also enable students to directly enter the workforce.
Classes can range in size from one or two students to several hundred, and teachers expect you to participate actively in class. Professors give you a list of readings for the week, and you're responsible for keeping up with the material and doing the work. Your grades depend on your classroom participation, midterm exam, research papers, short quizzes, and a final examination.
International students are pleasantly surprised by professors being addressed by their first names, informal/casual wear in class, reading, eating, and sleeping in large classrooms, students challenging professors, and teachers expecting independent work from students. Each “course” is worth a certain number of credits or credit hours, usually three to five per class per week. A full-time program comprises four or five courses per term.
Schools with good educational infrastructure, including classrooms, libraries, and labs are a given on most campuses. Other amenities include cafes and pubs, event halls, shopping centers, gyms, and student unions. Among the "most fun" campuses are reputed to be those of Pennsylvania State University, Florida State University, Iowa University, Syracuse University, and Ohio State University. Many campuses are vast—in fact students walk or bike around the place.
University campuses are liberal. Students may not vandalize or plagiarize, and if they do, the campus police may arrest them. On weekends, students can go on a tour of their city through tour operators or with friends on private cars or bikes. During vacations, students can go on holiday to any of the natural spectacles in the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and the Great Lakes. Alternatively, they can visit centers of creativity and innovation in the fashion, music, and film industries
After you arrive
You may be provided with temporary accommodation until such time you can find a long-term arrangement, for which you will have to contact the foreign student advisor/housing office.
Your list of tasks after you arrive in the US should include:
registering your name in the university international students’ office
getting a phone connection
opening a bank account (Build Credit Score in USA as an international student)
getting health insurance
applying for a social security number and accommodation
applying for a driver’s licence and a credit card
looking for a teaching/research assistant’s job or another part-time job
keeping an eye for information about visa
learning about American culture (see our article at Things to do after landing in USA as an international student)
The United States has a diverse climate and geographic regions. As an international student, it’s important to know what to pack for your university city/town. The country can be divided into four vast regions: the West (California, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona); the Midwest (Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas); the South (Texas, Mississippi, Florida), and the Northeast (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts).
California's weather varies depending on where you are. In the north, it is cooler, while in the south and inland areas, it is hot. The Midwest has a typical seasonal cycle with temperate springs, hot summers, and cold winters. The South has hurricane-prone coastal towns and hot and humid weather. The Northeast has extreme weathers—torrid summers and bitterly cold winters.
People in the United States express their individuality in many ways, including by speaking out about their opinions. Working hard is one of the values most Americans share. Some millennials feel that it's important to have a balance between work and home life. Cleanliness is a highly-valued aspect of daily life in the US, where people use a range of products, including air fresheners, perfumes and colognes, cleaning materials and detergents to keep their homes and bodies clean.
Americans address people well known to them by their first names, but they address professionals using their titles, such as “Dr. Smith.” They have no hesitation in making it known how they would like to be addressed.
There are many differences in intonation between the British and American English languages, and it is good to take care when speaking to each other. It is not acceptable to call anyone between 9 pm and 9 am unless there is an emergency, but you can send an email at any time, giving enough time for the receiver to respond.
When it comes to clothing, Americans tend to have a sense of what is appropriate, such as formal wear for formal events but informal wear in classrooms, such as jeans and T-shirt. In aspects of academic culture, plagiarism/copying are forbidden and strict rules are in place. Collaboration is often considered cheating.
Xenophobia is a growing problem in the US, but it is not a major worry on campuses yet. International student advisors can clarify your doubts on this course. Some aspects of American culture may seem strange: for example, large portions of food, nearly empty streets in many areas, and self-confidence in all settings and all topics.
Food and cuisine
The US has a vast array of regional cuisines. In Pennsylvania, for example, the State University boasts an “ice creamery” (whatever that is), and the University of California Los Angeles offers cookie-and-ice-cream sandwiches.
The country may be known for its fast food culture, but each state and city has its own specialty dish. Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizzas and Philadelphia for its Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
New England has clam chowder in a bread bowl and Baltimore blue crab steamed in Old Bay seasoning (a local specialty). The East Coast and North East are greatly influenced by their British colonial past, as well as their use of seafood (New England has clam chowder in a bread bowl and Baltimore blue crab steamed with Old Bay seasoning—both local specialties).
The South's cuisine is known as "soul food": rich in flavors from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Creole, Latin American cuisines (Louisiana gumbo; Texas pulled pork).
The food of the Midwest—America's bread basket—is known for its strong flavors and lightly spiced dishes. Vegetables, grains, dairy products, meat, casseroles and baked pasta dishes are specialties of this region. The West is known for fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood and meat dishes.
