By IELTS Expert

16 December 2022 - 10:45

International students at a university in the USA

Do you want to study in the USA? Then this is the article for you! In this blog post you will know more about:

Living, studying and working in the USA

If you want to study in the USA and experience a new setting, congratulations! You are taking a huge, brave step forward to improve your future. There are so many amazing places where your education both inside and outside of the classroom will truly enrich your life. 

Yet, of all the options available none is chosen more often by internationally-minded students than the United States of America. The reality is studying in the USA provides best-in-class opportunities across hundreds of different academic programmes. Coupled with the unmatched environments found on college and university campuses study in the USA for international students is a life-changing experience.

So, the question you may be asking yourself is, given the many benefits of studying in the USA, how do I explore my options there? For many students, it can be an overwhelming experience with over 4,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States from which to choose. The geography of the U.S. is also quite a challenge to understand with the wide range of climates in which you may study. 

The good news is that with your current interest in taking the IELTS test you are already one step closer to achieving your goal. But the question remains: how can you actually study in the USA? 

As you explore the many resources available to you about studying in the United States, please bookmark the following two sites as you move forward in your search.

  • The first is the British Council’s Take IELTS site with specific information related to US study.
  • The second belongs to EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of overseas advising centers in 175 countries. This network has produced a detailed guide called EducationUSA: Your 5 Steps to US Study to help break down the process of researching, financing, and applying to U.S. colleges and universities as well as information on the visa process and preparing for your eventual travel to the United States.

Book your IELTS test with the British Council now!

Undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) studies in the USA

International students who wish to study in the USA for university have so many choices. Whether you wish to be a nurse in the USA, study engineering, music production, or one of the hundreds of different academic majors available for bachelor’s degrees, your challenge will be to narrow your choices down to a manageable number. In a recent USA Study Live Chat on the Take IELTS Official Facebook page, we discussed how to begin your search for the right set of colleges and universities to which you may apply. 

Before consulting different college search engines designed to help you narrow your choices to a manageable number, ask yourself important questions about the kind of study experience in the United States you want. 

EducationUSA provides a useful tool on their site called Define Your Priorities. This set of self-assessment questions will help you start thinking about the kinds of things that will help you identify what is important to you.

Your preferences matter and can significantly impact what colleges or universities you end up considering. There are simply so many choices you have, such as:

  • The size of each college’s student population
  • Their location in the U.S.
  • Climate (weather)
  • Type of college (Public v. Private)
  • Tests required (academic standardized and English proficiency tests)
  • Costs, 
  • Scholarships, 
  • Kinds of student organizations on campus, 
  • International student services, 
  • Facilities and amenities available, 
  • Internships and job placements rates, 
  • Other factors can help you target colleges and universities that meet your needs.

For many international students, your intended academic course of study might be the most important factor you consider when choosing colleges to apply to in the United States

One term you will want to know sooner rather than later is an academic major. Keep in mind that at U.S. colleges and universities as an undergraduate student, less than half of your total classes will be in the academic course of study you wish to pursue. 

This academic subject that you wish to focus on studying in the USA is called an academic major. You may have multiple academic interests and might do a double major depending on the majors involved. If not a second major, you may wish to add a minor (roughly half the total classes taken for a major). 

Believe it or not, in the United States, most students change their minds on what their major will be during their studies, and coming into college “undecided”  is where 40% of undergraduates begin their first year. 

Postgraduate studies in the USA

For foreign students who have completed their bachelor’s degrees, studying for a master's (or doctoral) degree in the USA is a much more straightforward process than for prospective international undergraduate students. The good news is, when it comes to graduate education, you already know exactly what academic subject in which you wish to earn an advanced degree. 

As for rankings, there are certain services like U.S. News Education Rankings of Grad Schools out there that help you identify which graduate programs are best in twelve different broad academic areas. 

But going beyond the rankings, much like for undergraduate studies, there are several self-discovery questions you will want to ask yourself. EducationUSA also has a Define Your Priorities worksheet for prospective graduate international students who wish to study in America. 

If you have completed a bachelor’s and want to continue studying in the USA, here are some further important questions to consider: 

  • Does the university (more specifically the academic department) only bring in new students in the fall term (August-September) each year, in the spring (January-February), and even in summer (May-June) starts? 
  • Will there be any standardized tests required for the program you are considering, e.g. a GRE or GMAT, or English proficiency tests like IELTS
  • What kind of graduate/married student housing is available on campus? Are there internships possible while in the program? 
  • Are there dedicated international student services, and support staff on campus to assist you?

As you develop a list of institutions that offer your program and meet other criteria you have identified as priorities, the individual department you would be applying to should be examined closely. 

For example, be sure to see which concentrations (in your discipline) are possible, as well as which faculty members share similar research interests to yours and who could serve as potential mentors/advisers to you if you are admitted and enrolled. You will also want to know how many new students are admitted/enrolled each year.

For more guidance on searching for Master of Science degree programs to study in the USA or other post-graduate degrees check out a recent USA Study Live Chat on this topic. 

Deadlines will be very important to know as you make applications to degree programs at different institutions. Some universities will have a set deadline that could be up to nine months before the start of your program while others operate on rolling admissions which means decisions are made as completed applications are received. 

Professional studies in the USA

Before discussing how international students can pay for their studies, many students often have questions about how to study medicine in the USA as an international student, or how to study dentistry or law in the USA. 

