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International Students: How to Go To College in the U.S.

Apr 9, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you’re an international student, you face several hurdles to going to college in the United States. However, the US offers some of the best educational opportunities in the world, making the expense and hassle worth it for many international students. Here are a few things you’ll need to consider when planning to study in a college in the US.


Admission to most public and private nonprofit schools in the US is competitive. You’ll have to fill out an admissions package that includes essays, transcripts of your previous studies, and recommendations from teachers. The schools will want to know about your extracurricular activities and life outside of school in addition to your grades. You’ll also have to take an admissions test; most international students take the SAT and the TOEFL, if English is not your first language. You can register for both online and sign up to take the tests in an overseas test center near your home.

Financial Aid


Unlike some other countries, a college education in the United States isn’t financed by the government—you’ll have to pay for it on your own. The amount varies, but most private colleges in the US charge about $15,000 to $40,000 per year for a four-year degree program. Most financial aid in the US is only for citizens, including federal financial aid.

The school you apply to may have a few scholarships available for international students. This is always the best place to start. In addition, you may be able to get funding for school from your local government or other private organizations in your country. Your government may also nominate you for a scholarship—check with your ministry of education or embassy. Private organizations may also offer international student scholarships, although most require that you apply from your home country.

You may also be able to study in the US through an exchange program with a local university in your area. To do it, you’d have to enroll in a college that participates in an exchange program. These programs usually include some form of financial aid for exchange students.




The US has tough restrictions on people entering the country. You’ll need a passport, valid for at least six months after the end of your intended US stay. There are two types of visa most international students get: the F-1 and the J-1. The F-1 is for full-time students enrolled in academic or language programs. Under this visa, you can stay in the US for sixty days after your academic program ends. You must keep a full-time schedule and complete your degree program by the expiration date.

The J-1 is designed for students who are getting practical training that they couldn’t get in their home country, geared toward an academic program. This visa requires you to return to your home country for at least two years after your studies in the US end, before being eligible to apply for permanent residence.

Health insurance

College students must have student health insurance when they come to the US to study, as the US does not have free medical care available. US law requires that colleges make sure students on a J-1 visa have health insurance before permitting them to enroll. You can often purchase health insurance through your school, or your school’s admissions counselor can get you more information about health insurance plans available for students in the area where you plan to go to school.

A US education is expensive. It’s not easy to get into college, visa requirements tend to be restrictive, and the expense doesn’t stop with tuition—you’ll also have to pay for health insurance and possibly room and board, unless your tuition covers it. But a US education is also valuable, no matter whether you plan to stay in the US to work or go back to your home country. Do your research into financial aid, and hopefully you’ll be able to get a US college education without incurring a lot of debt.


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