Study, Adapt, Thrive: The International Student’s Survival Guide

Embarking on a journey to study in the United States is an exciting adventure, but it comes with a unique set of complications and considerations for international students. It can be overwhelming, from the college application process to the challenges of day-to-day life.


While studying in the United States may present some challenges, this guide can help you navigate the process. So, if you’re ready to make the most of this chapter in your life, let’s dive in!


How to Apply for College in the USA for International Students

In order to be eligible for a student visa, it must be certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Use the SEVP School Search to seek out certified programs.

After narrowing your search to eligible universities, here are a few factors to consider.


1. Consider academics. 


Look for colleges and universities that offer the specific programs you’re interested in, and consider which ones are highly regarded in that industry. These might be your top choices; they’re a great place to start!


2. Think about locations. 


Do you want to be in a large city like New York City or a more rural area? Many large universities, especially state universities (these often have names like “University of Alabama”), are in small towns. These might be hours away from a large city or airport. While the rural settings can create a unique “college town” atmosphere, it can also be difficult to navigate due to poor public transportation.


4. Weigh public vs. private. 


In the United States, there are both publicly funded and private universities. The biggest differences between the two are size, range of programs, and cost. Public universities are often larger, with more varied offerings and lower costs. Conversely, private universities are often much smaller, can have more specialized fields of study, and have higher tuition costs.


5. Consider campus size. 


Would you prefer a large university where your classes may have hundreds of students in them but have extensive club, extracurricular, and research opportunities? Or would you prefer a more intimate setting, such as a small college, where you may only have ten other students in your class?


6. Understand admission requirements.


There are no universal requirements for U.S. colleges and universities, so deadlines, admissions prerequisites, and more vary between schools. Some factors they may look at include SAT/ACT scores, English language tests, academic transcripts, and your financial information. Be sure to look into the requirements everywhere you plan to apply.


7. Research application deadlines.


Many U.S. colleges open their applications a full year before classes start, so starting the process early is best. Find the application opening dates and deadlines for all the colleges on your list, and have your paperwork ready. If necessary, create a list of application openings and deadlines. 

While some schools may issue acceptances in batches after the deadline, others accept students on a rolling basis before the deadline.


8. Ask questions if you’re unsure.


Don’t hesitate to contact colleges and universities and request information! They may send you a digital packet with deadlines, program information, etc. 

Additionally, all SEVP-certified universities will have a DSO or designated school official. This person is there to help you follow the rules for studying in the USA and can offer visa information and more.


9. Pick your top colleges, backups, and even secondary backups!


Some colleges in the United States are incredibly competitive, and the best of the best from around the world apply every year. That means it’s essential to be realistic and not count on getting into the top school you’d like to attend. While applications can be tedious and expensive, giving yourself options could make a massive difference in your opportunities.


Financial Aid for International Students


It’s no secret that higher education can be costly in the United States. International students are not typically eligible for federal financial aid. However, your university may offer scholarships to reduce the cost.

Though some schools may automatically consider you for scholarships, in most cases, scholarships have a separate application and deadline from your admissions application. Don’t forget to look into general scholarships as well as major-specific. 


International Student Visa: USA Guidelines


International students attending college or university in the United States are typically permitted under an F-1 visa, depending on the academic program they enroll in.

You must first be accepted into a college or university certified by the SEVP to get a visa. After you’ve been accepted, the school will send you a Form I-20, which is your proof of eligibility for a student visa. Now, you may apply for a visa. 

Requirements for visas might vary depending on which country you’re from, but generally, they will require you to pay a fee and apply at a US Embassy. The Department of Homeland Security keeps updated information regarding student visas and is the best resource for detailed information.


Housing: On-Campus Vs. Off-Campus


One of the initial decisions for international students arriving in the United States is choosing the right housing option. The two primary choices are on-campus and off-campus living, each with its advantages. 


On-Campus Housing


On-campus housing offers the convenience of proximity to academic buildings, fostering a close-knit community and providing a structured living environment ideal for those navigating their first time away from home. As an undergraduate, you may be required to live on campus for your first year of college.


Off-Campus Housing


On the other hand, off-campus living offers more independence, potential cost savings, and a taste of the local community. For off-campus housing, it’s up to you to find a house or apartment that fits your needs. Reach out to your college’s international student office for specific local information.


Furnish your space!


If you choose to live on campus, your dorm will likely be fully furnished with at least a bed, dresser, desk, and chair. Depending on your dorm type, you may be sharing a bedroom with another student, or several students may have separate rooms but a shared bathroom, kitchen, and living room. You’ll need to supply your clothing, bed linens, towels, and personal toiletries. Don’t forget decor, like photos of your family, to make the space your own.


If you live off-campus, you will likely have to supply your furniture and decor yourself. Consider purchasing used furniture to fill your new space without stretching your finances! CORT Furniture Outlet offers high-quality, used furniture at discounted prices. From bedroom sets and living room furniture to high-quality electronics and houseware, it’s easy to furnish your new space while minding your budget.


Finances: Work, Bank Accounts, and More


Opening a bank account in the United States can be helpful, especially if you get a job. Some banks may require you to have a Social Security number in order to open an account. A Social Security Number is a federal identification number issued by the United States government, and not all international students are eligible to get one. If you are not, your university’s international student office may be able to give you a list of local banks that do not require social security numbers.

Opening a bank account soon after arriving may be necessary as your credit cards may not work or may have foreign transaction fees and limits. Additionally, the United States depends on debit and credit cards for purchasing. Many residents don’t carry cash at all.


How many hours can international students work in the USA?


Depending on your visa type, you may be able to work while in the United States – it will likely be very restricted with limited hours or options. You may only be permitted to work on-campus jobs as a college or university student. It’s important to note that most on-campus jobs are part-time and tend to have low pay, meaning you should not count on being able to fund your entire education based on this income. However, it can help alleviate some financial stress, and some jobs, such as Resident Assistance jobs, may enable you to get free or cheaper on-campus housing!


Stay Connected to Your Home and Culture


Staying connected with friends and family is vital to your well-being. With the physical distance, leveraging technology to maintain regular communication is crucial. Video calls, social media, and messaging apps can bridge the gap and provide a sense of closeness. Establishing a consistent schedule for virtual meetings or calls can help you and your loved ones stay involved in each other’s lives. 


Beyond family connections, building a community within your college and local surroundings is equally important. Attend social events, join clubs, and participate in cultural exchanges to forge new friendships and create a supportive network. Whether you’re getting your undergraduate or master’s degree abroad, embracing your roots and new connection opportunities will contribute to your overall experience.


Studying Internationally Can Be Complicated. Furniture Isn’t.


Navigating the complexities of studying internationally can seem like a massive task, and the reality is that it can be. When you have a plan and a budget, though, it’s much easier to manage.


You don’t have to stress about furnishing your new home, though. When you shop at CORT Furniture Outlet, you get high-quality, stylish, used furniture at a fraction of retail cost: up to 70% off! CORT Furniture Outlet has everything you need when you’re away from home, from beds and dressers to coffee makers and televisions. Shop online or in-store today.

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