Why study in United States
The USA is the favourite destination of international students, and over a million head there every year, nearly twice as many as the second-placed country, the UK. In fact, there are nearly as many international students in the US are there are in the whole of Europe, although you should decide whether an American or European education is best for you rather than just following the crowd. But why do international students choose to study in America? There are plenty of reasons. A key attraction are the world-leading universities, but just as attractive are the opportunities to study in world cities, take advantage of links with global businesses and tech innovators, or just to experience the culture of a nation that has shaped the world we live in.
- America is the world’s education super-power. Its universities dominate the world rankings: they take five of the top ten spots in the latest QS rankings. If you want a Bachelor’s or Master’s recognised as high quality the world over, American universities will have you covered.
- There are over 4,300 universities to choose from. This means that whatever you want to study, there will be a centre of excellence for you.
- America is incredibly diverse. It was built by migrants, and that shapes the nation today. Depending on where in America you study, you will see influences from all over the world. If you want to experience a true melting pot of global diversity, nowhere is better than America.
- America leads the world in many sectors. When you think of almost any industry, you’ll probably think of the American — and world — centre. From New York for finance, to LA for entertainment, or San Francisco for technology. If you want to be close to the world’s best in almost any category, head to the USA.
- The USA is one of the world’s most geographically vibrant and diverse nations. From the gleaming glass and steel of New York’s skyscrapers to the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon, or the cold expanses of Alaska to the surfing paradise of Hawaii, America really has everything.
Why else choose America for study? It is academically innovative. For example, universities have followed the lead of Silicon Valley in providing education in the latest technologies, with some universities, like Caltech or MIT, with an especially strong reputation in the area. The USA was the first country to offer MBAs, while American universities drive new thinking in psychology and economics. American universities lead the world when it comes to the latest courses and thinking.
And it would be impossible to talk about American universities without a mention of the Ivy League. Although, originally, a sporting league for some of the East Coast’s older universities, the term is more often used to refer to a set of universities that offer academic excellence. But while the Ivy League colleges are, undoubtedly, excellent, the strength of American education is such that there are plenty of other universities mounting a strong challenge when it comes to academics.
Culture in United States
Most people will think they understand the culture of the United States. However, these beliefs are often shaped by media representations in books, on television and in movies. But these stereotypes hide the incredible cultural diversity in America, a country that spans a continent and is home to over 300 million people.
American culture and lifestyle reflect the modern nation’s origin as a set of British colonies. Although the American Revolution marked a break with its British past, much was kept. English is still the dominant language, although many speak Spanish, especially in the southern states where there has been immigration from Latin American countries. It has also kept the protestant ethics of the UK.
However, America’s story of freedom and opportunity has attracted people from all over the world. These have typically been from European countries, and there are significant communities with Irish or Italian roots, especially on the East Coast. The West Coast, meanwhile, has seen migration from across the Pacific, with significant Chinese and Japanese communities.
This has resulted in some specific contributions to American food culture. However, Italians may be horrified to learn that Americans argue whether the best pizza is from New York or Chicago, while Chinese people won’t recognise the fortune cookie presented after meals.
More recently, migration from other parts of the world has increased. However, America has quite strict limits on immigration, meaning it has less impact on diversity and culture than it once did. But its history has created a population that is progressive and welcoming, especially in urban areas and on university campuses.
How to choose a university in United States?
When it comes to deciding where to study, you will be spoiled for choice, and if you are an international student with no other links to the USA, it can be overwhelming. It would simply be impossible to decide between all the places that offer degrees. Instead, your choosing a university checklist will have to start with making a shortlist.
- Decide what criteria are important to you for your choice. Do you want to study in a specific area or city, are you looking for a particular subject, or is there effectively a shortlist already because you want to go to an Ivy League college? There may be some overlap in these questions, for example, a finance-related degree might naturally lead you to consider New York’s universities.
- When you have your shortlist, research your choices, and identify the key facts, like admissions criteria and costs, as well as things like the admissions process and deadlines. This may help you narrow down your choice even more.
- Consider the academic experience you want. Just like every student is different, every university is different. You might want to look for courses that feature extensive placements, or you might prefer a more academic approach to your topic. Finding a university and course that best matches your learning style will ensure that your education will not just be successful but will be enjoyable too.
