How to Study in the USA: A Guide for International Students

How to Study in the USA Guide for International Students Preparing to study in America? From financial aid, visas, and housing, there's a lot you need to know before moving. Here's your step-by-step guide. Complete with resources.

How to Study in the USA: A Guide for International Students

Planning to study in the USA? The US attracts students from all over the world, and with good reason. However, planning the logistics of studying in the USA can be confusing at first, especially if you’re new to the process.

Luckily, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know about studying in the USA for international students. We cover key things such as student visa applications and obtaining scholarships so that your experience studying in the USA will be everything you’ve dreamed of and more.

All You Need To Know About Studying In The US

So you’ve been accepted into a school in America, which means you’re now faced with one of your biggest challenges how do you study abroad? Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, we’re here to help. Below are six tips and tricks we’ve discovered during our own experiences living and studying overseas. By following these steps, you can maximize your time at school and have more fun along the way

How Do I Study in the USA?

As an international student, your journey to the US will begin with selecting the university where you want to study and the academic program you want to pursue. An associate’s degree from a US university typically takes two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree usually requires three to four years of study in the USA. If you want to continue your studies after getting a bachelor’s degree, you can consider graduate school.

The options for graduate or postgraduate programs are a master’s degree (two years of study) and a doctorate or Ph.D. (three or more years). Graduate master’s and doctorate programs are focused on a specific academic subject, while associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are typically more general.

Filling Out Application Forms

For international students, American colleges and universities typically require both a high school transcript as well as an official score report from either the TOEFL or IELTS. In addition, many institutions ask for SAT or ACT scores and essays.

The number of application forms you’ll have to fill out depends on which school you’re applying to, how many classes you want transfer credit for, and whether you wish to study abroad through a specific program. If you have already received a letter of acceptance and scholarship, then it is time to start filling out your application forms.

The U.S. government, through its Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), requires all international students, who are non-U.S. citizens or non-permanent residents, to complete Form I-20 before they arrive in the United States; either as part of their visa application process or when they actually get there.

The Application Essay

The most important thing to remember about your essay is that it’s just one piece of your application. The rest of your application—recommendations, test scores, GPA—speak volumes about who you are and what you can do, so don’t spend too much time stressing over a good topic.

Scholarships And Financial Aid

In addition to government and state-supported funding, there are scholarships specifically targeted toward international students. Scholarships, like grants, don’t have to be paid back but come with other stipulations.

They might require you to maintain a certain GPA (grade point average) and/or carry a minimum course load per semester. The same applies to work-study programs; you’ll need a job, but will receive financial aid instead of a paycheck

Choosing A College Or University That Is Right For You

For many international students in the USA, your major (or the focus of your academic studies) might be the most important factor when choosing colleges to apply to in the United States.

If you have multiple academic interests, you may be able to complete a double major at a particular college or university. Or, you may decide to add a minor (a secondary academic focus that requires about half the total classes taken for a major).

If you are unsure about what you want to study in the USA, do not worry: In the United States, most students change their minds on what their intended major will be during their time in college, and 40% of undergraduate students begin their first year in college with an undeclared major. 

Academics are important, but when you think about where to study in the USA for your bachelor’s degree, consider the kind of university experience in the United States you want. Here are a few questions to get you started:

Do I want to attend a large university or a small college?

Should I go to a public college or a private college?

Would I be happier at a college campus that is in the countryside, a small town, or a city?

What do I want to study?

Which types of campus activities and student organizations do I want to join?

How you answer these important questions will help you to make a truly informed decision, and keep these preferences in mind as you research colleges in the US.

Additionally, you can also look at each college’s location in the US, climate (weather), tests required (academic standardized and English proficiency tests), costs, scholarships, international student services, campus facilities, and internships and job placement rates to target colleges and universities that meet your needs. 

For graduate program rankings, there are listings like U.S. News & World Report’s Best Graduate Schools that can help you identify quality degree programs. But just like undergraduate degrees, you will have to look beyond the rankings and ask yourself some key questions:

When can I start my graduate degree program? Does the university bring in new students in the fall (August-September), spring (January-February), or even the summer (May-June)?

Will the application require any standardized tests, like the GRE or GMAT?

Is the graduate student or married student housing available on campus?

Can I get an internship or co-op while in the program?

Are there international student services?

Apply to the University

Once you have selected the program you want to pursue and have prepared a short list of universities to choose from, it is time to begin applying. 

To begin applying for a program at a US university, your application can be completed online either through each school’s own website or through a third-party system like the Common App (which nearly 900 colleges accept).

(Depending on the university, you may also be able to apply directly through Shorelight.) No matter which method you choose, you will be required to submit specific documents listed by the university.

Applying For Visas, Green Cards, and Citizenship/DACA – Things To Consider Before You Travel To The United States (OPTIONAL)

In the United States, there are three primary student visa types: F, J, and M. 

Visa Types

F-1 Student Visa:

To study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute

J-1 Exchange Visa

For participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study.

M-1 Student Visa

for non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States
Valid student visas are required to apply to the Department of Homeland Security for admission into the United States at the port of entry. Students' Form I-20 document (F and M visas) or DS-2019 document (J visas), that are issued by their institution, is what allows them to maintain student status in the United States even if a visa expires during their studies. 

To issue I-20 or DS-2019 documentation for student visas, U.S. institutions must be certified by the Department of Homeland Security SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) (F, M visas) or designated by the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (J visas), respectively. 

Although an institution is certified by SEVP to issue I-20s (F, M visas), the institution may not hold national or regional accreditation. Recognition of course credits and degrees by other institutions and by the U.S. and international employers is linked to an institution's accreditation.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases list all U.S. institutions' accreditation. Note that institutions designated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to place participants in Academic Exchange programs (J visas) must be accredited.

Two separate U.S. government agencies manage international students' arrival and status while studying in the United States. The U.S. Department of State is responsible for the initial visa application process and issuance.

Once a visa holder arrives in the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security then acts as the responsible agency for granting entry into the country, as well as enforcing immigration regulations that affect international students once they are in the United States.

Money Matters In The United States – Getting Settled And Budgeting (OPTIONAL)

Money is one of those things that seem simple, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can lead to a serious headache. If you are an international student and have little experience with American cash, a credit card, or even how to open a bank account—this section is for you. We cover all of that here and some more

Prepare for Departure to the US

While you are making arrangements for your visa, it is time to think about the actual arrival on campus! Your US college or university will tell you when you need to arrive for the beginning of the academic term or an optional orientation. Consider arriving early: It is a good idea to give yourself as much preparation time as possible before your first day of classes.

Booking travel should now be a high priority. In addition to your academic term and orientation dates, there are two other dates that are even more important for your travel plans: (1) immigration regulations require you to arrive in the United States no more than 30 days in advance of the program start date on your I-20; (2) you must arrive by that I-20 program start date.

However, before you depart to the united states for your education make sure you double-check that you have all the required documents with you because they will be presented at the border for security reasons  (I-20, financial documents, admissions letter, SEVIS fee receipt, passport with an F-1 student visa). Keep them in a carry-on where you can easily access them. It’s a good idea to have official copies of your transcripts, immunization records, medications, and other essential items in your carry-on, too. 


Moving and studying abroad can be one of the most exciting times of your life. As international students, you have a huge opportunity to learn about other cultures, communities, and experiences; however, living outside your home country can also present its challenges. While everyone’s experience will vary based on your specific situation and comfort level, here are a few tips to help make studying abroad easier for you. Good luck!