Further down coastal areas you have Tex-Mex cuisine and some people strongly recommend “arroz con pollo,” a rice and chicken dish. Among the foods served at college dining halls are cereals, oatmeal, scrambled eggs with bacon or sausage links, waffles, pancakes or French toast; hamburgers; cheeseburgers; steak sandwiches; buffalo wings; grilled cheese sandwiches; macaroni with tomato sauce or melted cheese; bacon cheeseburgers; barbeque ribs; chicken noodle soup; chili with beans; pizza with pepperoni or mushrooms on it; clam chowder; fried chicken tenders or boneless chicken wings dipped in batter before being deep-fried (served with honey mustard sauce); Reuben sandwich (corned beef sliced thin, topped with sauerkraut on rye bread); tacos (filled tortillas made from corn flour). Fresh fruit juices and homemade cookies may be offered.
Most international students may find American food greasier than food they are used to at home. Processed sugary/salty snacks are easy to find. To stay healthy, you can choose fresh fruits and vegetables, and to keep away homesickness, check out restaurants serving cuisine from your own country.
Vegetarians may find some difficulty, as the term “non-vegetarian” isn’t used in the US. When ordering, they could say “no meat” instead of “without meat” as it could be confused with “with meat.”
Pizzas that don’t contain meat can be ordered. There are a number of restaurants and fast-food joints that serve vegetarians, such as McDonald’s, Subway, and Pizza Hut. Some Mexican restaurants also serve veggie food.
The US is perhaps the most expensive destination for higher education. Students are reported to have to spend $99,417 over the course of a degree program. At the top-tier colleges, most of them private non-profits, tuition fees and living expenses are likely to be about $60,000 a year.
Public universities charge one tuition fee rate for in-state residents and another for out-of-state and international students. Private universities, on the other hand, charge one rate for all.
According to the College Board, tuition fees at state colleges came to $26,290 per year for international students (2018-19) and at private non-profit colleges $35,830, both four-year programs. Room and board came to $11,140 (to bring the total expenses to $37,430) at state colleges and $12,680 ($48,510) at private colleges.
Public-sector two-year colleges (community/technical colleges) charge only $3,660 (2018-19).
After completing two years at community colleges and earning an associate degree (considered the first half of a bachelor’s degree program), students can transfer to a university to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Along with other expenses, the total budget for an international student could be $17,930 a year (2018-19) at community colleges, $41,950 at four-year public colleges, and $52,000 at non-profit private four-year colleges.
But prestigious public colleges charge as much as private colleges: for example, at the University of Michigan, the fee for the 2018/19 fall/winter was $49,350, in addition to $11,534 for room and board and $3,500 for books and personal expenses, adding up to a total cost of $65,000-$70,000 a year.
Medicine and engineering programs are more expensive than arts and humanities. Graduate programs are significantly costlier, and MBA programs are the most expensive.
The annual graduate tuition fees at a few top-ranked universities were Princeton University: $44,000; Harvard $5,500-$33,000; University of Chicago: $13,500-$39,500; Yale: $22,000-$46,000; Columbia: $23,000-$59,000. But many universities offer master’s programs for lower fees.
Living expenses include communication and also personal expenses including groceries ($250 a year) besides laundry, clothes, and dining out. A student may have to keep aside $500 a year for travel, electricity, landline, etc. These are a considerable part of students’ expenses in the US and they need to maintain a budget.
For transport, you can use trains, buses, and subways ($45-$100 a month) and buses, rain, and air for longer distances.
If you're a university student and want to live near campus, you'll probably have to apply early to get dormitory accommodation. In dormitories, three students typically share a room and use large bathrooms with toilets and shower facilities.
The advantages are that students can stay close to campus and reduce expenses on commuting, they will readily have basic utilities such as landlines, and they can participate in social activities. Private accommodation is available in apartments or homestays. You can rent single rooms or share a flat with other students. But you may have to take care of basic utilities and cook your own food.
The annual rents typically range from $3,000-$8,000 but they are much higher in other cities such as New York ($14,400). But it all depends on the city.
New friends and classified ads are good sources of information about accommodation available near the campus. Check out the locality yourself before committing yourself to a lease and ensure that it feels safe.
You may need a renter’s insurance as the landlord is not responsible for the safety of your belongings.
International students can work 20 hours a week during semesters and full time (40 hours a week) during vacations. Your earned income may be taxable.
The first step is to speak to your designated school official (DSO) for jobs available after having applied for it a month before classes begin. On-campus jobs include those at university libraries, bookstore, or cafeteria.
Off-campus are usually only available to international students who have completed at least one academic year in the US. For students who wish to gain experience, programs such as Optional Practical Training and Curricular Practical Training are in place. The DSO will tell you whether you’re eligible. Read CPT vs OPT.