- Think about the living and cultural experience you want. The size of America’s education sector means there are plenty of options to choose from. Are you looking to study in a vibrant city, where your lectures take place next to the hustle and bustle of daily life, or would you prefer a campus-based experience where you are surrounded by university life?
What are the best universities in America?
You might assume that the Ivy League offer the best universities in America, but while they are good, rankings like QS illustrate how good American universities are. Here are the five top-rated universities in America, and, amazingly, they are all in the world's top ten.
- MIT, or Massachusetts Institute of Technology, isn’t just the best-rated university in America, it’s the best in the world in the QS rankings. And don’t let the name mislead you, it offers Bachelor’s and Master’s in non-technology subjects, and often tops the rankings in those too.
- Founded by a railroad tycoon, Stanford University continues the entrepreneurial instincts of its founder. As well as lots of former students becoming academic and political leaders, it’s estimated that its alumni-founded businesses would, in total, be the seventh-largest economy in the world.
- Harvard University is surprisingly the only Ivy League school in the top five. America’s oldest university, it predates the Declaration of Independence by 140 years. It has an international reputation, in large part because of the strength of its graduate schools.
- Caltech, formally known as the California Institute of Technology, has a world-wide association with science and technology, it even manages NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But it is associated with major breakthroughs and advances in every field of science, as shown by the 79 Nobel Laureates associated with Caltech.
- University of Chicago, finishes the QS top five. Its strong research ethos has meant that while some colleges are associated with a school of thought, when you refer to ‘the Chicago school’ you could mean one of five different area where Chicago has worldwide influence.
What are the top student hubs in America?
New York is, unsurprisingly, one centre, boasting dozens of colleges and universities, including Cornell and Columbia, nestling in one of the world’s most exciting cities.
However, there are other popular destinations, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was named in honour of the University of Cambridge but is now home to both Harvard and MIT, among others. While Durham, in North Carolina, is home to Duke and North Carolina Central University, and forms a corner of the research triangle that also contains the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
However, it sometimes seems everyone wants to study in America, and with so many students, domestic and international, it’s hard to find an American city that isn’t a student hub!
Tuition Fees in United States
It will come as no surprise that you will have to pay tuition fees in America. Students at American universities must pay fees ranging from around $10,000 to over $60,000 a year for a Bachelor’s degree, although prices tend to be around $25,000 or $40,000 depending on the type of university you attend. Prices for a Master’s degree tend to average around $30,000 a year, but some courses can be significantly cheaper.
On top of that, there are often more fees that you will have to pay to remain enrolled. An American education can offer many benefits, both while you are a student and afterwards, but it is not cheap. And if you are an international student, you will need to be able to show how you will meet the fees to get a visa, so the cost is something you will need to consider.
The American higher education system includes many models, and while they may all offer a high-quality education, cost is one of the biggest ways they differ.
Many universities, including some of the most prestigious, are private institutions. These rely on income from fees or endowments and tend to be the most expensive at around $40,000 a year. The most expensive institutions, which tend to be the most prestigious, like Harvard or Stanford, can cost around $60,000 a year, making a four-year degree, along with living expenses, very costly.
State institutions, which receive public funding, are significantly cheaper. For non-state residents these are usually between $20,000-$25,000 a year. Students from the same state, however, pay even less, typically around $10,000 a year.
However, all universities will point out that their fees, and what students pay, are very different things. And there are many ways to ensure your Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is more affordable than the fees might suggest.
>>> Use the ‘Tuition fee’ filter on the left menu of our Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD search pages to find the programme best suited for your budget. You can also sort the list of available programmes by Lowest tuition fee by clicking the top right Sort button.
Can I study in United States for free?
Unfortunately, there is no free education in America for international students. Indeed, because the cheapest fees are for residents of the state that funds the university, international students will usually be looking at fees that start in the middle of the fees range.
If you are wondering how to study in America for free, there is some good news. Generally speaking, international students not only pay the same as domestic students at most universities, but they also have access to the same funding opportunities as everyone else. Indeed, some of the most expensive universities say that the funding they make available can mean that almost all your costs, including their fees, are covered.
Financial Aid and Scholarships in United States
Most students, domestic and international, at American universities will benefit from some form of aid or scholarship. However, getting them may be as difficult as getting on the course itself!
The US State department’s Education USA website highlights a choice of available scholarships. Some of these are general awards, which can fund a degree at any qualifying institution. However, most awards will relate to specific colleges and universities.
