What Do I Need to Know about Attending College in the United States if I am a Citizen of Different Country?

If you’re an international student who is planning to attend college in the United States, there are certain guidelines you need to follow and steps you need to take to prepare. Read on to learn the key facts you need to know about attending an American college as a student from another country.

Admissions for International Students

In most cases, the admissions guidelines for international students are the same as those for students from the United States. To prepare to be a competitive applicant, you should focus on earning a high GPA while you attend secondary school, getting good scores on any exams required by your home country, and earning high scores on U.S. based admissions tests such as the SAT or ACT exam. If English is not your first language, you should also plan on taking the TOEFL exam.

Financing College in the United States

Paying for college in the U.S. can be challenging for international students since you are not eligible for the federal government’s aid-based programs. The best course of action is to seek scholarships, loans, and financial aid programs from your home country. It is a good idea to take the time to research affordable colleges for international students. Preparing early to finance your education increases the chances that you’ll successfully be able to attend college in the United States.

Applying for a VISA

As an international student, you’ll need to apply for a VISA in order to come to the United States legally. This is most commonly an F-1 VISA. To be eligible, you’ll first need to be accepted to a college or university in the United States that is approved by the Department of Homeland Security. You’ll also need to prove that you have the financial resources to fund your education and that you have a permanent residence abroad, as well as that you are proficient in English or have plans to become proficient (such as classes). Once you’re accepted to a college, the school will submit your information to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), administered by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (within the DHS), and provide you with a SEVIS-generated Form I-20 (or Certification of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Student Status, for Academic/Language Students). This form allows you to apply for a VISA. Requirements for the application itself vary based on the program you plan to attend and the home country you’re coming from.

Timing is Everything

Because applying for a VISA can be a lengthy process, it’s important to get started as early as possible. You should also stay abreast of all the application deadlines for your college of choice. Apply online whenever possible, but make sure to send any additional required documents by air mail as early as possible. Missing key deadlines can set back your admission until the following year.

An excellent resource if you’re planning to attend college in the United States is the College Board website. This site collects all the information that international students need to know to successfully apply to and attend American colleges.