These kinds of academic programs, along with others like pharmacy, physical therapy, and others are called professional programs that generally require specific licenses to practice/work in the USA. Additionally, these three (medicine, law, and dentistry) are first studied in the USA at the post-graduate level. 

So, for international students who wish to do a degree in these professional programs in the United States, you will have two options: 

  • Complete the equivalent bachelor’s degree program in their home countries and apply to the programs in the US for an MD (medical doctor), a JD (Juris Doctor in law), or DDS (Doctor of dental surgery).
  • Come to the US for a bachelor’s degree program in a subject related to the professional degree programme (biology for medicine or dentistry, history or political science for law). 

One note here for students who do bachelor’s degrees in law in their home country and become practicing lawyers, most who apply to study law in the USA, will apply to LLM programs, which are one-year master’s in law. 

Typically, US law schools offer one or more type of LLM that gives students specialized study in specific areas of law (maritime, gaming, environmental, etc.) that may help international students when returning to their home countries.  

Perhaps the one professional studies area that is harder than most (with less than 5% of international applicants admitted each year) is medical colleges in the USA. There simply are not enough medical colleges offering MD programs in the United States to meet the demand. 

As a result, the competition to study in the USA in medical colleges is very difficult. Some US public universities that have medical colleges do not admit international students at all because of their charters that require them to provide their available spaces to applicants who are citizens of the state in which they operate. 

So, for international students committed to earning a US medical degree to become a doctor, there will be a significant amount of research you will need to do to find the universities that offer places for you. 

How much does it cost to study in the USA?

When it comes to finding the financial resources to fund a U.S. higher education, there are two questions international students ask more than any others:

  • How can I study in the USA without money, or can I study in the USA as an international student for free?
  • How much does it cost to study medicine in the USA?

While all international students hope to find a scholarship or funding that covers all their expenses while they are in the US for study, very few undergraduate students will find that kind of financial assistance from US colleges or universities

There are exceptions that allow individuals to study in the USA:

  • If students are top athletes with international reputations.
  • If students are admitted to some of the most selective, private institutions that offer full financial assistance.

At the undergraduate level, perhaps the part of the college search most eye-opening for international students is the cost of studying in the USA. It is expensive, plain, and simple. Tuition fees, living expenses, books and supplies, and health insurance all add up to a total cost of a year of education. 

What is different about studying in the United States is that there may well be academic, athletic, artistic, and even service-based scholarships available as well as need-based financial aid in the form of grants for international students, depending on the institution

As a family, you will need to determine how much you can afford each year to support your study in the United States, but don’t rule out certain colleges based solely on their total costs. Be sure to see if those expensive colleges offer any financial aid for international students to help offset your bottom-line expenses.

For international students interested in graduate/post-graduate degrees the cost to study in the USA will be a significant factor, but you should know that there is generally more funding available for graduate/post-graduate studies than for bachelor’s degrees. 

While the programmes are generally shorter in duration (1-2 years for master’s degrees, 3+ years for doctoral programs), costs are similar, perhaps slightly less per year. Of course, most graduate-degree-seeking international students are either funding their education or relying wholly upon or in part on the funding they may receive from the universities they are planning to attend. 

If you know you will have limited funds to pay for your graduate/postgraduate degrees, make sure to ask the Graduate School office at the institutions you decide to apply to what kinds of scholarships, assistantships, and fellowships are available to new international students. 

If you are applying for a master’s degree program, there may be limited academic merit scholarships and possibly a graduate assistantship if not in your academic department, there may be other offices on campus that hire new graduate students with particular skills. 

For doctoral programs there is typically much more funding available in the form of assistantships and fellowships and, in some cases, even guaranteed for all admitted students to the program. Be sure to ask!

If you want to learn more overall recommendations as to how you can pay for your USA studies, check out another USA Study Live Chat on this important topic. 

How to get a USA study visa

Once you have made the all-important decision of where to study in the United States, the next step in your journey is getting your visa. While there will be some nervous moments ahead as you prepare for your eventual visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest you, you can do so with confidence if you follow these tips.

The I-20 is the key to beginning the student visa process. This I-20 document is also known as the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status. Produced by U.S. colleges and universities, the I-20 comes from the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS was created in 2003 to serve as the central clearinghouse for all F, M, and J visa students and exchange visitors that study in the United States. 

Some colleges will send you an I-20 with your admission letter if you have documented you have the available funding already for at least one year of academic study and are not required to pay a deposit

Other U.S. universities will only send an I-20 after funding is documented, any institutional financial awards are made, and a deposit is paid. This important document contains much of the personal information about you (full name, birthdate, SEVIS ID numbers, academic program, English proficiency standard, start date, and funding sources).

So, once you have received the I-20 from the college or university you wish to attend, there are four important pieces you’ll need to complete:

  • Pay a $350 SEVIS fee online (and keep your SEVIS fee receipt you are sent electronically)
  • Apply for your non-immigrant visa (online DS-160 form)
  • Schedule your visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate 
  • Prepare for and attend that interview with confidence

If you have an opportunity to attend in-person sessions with U.S. consular officers (who conduct the interviews) or videos and live chats put together by embassy staff about the student visa interview, please take that chance. Hearing directly from those you might be interviewed can only help prepare you best for your interview. 

Recently, a USA Study Live Chat covered this very topic in-depth and shared some important tips to help you get your USA study visa. Please check it out and be sure to contact our team if you want to study in the USA but need any additional information or support.

Book your IELTS test with the British Council now!