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Key facts for international students in Boston

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Boston is probably one of the most European-like cities in the USA. Famous for its prestigious universities, some of which rank among the best in the world, such as the legendary Harvard University. Boston is the popular cosmopolitan and cultural capital of Massachusetts. Here is all you need to know if you are looking to study in Boston.

International students in Boston

For the first time, in 2016 – according to Los Angeles Times – the US had a student population of over one million. More and more students have been moving to Boston for the past few years, as is the case across the US. In the 2015 school year, the number of foreign students in Boston rose from 43,800 to 47,800. The city now ranks next to Los Angeles and New York for its impressive student population. Northeast University and Boston University are especially popular with foreign students.

The world's best universities

Nicknamed the “City of higher learning”, Boston can boast some of the US – and the world's – best universities. In fact, 3 of the city's universities rank among the top 130 according to the QS Top Universities 2016-2017 ranking. Areas such as nearby Cambridge are renowned academic centres.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Coming first in the famous QS Top Universities rankings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private university founded in 1861. Alongside its distinguished science faculty, MIT also excels in the fields of architecture, economic and political science. Courses are provided by 5 different faculties; architecture and planning, engineering, humanities, arts and social science, management, and science. Despite suppositions to the contrary, it provides much more than science and technology training.

It's interesting to note that over 80 Nobel prize holders have graduated from the MIT, not to mention 34 astronauts. 52 former students have also received the National Medal of Science.

Being one of the most selective universities in the US, the MIT only has an 8% intake every year. During the 2016 school year, nearly 15,000 students, including 3,700 international students, were enrolled. Moreover, you need an average of USD59,000 per year (which includes registration, tuition fees and housing) if you wish to enroll.

Harvard University

Founded in 1636 in the Greater Boston Area, Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the US. Ranking third in the QS Top Universities 2016-2017, it is part of the Ivy League along with 8 other prestigious US universities.

World famous for its excellence in higher education, Harvard University provides nearly 4,000 courses in some 40 different fields, the most popular being law, business and medicine. Notable Harvard alumni include Mark Zuckeberg, Michelle Obama and Bill Gates.

The number of foreign students has significantly increased over the past two decades by over 65%, which has resulted in one in five students being international. Harvard University welcomed nearly 5,000 international students for the 2016-2017 academic year. To enroll, an average of USD66,000 per year is required to cover registration, tuition fees and accommodation.

Boston University

Boston University is an independent private university that was founded in 1839. It provides 17 general courses and specialises in law, management, medicine, engineering and education. Boston University ranks 89th in the QS Top Universities 2016-2017.

The main university campus is alongside the Charles River in the Fenway-Kenmore area, while the medical campus is found in the south of Boston. The 2015-2016 intake accounted for nearly 8,500 international students coming from 130 different countries, but with most of them coming from China.Though the latest figures are not out yet, this year's intake should be as much as last year.

Boston University is well known and often honoured for its quality research work, which is even government subsidised. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the famous names to have attended Boston University. To enroll, you will need an average of USD63,000 per year. In addition to its two campuses, the Boston University also has branches in Los Angeles, Washington, Paris and Sydney.

Student scholarships

Studying in the US can be very costly, but different scholarships are also available. It is possible to apply for a scholarship for all or part of your studies in Boston. Foreign students are also eligible to merit and social scholarships, regardless of their nationality.

Once you have decided which Boston based university is for you, you should check whether you are entitled to financial assistance. In general, scholarships are granted on a quota basis, except in the case of some universities where the need-blind admission system applies. Every year, nearly 59% of MIT and 70% of Harvard students receive a scholarship of some type. Boston University, for its part, only grants merit scholarships to international students.

It's worthy to note that Harvard and MIT are among the top seven US universities – and the only ones in Massachusetts – where the need-blind admission system applies. In other words, they do not take into account the students' financial situation, not even that of international students. Students are therefore selected according to their applications and once admitted they may be offered partial or full scholarships. However, it is important to bear in mind that while a student may be admitted via the need-blind system, the university may not cover all the necessary financial needs that the student requires to attend.

