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The United States is home to some of the world’s best universities. Consequently, it is a country where many people wish to study, meaning that universities are often diverse, with students coming from all over the world. Anyone wanting to study in the U.S. will find a large number of institutions and programs to fit your career goals.

 Good to know: College and university are essentially the same things. Colleges tend to be smaller but offer the same degrees as a university. Graduate school (usually simply referred to as grad school), indicates a Masters’ program. Community college refers to a 2-year program college that only offers an Associate’s degree, which can then be used to transfer over to a 4-year college or university afterwards to complete the Bachelor’s degree.

Admissions & Formalities

If you intend to study in the United States, you must first apply to an American university, or college, or higher educational institution. After acceptance into the program, you must enroll at the school. Though admissions requirements will vary by institution, there are basic requirements to register in an American school or university. All prospective students should be able to produce school transcripts, the relevant certificates, and letters of recommendation in English. Depending on the course and level of study, different standardized admissions tests are required to prove an adequate level of knowledge.

•For undergraduates, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) assesses students’ level in English and mathematics.
•Prospective graduate students in business, law, and medical programs will have to take a corresponding specialized test: the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for MBA students, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) for medical school students and Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) for law students.
•A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required for students enrolling in a master or PhD program that is not included in one of the three specialized tests listed above.
•If English is not your native language, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) may be required to assess your level of fluency.

Types of student visas

There are three main types of student visas, and the type of program in which you’re enrolled will determine which is right for you. Each has different benefits so it’s important to understand the implications before applying.

F-1 Visa

Students studying full-time in an American university or higher education institution should apply for an F-1 visa. It’s important to note that you must be enrolled as a full-time student and maintain good grades to keep this visa. F-1 visa holders may work 20 hours per week, but only in an on-campus job. Off-campus work may require further applications with USCIS.

 Good to know: After the degree is completed, students on an F-1 visa may apply for the OPT visa (Optional Practical Training) or CPT visa (Curricular Practical Training) that usually last a year (or longer if the degree was a STEM degree). These visas will allow them to work full-time post degree, but note that both visas expire if there are 90 cumulative days of being unemployed.

J-1 Visa

Those interested in a U.S. internship or other study-based activities like research will need to apply for a J-1 visa. These visas are valid for the duration of the program only. It's important to note that J-1 visa holders are required to return to their home country for a period of two years after their program ends.

M-1 Visa

This designation is for students wishing to enroll in a technical or specialized study program that is not an academic institution. M-1 visa holders are not permitted to work. However, after the training program is completed you may apply for a practical training extension (this may be paid). One month of practical training is allowed for every four months of study, up to a total of six months.

Applying for a visa

In order to begin the application process, you must be accepted to a work or study program. The university or host program will kick off the process by issuing a document, either Form I-20 or DS-2019, that certifies your eligibility for training and acceptance to their institution. At this point, you may proceed with the student visa application at the embassy or consulate of the United States in your country of residence.

Students are required to show evidence of sufficient funds to pay tuition and support themselves in the country while studying. Additionally, some visa types (such as the J-1) require proof that you intend to return to your home country after your program is completed. Once all the required documents are collected and the associated fees paid, a final compulsory interview in English will be set with an immigration official. If successful, a student visa will be issued.

For more information about student exchange programs, partnerships, and grants or scholarships available, contact the prospective universities and the embassy or consulate of the United States in your country.

 Important: Regardless of which student visa you have, you must register online in the SEVIS system (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) once your visa has been granted. Fees apply.

Tuition fees

Tuition costs will vary greatly depending on the university or program you choose. In the U.S., private universities are much more expensive than public. Yearly tuition averages to $10,000 USD at a public four-year university to $35,000 USD at a private four-year university. Other cost considerations are books, and accommodation and food (referred to as room and board), which are not included in these averages. These generally add another $10,000 USD to the total. Elite and ivy-league universities and graduate programs tend to be even more expensive.

 Good to know: The U.S. College Affordability and Transparency Center is a government agency which offers information about college tuition costs. They offer tools to help you find the school that’s right for your needs and a tuition calculator to help you determine the cost of attending the school of your choice.

 Useful Links:

U.S immigration and customs enforcement - SEVIS
U.S. Department of State – student visas
United States Embassy worldwide directory
U.S. College Affordability and Transparency centre
Study in the U.S.

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