1. Research your Options
The first step to studying in the United States is researching your choices to find a college or university that best fits your needs.
Who is an Undergraduate Student?
An undergraduate student in the United States is seeking one of two higher education degrees –
an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.
The Associate Degree
• Usually takes two years to complete.
• Is offered at two-year colleges known as community colleges or junior colleges.
• May be earned in a terminal program or a transfer program.
The Bachelor's Degree
• Usually takes four years to complete.
• Is offered at degree granting institutions known as colleges, universities or specialized institutes.
• Is highly flexible and students can choose from a wide variety of courses or create their own unique programs.
2. Complete Your Application
Plan adequately for the time and effort involved in preparing your application package.
Application packages require a great deal of preparation and planning. You will benefit by starting this process and applying early.
Know the Application Requirements
In the United States, application requirements can vary greatly from one institution to another. It is very important to check the specific requirements on the website of each institution’s international admissions office.
What are some general application requirements?
• Educational credentials. This is typically your secondary/high school diploma and transcripts, as well as any final national exams required in your country.
• Standardized test scores. Scores may be required to assess your academic ability and English proficiency level.
• Recommendation letters. The head or principal of your school, your school counselor, your personal tutor, teachers, sponsors from extracurricular activities, coaches, or supervisors from professional experiences may write recommendation letters. Your recommenders must be able to write about your work and be able to assess your potential to do well pursuing a higher education degree. Be sure to choose someone who knows you well. View a sample recommendation letter.
• Essay. This is your chance to write about your interests and strengths. It is often considered one of most important aspects of your application. Writing your Personal Statement
An original transcript or certified copy sent by your secondary/high school is required for each institution.
3. Finance Your Studies
Invest in Yourself!
The cost of living and studying varies across the United States. With the right amount of planning and research, it can be made affordable with high returns on your investment.
It is important to start your financial planning as early as possible. Each year international students receive significant amounts of financial assistance toward their studies. Applications for financial aid go together with applications for admission.
Make Your Budget
As you work to develop a budget for your studies, keep in mind that your overall costs are comprised of tuition, fees, and living expenses.
How much should you budget?
Your actual costs will depend on your institution and program. Refer to the institution’s website for specific costs. When budgeting, you should estimate that tuition costs increase 6-10% each year.
How can an EducationUSA Adviser help you plan your expenses?
• Advisers can help you distinguish yourself in a highly competitive applicant pool so that you have a better chance of competing for admission with financial aid.
• Advisers have access to resources that help you learn about scholarships and new programs.
• Advisers share unbiased information about financial aid opportunities.
4. Apply for your Student Visa
Be Prepared for the Student Visa Process!
Become familiar with the student visa requirements in your country and allow plenty of time to prepare your application.
Identify Student Visa Types
The U.S. Department of State issues visas in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
• A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States.
• A visa does allow a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry and request permission from a U.S. immigration officer to enter the United States.
What are the different types of visas for non-U.S. citizens who study in the United States?
• F-1 Student Visa. The most common visa for those who want to study in the United States. It is for individuals who want to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or study English at a university or intensive English language institute.
• J-1 Exchange Visa. This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange program, including those programs that provide high school and university study.
• M-1 Student Visa. This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States.
Is your spouse, or child under the age of 21, joining you in the United States? Learn more about the F-2 visa, J-2 visa, and M-2 visa.
Follow the Step-by-Step Visa Application Process
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is a program within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that manages the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is the internet-based system that maintains records of foreign students and exchange visitors before and during their stays in the United States.
STEP 1: Receive your certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status: either Form I-20 (for F or M visa) or Form DS-2019 (for J visa).
• To apply for a visa, you must first have received a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. The U.S. academic institution or program sponsor will provide you with the appropriate form only after you have:
• Been admitted to a SEVP-approved institution or accepted in an exchange program.
• Provided evidence that you can meet all the costs of the program.
• The academic institutions that admit you will send you a Form I-20 (for F or M visa) or Form DS-2019 (for J-visa) depending on the visa that matches your study status.
STEP 2: Pay SEVIS fee
• You must pay a SEVIS fee and fill out other visa applications forms prior to your visa interview. Go to the SEVIS I-901 fee processing website for complete information about paying your SEVIS fee. Follow the instructions carefully. For more information, you may also visit the Study in the States website for students.
STEP 3: Schedule Your Interview and Apply for Your Visa
• Refer to the U.S. nonimmigrant visa website to complete the required application forms.
• It is best practice to ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the end of your study in the United States and that your name is spelled correctly and appears the same on all documents.
• Be sure to have your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and your SEVIS receipt.
• Confirm you have the required documents and schedule your visa interview following the instructions on the website of your nearest
U.S. embassy or consulate.
• During the interview, be prepared to answer questions regarding ties to your home country, your English language skills, your academic background, the program in the United States to which you have been admitted, and proof of your financial ability.
Once you receive the required documentation, you can make an appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a visa. Even if you do not intend to begin your program for several months, it is best to apply as early as possible. Your visa can be issued up to 120 days before your arrival in the United States.
Any inconsistencies can delay the issuance of your visa.
Visa interview scheduling is done online or by phone at most U.S. embassies and consulates.
5. Prepare for your Departure
The Journey of a Lifetime!
Studying in the United States is a memorable and rewarding experience—congratulations on taking this exciting step towards your future!
Gather Pre-departure Materials and Important Documents
Before you leave your home country, take the time to double-check that you have gathered all the documents you will need for your travel and stay in the United States.
• Passport and nonimmigrant visa. Hand-carry your passport and certificate of eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019) with you at all times during your travel. On the plane before you land, you will complete the Arrival-Departure Record (I-94 form) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will take your biometric fingerprints and photograph. Part of the I-94 will be stapled into your passport. Do not lose it! The stapled portion will be removed when you leave the United States.
• Certificate of eligibility. Confirm you have the I-20 or DS-2019 issued by the school or program you will be attending.
• Contact information. Have the name and phone number of your international student adviser on campus, in case you need to call him/her upon arrival in the United States.
• Birth certificate and marriage certificate, if applicable. Be sure to obtain notarized translations of these certificates if they are not in English.
• Medical documents. Bring certificates of immunizations and vaccinations, prescriptions and medical and dental records.
• Academic transcripts. Bring your official transcripts, outlines, or descriptions of courses you have taken, and contact information for your U.S. campus.
• College or university acceptance letter.