>>> If you want to know where to find scholarships we list nearly 1,900 scholarships on our Scholarships Portal.
Types of scholarships on offer
A lot of the funding available for students comes from donations and gifts, often from former students. It can mean that in some places there are hundreds of potential awards. Typically, funding is available as either scholarships or grants.
Scholarships will usually have an academic part to them. They may require a particular level of qualification, or skill, to be proven to be awarded. They will typically be limited, meaning only a specific number or amount is awarded each year. A common question is ‘how many scholarships should I apply for?’ Because they are so competitive, it’s often a good idea to apply for all those that you meet the criteria for.
Grants are awarded based on need. These will need evidence of income to prove the level of support needed. Generally, universities award these to all that need them, so if you meet the criteria, you will receive an award.
Where you can find scholarships
You should think about funding at the same time you are thinking about applying, and research the options available to you. Every university’s website will have a section dedicated to financial aid, helping you find the information you need easily. You will be able to find this easily by searching the website for terms like ‘financial aid’ or ‘scholarships’.
Be sure to check the rules for the schemes you want to apply to, you can sometimes apply before, or often at the same time, as you apply for a place. And, whatever the deadline, you will have to ensure that you have a decision in place before you apply for your student visa.
There is generally no limit to the number of applications you can make. However, most universities operate a combined application scheme, meaning that you only need to make one application which will be considered in all the schemes for which you are eligible.
The Education USA site lists some scholarships, and can be filtered to help identify options available to your specific country. However, it only shows a limited number of options.
Our sister site, Scholarships Portal, is a good place to figure out where to apply for scholarships in America. You can find hundreds of available options provided by NGOs, governmental or private institutions, and universities.
And if you are looking for a scholarship, why not apply for the Studyportals Scholarship – International Distinction Award. It’s open to all international students, and you can find more in our FAQ.
How to apply
The exact process will depend on the scholarship, bursary, or aid you are applying for, and where you are applying.
The first thing you should do is carefully check the rules and guidelines. They will all follow a similar process, but will not be identical, so make sure you don’t get caught out.
- The most important thing is to check the eligibility criteria. Competitive scholarships will have countless applicants, so if you don’t fully meet the criteria, you won’t be considered. And if you are applying for a needs-based grant, you will be rejected.
- Make sure you gather all the documents you need and keep them in a safe place. If you are applying to several places, you will need them again.
- Once you have everything, complete the application. Again, check this carefully — and ask others to check for you. An incomplete or wrong entry will, at best, delay a decision and possibly any funding. At worst, it might mean you are unsuccessful.
- And when you have a decision, don’t celebrate straight away. Make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions that are attached to it. And if you have other applications pending, it might even be worth waiting for all your decisions to make sure you accept the best one for you.
What to include in your application
Each scheme will advise exactly what you need to include in your application. However, in general, they will be looking to establish that you are eligible for the award, and possibly to understand your motivation in applying.
This means that, on top of your personal information, they are likely to want some financial information to show your level of need for aid.
If you are applying for a merit-based scholarship, they will also need additional evidence like previous qualifications, like a portfolio or letters of recommendation from previous teachers and tutors.
They may also require you to write a letter of motivation, outlining why you are applying for funding and why you feel you should be the successful candidate. If you need to write one, then our advice on writing a great letter of motivation will help.
Interested in scholarships for United States? Check out our scholarship search page.
Apply to university in United States
American universities all handle their own admissions, and, unlike some other countries, there are no central processes for either domestic or international students. This means you may have to manage multiple applications.
How to apply
Having to apply to each university means each might offer a slightly different application process. However, they all follow a similar pattern, requiring an online application and submission of documents.
The online application will generally include basic information, like your personal details and contact details for tutors or those providing references, as well as your previous and current schools or colleges.
You will also need to pay an application fee. How much does it cost to apply to university? The fee is usually between $50 and $150. You might also have been wondering if you can apply to two courses at the same university, and the good news is that most run a common application system, meaning that you can complete a single application for different colleges or courses. If you are applying to multiple universities, though, the costs may soon mount, meaning you will probably want to limit your applications to where you have a reasonable chance of securing a place. The acceptance rates for courses vary dramatically, our guide will give you a good idea of the competition there is for university places in America.
