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How to Study in the U.S. as an International Student

Can your university studies help you realize your dream of living in the United States? Yes, they can! International students face some challenges when it comes to getting admitted to American universities, but each year, thousands of students cross American borders to study and work at American institutions.

There’s no reason you can’t be one of them. You’ll need to choose which schools you want to apply to, prepare for and take American university entrance exams, find financial aid, and obtain a student visa. Here’s your step-by-step guide to studying in the United States:

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Leave Plenty of Time to Prepare Your Application

If you really want to study in the U.S., plan to start preparing your application at least two years in advance of your anticipated enrollment date. This will leave you plenty of time to prepare for and take the American university entrance exams, the SAT and the ACT, write your application essays, line up financial aid, and obtain your student visa.

You should also start rounding out your application as soon as you decide you want to study in America. American universities don’t just look at grades and test scores; they want well-rounded students. That means you’ll want to showcase non-academic achievements on your application, such as volunteer work, participation in sports, extracurricular school activities, and hobbies like art or music.

Choose Your Schools

While American colleges and universities won’t publicly admit this, most have quotas for how many international students they’re willing to accept. Top schools, like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and MIT, get the most international applicants, so you’ll need top academic marks, stellar test scores, and a laundry list of extracurricular activities to get into these schools. But don’t discount the many lesser-known schools in the United States. Rural schools, or even schools not located in the Northeast, get fewer international applications, but they’ll still be interested in the perspective an international student can bring to the classroom.

Take the SAT and the ACT

The SAT and the ACT are the university entrance examinations most American students take. These exams take about four hours to sit, and you can take them more than once. Most students take the SAT and the ACT at least twice; once to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are so they can study more efficiently, and a second time to obtain the scores they’ll actually send to schools. Many students take the SAT and the ACT again and again, trying to get the best possible score. Check the U.S. News and World Report to find out what range of test scores your chosen schools prefer, so you can fall within that range. If English isn’t your first language, you’ll also need to take the TOEFL or the IELTS.

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Fill Out Applications

Your American university application will require your academic transcripts, your CV, a history of your extracurricular activities and hobbies, recommendation letters from some of your teachers, and an application essay. Over 500 U.S. universities use the Common Application essay, but many other schools provide their own application essay prompts. Your application essay will be a short piece of personal writing – about 500 words – that gives admissions officials a chance to get to know who you are as a person. Do some research into what admissions officials expect from an application essay. Read some sample essays. But don’t forget to read a broad range of literature, journalism, and memoir, and practice writing in general to hone your skills.

Find Financial Aid

American universities reserve most of their financial aid for domestic students, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t money for international students, too. There are two kinds of financial aid available to students at American schools: needs-based scholarships, loans, or grants, and merit-based scholarships. Many schools will offer scholarships that you may qualify for at the time of acceptance. You may need to fill out paperwork, such as the College Scholarship Service profile, to qualify for aid; you can also search for scholarships on Education USA. And even if you don’t qualify for aid your first year, strong academic performance can still net you funding for subsequent years.

Get Your Student Visa

Once you’ve been accepted to a school and have confirmed your place, you should be able to qualify for a student visa. You’ll need to pay a fee to be entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and then your school will send you the visa application paperwork you’ll need. Most students will get an F1 visa, which should allow you to work as well as study, although you’ll have to return to your country of origin within 60 days of completing your studies.

American universities are some of the best in the world, and having a degree from one can help you stand out among the work force back home, and give you a global perspective that will boost your career and change your life. Thousands of international students enroll in American universities every year – and you can, too.

This article was provided by Cher Zevala.