Step 1 : Research Your Options

The first step to studying in the United States is researching your options to find a college or university that best fits your needs. You shouldn’t try to match yourself to the school, but rather find the school that matches you and your priorities and long-term goals.

Remember that no official ranking system exists for colleges and universities in the United States. The best college or university is the one that is best for you and meets your requirements—academic, financial, and personal.

At least 12 to 18 months prior to the academic year in which you hope to attend a U.S. college or university, you should begin your research. Start by answering these basic questions and looking at the more specific ‘define your priorities’ pages under each level of study in this section:

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • Where will you fit in best?
  • Which colleges or universities will meet your needs?
  • Will you need financial assistance?
  • What are the application and financial aid deadlines?
  • Where do you want to live in the United States?

Choose your level of study (e.g. undergraduate, graduate, etc.) to learn more about researching your options. Keep in mind that the schools you apply to must be certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program. You can find a searchable list of certified schools on the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the State’s website.

GOOD TO KNOW

Application and financial aid deadlines affect when you take standardized tests because test results must reach admissions offices no later than their application deadlines.


 

 

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

The first step to studying in the United States is researching your options to find a college or university that best fits your needs.

Community colleges offer two-year programs leading to the Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree. These colleges also have technical and vocational programs with close links to secondary/high schools, community groups, and employers in the local community. You can find large community colleges with multiple campuses in an urban/suburban setting or small campuses in a rural setting.

Undergraduate students studying at community colleges can earn academic credit towards a bachelor’s degree. Earning academic credit at a community college, which is usually less expensive, can help lower the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges may also have a more flexible admissions process.

Community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities often develop special agreements for the transfer of credits and degrees between the institutions. In this “2+2 process,” you can earn a bachelor’s degree with two years of community college, followed by two years of university study.

Community colleges often lead the United States in educating students in cutting- edge fields such as biomedical technology, biotechnology, robotics, laser optics, internet and computer technologies, and geographic information systems. The small size of classes at community colleges can be highly beneficial for international students as they adjust to the pace of U.S. academic life and practice their English-language skills.

Community colleges offer a variety of support services and cross-cultural programs, including tutoring, advising, career planning, study skills, and counseling—many designed specifically for international students.

 


 

 

UNDERGRADUATE

The first step to undergraduate study in the United States is researching your options to find a college or university that best fits your needs.

Remember that no official ranking system exists for colleges and universities in the United States. The best college or university is the one that is best for you and meets your requirement —academic, financial, and personal. You should begin your search at least 12 to 18 months prior to the academic year when you hope to enroll at a U.S. college or university.

U.S. undergraduate education is based on the concept of liberal arts and sciences. You can take classes in a wide variety of subjects in addition to your major field of study. The bachelor’s degree is awarded after completing a specified number of credits in a major field of study. Think about credit hours as the number of hours spent per week in a classroom. Every course earns a certain number of credits, and each institution has its own requirement for the number of credits needed to graduate.

The bachelor’s degree is usually completed in four years of full-time study. U.S. colleges and universities have student advisers who guide students in their choice of courses to reach the credit hours needed for graduation.

 


 

 

GRADUATE

The first step to graduate study in the United States is researching your options to find a college or university that best fits your needs.

Remember that no official ranking system exists for colleges and universities in the United States. The best college or university is the one that is best for you and meets your requirements—academic, financial, and personal.

There are over 1,000 universities in the United States that offer graduate degrees, so be sure to allow yourself enough time to conduct thorough research about potential graduate schools and programs. You should begin your search at least 12 to 18 months prior to the academic year in which you hope to enroll at a U.S. college or university.

The two main graduate degrees in the United States are the master’s degree and the doctoral degree. Both degrees involve a combination of research and coursework. Graduate education is characterized by in-depth training and specialized instruction. Study and learning are more self-directed at the graduate level than the undergraduate level.

 


 

 

SHORT TERM

The United States offers an incredible diversity of short-term study programs lasting 12 months or less. In addition to programs offered by universities and other organizations, the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program offers multifaceted opportunities to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills, or receive on-the-job training. Search to find the programs that meet your personal and professional needs.

Program types include:

  • Exchange programs
  • University exchanges
  • Professional exchange programs
  • Certificate and executive education programs
  • Internships
  • Visiting fellows and scholars

No official ranking system for short-term programs exists for colleges and universities in the United States. The best college or university for your short-term program is the one that is best for you and meets your requirements—academic, financial, and personal. Ideally, you should begin your search at least a year prior to the period when you hope to participate in a short-term program.

If you are currently studying at an institution of higher educatio, find out if there is an international education office at your school as they may already offer exchange or study abroad programs. Many institutions will only credit towards your current degree if the program has already approved. Others may require pre-approval.

 


 

 

ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The first step to English language study in the United States is researching your options to find a program that best fits your needs.

The United States is the most popular destination for international students interested in learning English or improving their English skills. Consider a variety of factors and make sure you find the right Intensive English Program (IEP) for you.

Curriculum
Courses range from a beginning level for those who have never studied English, to advanced courses for students who are preparing to enter a college or university in the United States. The typical curriculum is designed to improve your understanding and use of English in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Some language programs focus exclusively on English for academic purposes. Other programs concentrate on preparation for examinations such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB) and the Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic.

If you are accepted into an SEVP certified U.S. university or college degree program, it may not be necessary for you to find a separate IEP. In this case, your host institution will assess your English skills (either through a standard exam, such as those listed above or by using their own English language assessment) and offer English language courses to you if you need them before the start of the program.

Some IEPs offer “bridge” options into degree programs.  If you plan to continue on to a college or university degree program in the United States, be sure to research options for continuation before deciding on a program.

 


 

 

ONLINE LEARNING

Online learning, also known as distance education, is a great way to experience the U.S. education system without leaving home. U.S. institutions offer a variety of full-time degree programs at undergraduate and graduate levels as well as individual courses.

Classes are facilitated through a variety of methods, including websites, mobile apps, email, telephones, and more. To receive credit from a U.S. institution for distance learning, the student usually pays a tuition fee.

There are options now available for online learning such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are usually tuition-free, but in most cases do not offer credit.  The U.S. Department of State also facilitates a free in-person MOOC Camp program in many countries.

In addition to full-time degree programs or individual courses, some U.S. institutions of higher education offer part-time blended programs that may be partially online and require occasional on-campus attendance, called “low-residency programs.”

Students taking full-time online programs are not eligible for U.S. student visas but, when short-term U.S. attendance is required for low residency programs, a student visa is needed. Students attending a U.S. university in person for full-time degree study and who are also enrolled in any online courses should speak with the institution’s Designated School Official (DSO) in the International Student and Scholar Office to ensure visa compliance.

Why do students enroll in distance education?

  • They have childcare or eldercare obligations.
  • They cannot take time away from their current jobs to enhance their future employment possibilities.
  • The program may be offered at a location that is not feasible to attend for economic, cultural, or political reasons.

Consider the following:

  • Is the university accredited?
  • How long has the institution been enrolling students in this program?
  • How often and through what means is the program and curriculum reviewed?
  • What is the average length of time it takes for a student to complete this program?
  • Where can you find evaluations of this program?
  • What types of employment do graduates of this program find?
  • Will this program be recognized in your home country or by employers?