So, you've decided to study abroad and experience a new place and culture. There's so much excitement, so much to do! But all that excitement begins to fade when you realize just how much there is to do to achieve this goal. However, all that passion is what is going to get you that visa and the experience of your life.
I am an international student in the United States. I came here all the way from Nepal, and since I've been through the process of traveling abroad for college, I wanted to share a few tips that can help you find the right school in the right place and make the whole experience a little more bearable.
There are consultancies that can help you with your paperwork and help you get a visa, but I suggest doing this on your own since it's your money and your education, and working on everything yourself makes your admission process more personal. Your perseverance can help you stay strong while you're abroad and far away from your family because you will have something to hold on to: the hard work you put in to get there.
1. Do not depend on consultancies to pick your school
I say this because I did and it was a disaster for me. The university that I got my visa from wasn't highly regarded, and I ended up transferring to a different school. In fact, the first school I attended recently shut down, so I'm glad I transferred. Do the research yourself. It will save you money and make your experience more personal.
2. Thoroughly research your housing options
As much as a school's ranking and activities are important, you have to make sure you can actually afford to live in the city where the school is located. Yes, most schools have on-campus housing, but sometimes it can be much more cost effective to live off campus. Some schools require students to live on campus for a certain amount of time, and I have nothing against that since it allows you to meet new people and see everything the campus has to offer. But money-wise, it may be much cheaper to live off campus, which also helps you become more responsible, since you'll have to abide by the landlord's rules and make sure your rent is paid on time each month.
3. Look for scholarships
At most colleges and universities, tuition and fees increase every single year, and tuition is often higher for international students, who also have to consider the exchange rate. But money doesn't have to be a barrier to your education. When looking at schools, find out which ones provide scholarships to international students or, at the very least, merit-based scholarships for which you might qualify. Then look for scholarships in your own country for students who want to study abroad. I have seen a lot of grants and scholarships provided by countries such as China, Japan, and some European countries. Apply for as many scholarships as you possibly can to help defray the cost of tuition.
4. Take the SAT or ACT and the TOEFL
Most schools require that applicants take the SAT or ACT, and if you speak, read, and write English well and study hard, that shouldn't be a problem for you. Getting good scores on these tests can help you get into a good school and even earn scholarship money. I didn't take the SAT and I regret it. Many schools also require international students to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), so be sure to prepare for that as well.
5. Apply to at least five or six colleges
There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. You want to have options to choose from once you apply. One school might give you a good amount of money in scholarships, but another school could be a better fit and possibly cheaper even without a scholarship. One school might offer the specific major that you're interested in, while another may offer you amazing student-faculty research opportunities. Having options allows you to see that you are wanted. Colleges accept you because they know you can succeed based on your application materials.
6. Research what the campus has to offer
You want your college experience to be full of great memories. You want to make friends and get involved in activities that will help you develop skills for your future, such as teamwork and creativity. Once you've been accepted to and decide to attend a particular school, research what types of student activities it has to offer, such as clubs and athletics. Sports are a huge part of American culture, and if you love a certain sport, college provides a great opportunity for you to either play on a team or join the crowd at a game. Look into the various events and organizations your school has to offer and find the ones that interest you. College allows you to learn through extracurricular activities as well as through academics. Get involved!
7. Prepare for culture shock
You are going to a new place, a place that has its own culture, mores, and values. You should prepare to face them and learn to adapt to them. You may see things that you don't like or aren't necessarily comfortable with, but that does not mean you have to judge them. There will be things that you don't understand, but you can use them as opportunities to start discussions and learn about American culture while sharing your own. For example, I come from a country where we worship the cow. We see the cow in the form of God. But here in the United States, people love burgers and steak, which come from cows, and I embraced that constructively. I do not eat beef, but I don't have anything negative to say about people who do, and I saw it as a chance to tell my friends and fellow interns what it's like where I come from. These differences allow you to experiment with culture. You learn something from them, and they learn something from you.
Are you an international student considering studying in the United States? What are some of your biggest worries, and what things are you most excited about?