You will also have to submit various documents depending on the course. Common requirements are qualification certificates, portfolios, and proof of English language ability. How these are sent may also vary, since some universities may have strict requirements about establishing authenticity.
Finally, some universities may offer an interview. This is more common with prestigious universities like Ivy League colleges (and if you are apply to an Ivy League college, be sure to read our advice on applications). This is not, usually, a formal part of the application process, and takes place with an alumnus near to you. There is no obligation to have an interview, but many value the opportunity to find out more and start preparing for their time as a student.
What’s the structure of the American academic year
American universities mostly follow the English structure of having three semesters a year, although precise dates will vary, they are broadly follow the pattern:
- Fall semester runs from September to December
- Spring semester lasts from January to April
- Summer semester lasts from May until July.
The academic year starts in September, and most universities will only offer a single start each year.
When to apply for American universities
Each university will have its own deadlines, so check these carefully. Usually, the deadline to apply for university is in the December or January before entry.
Most universities make decisions quickly, and by the end of the March almost all decisions will have been issued. Applying early means you will get a decision sooner and can start making plans whatever the outcome.
Documents needed to apply for university
The documents needed to apply for university will vary from course to course.
At a minimum, you will need to show your academic qualifications, either with a transcript of your school record or first degrees, or both. These must be recognised qualifications, and depending on who issued them you may have to arrange for them to be translated and certified.What is needed to apply for university will also depend on the course. Some might want things like a portfolio of work, essays or assessments and include these as part of the application process, you will also need evidence of English proficiency, if you haven’t been taught solely in English previously.
Although America has no official language, English is the dominant tongue, and the one used in universities. You will, therefore, need to prove your fluency. How can you demonstrate proficiency in English? There are two ways.
Most universities will accept earlier education in English as evidence of fluency. Typically, this will require three years of instruction solely in English, for example at school or a Bachelor’s degree.
Alternatively, universities will accept commonly recognised English tests. The exact requirements will vary between universities and even courses. Tests, and the scores you need, include:
- IELTS Academic (International English Language Testing System). Most universities will look for at least 7.5 on this test.
- TOEFL iBT (The Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test). A score of 100 or more is usually needed.
- PTE Academic (Pearsons Test of English Academic). A minimum score of 68 is usually requested.
- iTEP (International Test of English Proficiency). A score of 4.5 or higher.
- C1 Advanced or C2 Proficiency (Cambridge English: Advanced or Proficiency). A core of 190 or more.
Another possibility may be the Duolingo English Test. Although not as established, it is gaining wider acceptance, and is an easy-to-access test. Typically, a score of at least 125 is needed.
Student housing in United States
Anyone who has watched American movies will know that the college dorm or frat house is no stranger to the screen. It could almost be a character itself. But you’ll probably be relieved to know that the movie image of raucous college life is different from the reality.
What the movies do show, however, is that on-campus student housing in America, or dorms, remains a key part of student life for many.
While it varies between universities, most Bachelor’s degree students and many Master’s degree students, will have the possibility of living in college accommodation for at least part of their course. The nature of this will vary. Large campus universities may have everything on a single site, meaning you could spend your entire course never leaving the university. Other universities, especially those that are based in larger cities, may offer accommodation, but this might be separate to other parts of the university, and even require a commute to your classes.
College accommodation will typically consist of a bedroom with some study space, with shared facilities like bathrooms and kitchens. Some may also offer access to catering facilities. Living in college accommodation can be one of the most enjoyable parts of being an international student in America, allowing you to immerse yourself in the student culture.
Off-campus student housing is also possible, and most Master’s students will tend not to live in university accommodation.
One option is for private student accommodation. These are becoming increasingly common in areas with significant student populations, especially where university accommodation cannot meet demand. They are popular not just with students who miss university-controlled accommodation, but also those who want a little more independence.
Private accommodation often looks a lot like a campus dorm, with students having a bedroom and study area, and sharing other facilities. However, there are more options depending on your budget, for example, private bathrooms or regular servicing of your room.
Finally, there is the possibility of private rental. This is often popular with students who want to share with friends. There is a strong rental market in the US, especially in urban areas. However, demand can be high, and rent can be costly.
When to apply for student accommodation
The deadlines set by your university will determine when to apply for student housing. But regardless of what type of accommodation you are hoping to secure, the best advice is to apply as soon as you have a place.
