The undergraduate and graduate admission process is time consuming and stressful for any applicant. For international students, however, this process is often twice that. International students seeking admission to universities must follow a different and lengthier enrollment process compared to domestic students. They also have to target earlier admission deadlines than domestic students since schools need time to process international student visas. This can be a cumbersome process depending on your home country. But these tips for international students can help ease the stresses of enrolling at a college or university in the United States.
The student body enrolled at US higher education institutions was composed of approximately 6% international students in the 2019–2020 academic year. If you want to be a part of this 6%, you’ll need to apply for a student visa—typically called an F1 visa— after you’re accepted. This allows you to remain in the US for as long as you’re enrolled in school. Once you’re no longer attending classes, you’ll have 60 days to depart the country, unless you decide to renew the visa for further study.
You’ll also need to submit documentation and proof of financial ability. Homeland security requires students seeking an F1 or M1 visa to provide these documents so both the country and school are aware of your ability to afford tuition, living, travel, and other basic needs. These can include family bank statements, documentation from a sponsor, financial aid letters, scholarship letters, or documents from an employer showing annual salary.
Related: COVID-19's Impact on Student Visas and Scholarships
International students also often need to pass a language exam or show proof of English-language proficiency. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is “the world’s premier English-language test for university study, work, and immigration.” Over 11,000 universities across 150 different countries accept this exam as proof of proficiency. While the TOEFL is more academic focused, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is more of a real-world experience exam. Some colleges may prefer one over the other, but these two tests seem to be the most popular and accepted ones.
What to consider when choosing a test
Students should first look into what college they want to be admitted to and then which exam will best fit their goals or desired career path. There are some advantages to each of the tests offered: the IELTS could be a better fit for students who are good at writing, while the TOEFL is better for students who excel at typing. Students should also be aware of the price of both their visas and their required exams. The F1 visa alone costs around $510 per application. When it comes to exams, the TOEFL ranges from $165–$300, while the IELTS stays in the $200 range. You may want to invest in IELTS or TOEFL prep courses to help you achieve your desired scores as well.
Who to turn to with questions
International students enrich the diversity within the academic environment, so universities understand the importance of working with applicants to secure all documentation necessary to enroll in their institutions. Once you’re admitted, you’ll be guided by the appropriate office within your university on how to obtain your student visa. Most often, this will be a specific international students office that will understand the process and any hurdles you may face. At New York University, for instance, the office is called the Office of Global Services; at Cornell University, it’s the Office for International Students. University employees within these offices monitor current governmental visa regulations and are the best resources to guide you through the current visa process.
Related: The Best On-Campus Resources for International Students
Furthering your education in the US is a great experience that can offer many different advantages. With the broad range of courses and career opportunities available, students are more able to choose the kind of experience they want to have. Following these tips and doing some research can lead to a bright future!
Find the best US college for you by exploring our featured International Student–Friendly School Profiles.