Enrollment: when and how?

It is best to enroll in a university immediately after high school to avoid wasting one or more years to study elsewhere, as there may be no equivalence between American and some foreign degrees. Moreover, scholarships are generally awarded to undergraduate students who want to study in Boston.

Enrollment procedures can be quite long and tedious, so it might be wise to start well before completing high school. Most American universities require international students to pass the TOEFL English test and the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) – which you will also have to do once you have chosen your university. All this can take a couple of months, taking into account that documents required can vary from one university to another. Recommendation letters, application forms and a letter of interest may be needed by some. Applications should be sent on January 1st at the latest for the September intake. You should receive a confirmation letter by April should you be selected.

Courses and diplomas

Like in many countries, courses are taught in small groups in an amphitheatre, depending on the chosen field. You can do you homework on campus or at home, while the classroom is mainly animated by lively debates and discussions. Marks are first assigned in percentage and then converted into letters from A to F according to the Grade Point Average system.

The following degrees are the different types awarded by US universities: Associate's Degree (1 or 2 years), Bachelor's Degree (4 years), Master's Degree (6 years), Doctorate (up to 10 years post-bac). You will be considered an undergraduate student until you complete your bachelor's degree and, after that, you will be known as graduate and post-graduate students.

Formalities and student visas

It can be quite tedious to obtain a US student visa. You can apply only after you have enrolled in a Boston university. International students are generally entitled to the F1 visa, while those enrolling for technical or vocational courses are eligible for the M1 visa. You will have to complete the related formalities yourself, as well as providing fees for visa processing of around USD300.

A student visa allows you to work on the campus with the approval of your university and employer. Unless you have this agreement, the US government will not assign you a social security number, which is essential for working in the country. Additionally, all students must get health insurance. Feel free to seek information from your university which might have its own affiliation.

Find more information on related formalities and visas in the US Expat Guide.

Student accommodation in Boston

Most students in Boston prefer to stay on the university campus. Not only is it cheaper and more convenient, it is also a great way to make new friends.

In some cases, such as the Boston University, freshmen have to stay on the campus during the first year. 70% of MIT students and 97% of Harvard students choose to stay on campus. Different options are available, such as individual apartments, room-shares and dormitories. Accommodation fees must be paid at the beginning of the semester.

Some students, however, prefer to look for independent accommodation. Studios and flats are available across the city and, while flat-sharing is commonplace, it's usually the most costly option. You should also take into account other regular expenses, such as transport. In all cases, it is best to visit the premises once there, rather than booking in advance.

Living in Boston like a local

You're definitely not likely to get bored in a vibrant cosmopolitan city such as Boston, where you can enjoy a wide range of cultural activities. As the cradle of the US, Massachusetts will take you on a lively journey into American history.

The Freedom Trail is a 4km walk in the heart of Boston, and it is is one of the most popular activities, with no less than 16 famous historical sites along the way. If you're more into museums, you will probably be delighted by a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or the Harvard Art Museum.

Also, Boston is a city where you can stroll around and get lost in its charms, unlike other major bustling US cities such as New York or Washington, which have grid layouts and numbered streets. Did you know that Boston has been nicknamed 'the most confusing city in America'? Thanks to its efficient transport system, you won't even need a car.

However, if you are in the mood for a pleasant drive, Bostonians enjoy renting a car and spending a weekend in New England on sunny days. Autumn in Boston is quite memorable, with beautiful parks and huge trees in most areas making it a colourful time of year.

 Useful links:

Study in Boston - Information for students in Boston
Scholarships - Information on enrollment and tuition fees, scholarships
Boston Expat Forum - Ask questions and get answers from students and other expats in Boston

Content written by Vanessa Richard

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