If you are looking for off-campus accommodation, then you should start looking once you have a place. And it is sensible to have done a little research even before then, so you know exactly what and where you can afford to rent.
Cost of living in United States
Like most countries, the cost of living varies across America. As might be expected, cities tend to be the most expensive, and across the country, the south and midwestern states tend to be the cheapest.
Generally, though, America can be one of the more reasonable places to live, and comparable to other Western nations when it comes to costs. Our article on student living in America offers more details.
For most, rent is likely to be the biggest cost (after course fees) and can vary dramatically. Living in a major city like New York or Boston might cost you as much as $3,000 a month for a single bedroom. Studying at a mid-western university could reduce that to just $600.
But don’t forget that you will have to include other costs on top of this. You might save on rent at that rural university, but then must pay all the costs of owning a car to get around. Meanwhile, it’s possible to save on rent in cities by living further away from the centre and utilising the well-developed public transport that most major American cities have.
Cost of food in America
One area where America can be cheaper than other nations is food. A single person might want to budget between $400 and $600 a month to cover the cost of food in America, but shopping around can bring that amount down significantly. And eating out can be surprisingly cheap too, even in cities.
However, don’t be caught out, like many are, by things like tipping and taxes. Tipping is expected almost everywhere that serves food or drink, which adds to the total you must pay. And price tags will not include sales taxes, which are set locally and will sometimes include taxes from both the state and city. However, it does mean that if you are savvy, and close to a state or municipal border, you can often make easy savings on your shopping!
Work and study in United States
Are international students allowed to work in America?
The F-1 Visa does allow international students to work while in America, but there are strict limits.
First, working hours for international students in America are limited to 20 hours per week during term time. During vacations, full-time work is allowed, but only if you are registered to continue your studies the following semester.
Second, and perhaps the most limiting, you are only allowed to work in jobs on your university campus. While this still allows for a wide variety of jobs, from working in stores, to technical roles in departments, and possibly even working as tutors if you are studying for a higher degree, there will be a lot of competition for few jobs.
The only exception that allows work off campus is if it is for practical training related to your degree. However, this will require the permission of US Citizenship and Immigration Services and can only take place after you have completed at least one year of study.
There are even limits on volunteering, meaning that you can’t for example, take on internships in non-educational settings.
Where can I find jobs?
Since, as an international student, you can only work on your campus, your job search will be limited to your university. It may have a suitable vacancies section on its website, but its student services department is also likely to know of jobs suitable for students and may even have some that are particularly suitable for international students.
It’s also worth asking in your department or places on campus that you use, since you might find out about posts that are coming up, giving you some extra time to think about your application.
Is United States safe?
America is about as safe as most other Western countries. And like most countries, the dangers you might face will vary on where you are, but a little common sense will go a long way to ensuring that your time in America passes without incident. America is safe for international students.
One belief of America that many international students and visitors have, fuelled by news coverage, is that the nation has a lot of gun crime. However, such incidents are thankfully rare. Indeed, in most of America, guns are not a major part of the culture.
Crime tends to be higher in urban areas, but largely because of the increased opportunity such areas provide. Taking care to avoid unfamiliar places, staying in busy places, and avoiding showing off valuables like jewellery and phones will go a long way to avoiding being a victim of crime.
In some parts of America, though, risks to safety may come from the elements, with some states particularly prone to extreme weather. It’s worth checking to see if you are in an area like this, and, if so, following on advice on what you might need to do, this might be as simple as being aware of where shelters are, or having a go-bag ready in case you need to leave your home for safety at short notice.
Finally, you should ensure that you have adequate healthcare for your needs. This is not usually a requirement for your visa, although your university might include it as a condition of entry. However, American healthcare is incredibly expensive and there are only extremely limited public healthcare options available.
You are unlikely to be able to access any healthcare at all if you do not have sufficient insurance or the ability to pay. And in the event you need emergency healthcare, while it will probably be provided, you will also get a big bill afterwards.
Student insurance in United States
The standard F-1 visa does not require students to have any insurance while they are in America. Some universities, however, may have insurance requirements, most often addressing the need for health insurance.
However, regardless of visa or college conditions, anyone visiting America, even for a short time, should get insurance. As previously noted, healthcare is very expensive in America, and even if you are in good health, there is no guarantee that it will last for the duration of your course, or that you won’t have an accident that requires treatment.
On top of student health insurance, you should also consider other types of insurance such as student contents insurance, or student travel insurance if you intend to visit other parts of the country. While most insurance is never needed, you might be grateful for it if you do have to make a claim, especially as an international student far from the support of your home and family.
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Support services available for international students
Your university will be the main place you go for any support. Each university will have its student support services and, because of the number of international students, almost all will have dedicated services for international students.
These services will cover everything you need to make your studies a success, whether it’s help in accessing your education, support if you experience difficulties, or simply organising events and groups that help to make your student experience as positive as possible.
Again, it is likely that your university will be your first destination when it comes to looking for student organisations, and there will be an international student organisation that will make it easy to meet fellow students from around the world.
You should also make yourself familiar with the student government in your university. These all take different forms but are there to represent students to the university. They will usually have a role in organising and providing some of the cultural experiences of university life, and frequently play a role in student welfare.
However, there are also many intercollegiate societies which may be national, state-wide, or in their own network, which are often organised around subjects or interests, like the American Medical Student Association. Your university’s student support services will have details of the ones that you can access.
Things to do for students on a budget
Although America is a single country, it is sometimes better to think about it as a collection of very different states. It’s simply impossible to write a comprehensive list of the free things to do in America for students, but because it’s such a popular destination, there are plenty of resources, from specific student guides to established guidebooks like Lonely Planet.
But there is no shortage of things to do. Whether it’s just absorbing the culture in places like New York’s Central Park or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or visiting majestic sites like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. If you want a country where you can get everything from the miracles of nature to the wonders of human engineering, it’s hard to beat America.
Top urban attractions for students
The difficulty in listing the best things to do in America is that there are so many attractions. A single city can give you access to dozens of world-famous attractions. And even listing cities is hard because there are so many you will want to see.
- New York. It’s hard to imagine a list that won’t have New York at the top. From the hustle of Wall Street to the calm of Central Park. Don’t miss seeing the bay (the Staten Island Ferry is free) with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, or experiencing the night-time buzz of Times Square.
- San Francisco. The city’s hills mean that you are never far from a great view, and hardly ever off a street that hasn’t featured in a movie car chase! Take time to visit the bay, where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz, and even see the sea-lions at the end of Pier 39.
- Philadelphia. If you are a history buff, then a visit to Philadelphia, which saw the birth of modern America, is a must. You can visit Independence Hall and learn more at the National Constitution Center. And, if continuing the movie theme, you can emulate Rocky’s run up the steps outside the Museum of Art.
- New Orleans. The Big Easy is renowned for its party atmosphere, and you’ll soon find out why. With its Caribbean-colonial feel, plethora of music venues, and delicious food, it’s impossible not to have a good time.
- Los Angeles. A huge city that divides opinion, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t have something for everyone whether you want to star-spot in neighbouring Hollywood on the Sunset Boulevard, or star-gaze at the Griffith Observatory, or anything in between.
Top 5 Outdoor Attractions
The USA is blessed with a variety of outdoor attractions. Perhaps the best are the 63 National Parks, which, since the first was founded in the 19th century, exist to protect and promote America’s natural heritage.
- Yellowstone. The first national park, it boasts stunning scenery including mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes. But it is most famous for the geothermal activity throughout, the park has more than half of the world’s geysers, but the most famous is Old Faithful, which has erupted every one to two hours since its discovery.
- The Grand Canyon. Another national park, the Grand Canyon, must be seen to be appreciated: over a kilometre-and-a-half deep and more than fifteen kilometres wide, it is a truly enormous canyon. If you are feeling brave, try the Skywalk, where you can experience the height of the canyon from a glass-floored balcony.
- New England in fall. For anyone from a temperate climate with a fall or autumn season, it is hard to explain, but seeing New England in the fall is incredibly popular. Hundreds of thousands head there to see the changing of the seasons. But combine the natural beauty with visits to places like Boston or the coastal resort of Cape Cod.
- The Florida Everglades. The tropical wetlands of the Everglades cover a significant part of southern Florida and mark the transition from subtropical to tropical climate. A popular way to see them is by airboat, which gives a sense of the size of the region, which also offers the chance to see some of the wildlife, including the alligators.
- Alaska. If you want to brave somewhere chillier, why not visit Alaska? At the Glacier Bay National Park you can see how glaciers have shaped the rugged coastlines and are continuing to shape life today. And if you really want a challenge, why not visit Denali, North America’s highest peak and, when measured from its base, even taller than Everest!
Travelling in America
One of the first things to understand about travelling in America is that the distances can be enormous. A flight from coast to coast will take around five hours, and American’s typically refer to car journeys by the number of hours they take.
However, it does mean there are plenty of options for getting around to suit all budgets, and internal travel can often be surprisingly affordable.
Flying is, obviously, the quickest way to get around America, and most major airports will have regular flights between them. There are several sites that offer discounted flights for students, and it’s always worth shopping around.
If you have more time, then taking trains can be a great way to travel. And an excellent way to see parts of the country you might never see by plane, and offer comfortable facilities on-board, including beds for longer journeys. They also offer a range of discounts, for example for groups travelling together.
Alternatively, coach travel is common in America, and the Greyhound is the most famous example. The extensive coach network can take you anywhere you want to go and is one of the most affordable ways to travel. But coach travel can be slow, so plan ahead and take the opportunity to break up your trip with interesting visits.
Learning English and Spanish
English is the predominant language in America, although other languages are spoken by immigrant communities, the most common being Spanish, in places like Florida with a large Cuban community, or Texas and New Mexico, where large numbers of Latin Americans have settled. However, your tuition will be in English, and you will need to be proficient to gain a place.
Fortunately, America’s culture helps enormously. Because of its prolific media position, there are plenty of movies, television series, or even podcasts that you can use to practise listening and understanding English. And its position as a tech centre means there are plenty of English apps, to use, including those dedicated to language learning like Duolingo.
Alternatively, because English is so widely spoken around the world, you will probably have friends or family members that you can practice with, and your school or university may well have a group or even formal lessons that can help you improve further.
Living as an expat in United States
Immigration is a key part of the American story, and apart from Native Americans, most of the country’s citizens can only trace their American heritage a few hundred years at most.
The nation has several significant immigrant groups, as well as large numbers who, although born American, will still identify with their ancestral home. The US Census estimates over 45,000,000 living in America were born elsewhere. Although historically immigration was dominated by Europeans, most immigration is now from Asia, with 2,750,000 Chinese-born residents, 2,700,000 Indian-born, nearly 2,000,000 Philippines-born, and over 1,300,000 Vietnamese-born residents.
However, these numbers are dwarfed by those who keep their ancestral national identity. The most famous are the Irish, more than one-in-ten Americans identify as Irish American. Almost every culture will be represented not just by fellow citizens, but Americans who have kept the culture and identity of their parents, grandparents and beyond.
Expat communities in America
Across the world, migrants have tended to settle in cities. In America, the larger cities will often have large communities from around the world. In some cases, there will also be areas of towns and cities that reflect those cultures. Many places, for example, will have a ‘Little Italy’ or a ‘China Town’ where immigrants have set up restaurants and shops.
More recently, the economy has driven much of the immigration. So, while universities still attract global communities, much of the Asian immigration has tended to head towards the West Coast, where Silicon Valley saw the birth of the tech industry, which has spread throughout California and the other coastal states of Oregon and Washington.
United States Immigration rules
How your immigration status changes after graduation
It is important to note that America is incredibly strict about visa rules. Although most international students will have a standard F-1 visa, it’s important to check there are no other conditions or rules around your stay. Breaching your visa conditions may prevent you from being allowed into America again.
Usually, your visa will expire when you graduate. The US will expect you to leave the country and return to your home when this happens. Those on a student visa do have a 60-day grace period, during which they can remain in the US. However, it does not allow return to the US, so once you leave you will need to seek a new visa to return, even if your grace period has not expired.
Unlike many countries, there is no automatic right to extension, for example a temporary work visa, after graduation. However, there are several visas that graduates can apply for if they wish to remain in the US.
Types of Visa
One option is to apply for an Optional Practical Training extension. This allows you to work for one year, for up to 20 hours a week. If you are a STEM graduate, you can also apply for an additional year’s extension, allowing you to remain for two years.
This option is only available if you have not already undertaken Optional Practical Training during your course, and your application will need to be started with your university, who will formally recommend it. Applications can take several months, so need to be started long before your F-1 visa expires.
You can only work in roles that are directly related to your course and qualification. However, it is a common option, particularly for those looking to work in the tech sector, and many international companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google hire large numbers on OPT visas.
Another possibility is to get your visa sponsored by an employer. The H1-B visa can only be applied for by an employer, who must state that you are particularly skilled or promising in your field. And having a good degree will help prove your case; find out how to interpret your grade in our guide. Again, most are issued for those working in technology and in STEM more generally. And, unsurprisingly, many result from successful roles undertaken with OPT visas.
The H1-B visa lasts for three years, and can be extended to six years. There is also the possibility at the end of securing a Green Card, which gives the right to remain and work in the USA as a permanent resident. However, Green Cards are incredibly difficult to get, especially because the numbers issued are capped, so, as always, if you are keen to remain in the USA, the sooner you start planning and applying, the better.
Immigration processing times
Be prepared for a long wait for any visa application, these will typically take months, but can take over a year. And, because of America’s strict rules, if you don’t apply early enough, you might find yourself having to leave until the process is completed.
The US State Department publishes current processing time on its website, and these can vary not just based on the time of year, but even between their processing centres. An application for an OPT placement, will take around 7–8 months. An I-129, submitted by an employer to gain an H1-B visa, is quicker, and usually decided within two months.
Job opportunities in United States
Although America prides itself as a land of opportunity, there isn’t quite as much opportunity for international students that have recently graduated. The requirement to work in a field related to your studies with an OPT visa will limit the places that you can work. And while any employer can apply for an H1-B for you, there is, obviously, the challenge of first getting that job, and then your employer successfully applying for the visa.
However, large numbers of students do successful seek employment, and an American degree can set you up for a high-earning career. According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, between 150,000 and 200,000 OPT applications are granted each year, although some will be during courses, it will still represent a large proportion of those graduating each year.Because of the restrictions on your work, it’s likely that your best options for finding work will be through your university. It may already have links with employers who take on international students and are, therefore, familiar with the visa restrictions. Indeed, you might already have made connections with potential employers through course links and placements.
Continue your studies in United States
Another option is to continue studying in the US. There is no limit to the number of F-1 visas you can have, and you can simply apply for a new visa. However, you may have to make that application through your home nation to show that you still maintain a home there.
- Apply for a Master’s degree: If you have completed a Bachelor’s degree, then you might want to develop that with the specialist knowledge that comes from a Master’s course. You can find more than 35,000 Master’s degrees on Master’s Portal.
- Apply for a PhD: The highest academic qualification you can get. A PhD is a research-based degree that allows you to study your chosen field in depth, and results in research that adds to the sum of human knowledge. We list over 3,000 PhDs in the United States.
Frequently asked questions
1. Do international students need a visa to study in America?
Yes. There are several student visas, but covering different situations, but if you are hoping to study a complete Bachelor’s or Master’s programme, you will need an F-1 visa.
2. Is studying in America worth it?
There is lots of research highlighting the long-term value of a degree, and America has some of the world’s best-rated and most prestigious universities. Studying in America will give you a qualification that will be recognised anywhere.
3. What is the cost of studying in America?
Fees vary enormously, from around $20,000 to $60,000 a year. However, there are plenty of scholarships and bursaries available, and very few students pay the full costs of their course.
4. How much money is required to study in America?
On top of your university fees, you will need to cover your living expenses. These will vary dramatically depending on where you are studying and are likely to be between $1,200 and $3,500 a month. The biggest cost will be rent, which can be up to $3,000 in cities like New York or Los Angeles.
5. Can I study in America without IELTS?
You will need to prove fluency in English to study in the United States. IELT is one test, but many others are accepted. If you have already studied solely in English for several years, then you will not have to prove ability.
6. What are the requirements to study in America?
Essentially, you will need to get a place on a course, and each course will have its own requirements, which are usually proof of previous academic attainment. Apart from that, you will simply have to satisfy the visa requirements that you are of good character, have the means to support yourself and will leave the US when your course is complete.
7. What exams are required to study in America?
Universities will advise on which qualifications they accept. However, typically, they will accept any recognised qualifications from elsewhere in the world, for example degrees from other universities, A-levels from schools following the British system, or Baccalaureates.
8. How to get permanent residency while studying in America?
It is difficult to get permanent residency while studying. However, after graduation, it is often possible to remain in the US for practical training or secure a job that can sponsor a visa. It may then be possible to apply for permanent residency once established in a career in the US.