The USA is the number one destination for international students and it’s not hard to see why. Find out what it’s like to study in the ‘land of opportunity’
Spanning six time zones the USA is regarded as one of the finest education providers in the world and sees increasing numbers of postgraduate students flock to its universities each year.
Studying in the USA you’ll have the pick of thousands of institutions and degree programmes, as well as the opportunity to broaden your cultural horizons by experiencing American campus life. You can also give your CV a boost by getting involved in the huge variety of clubs and organisations on offer, including sports.
Popular student cities include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco but if you’re sights are set on a less obvious destination you have 50 states to choose from.
The country has one of the largest education systems in the world with more than 4,500 institutions. While English is the main language in the USA, you’ll have to get used to the differing academic terminology. Universities are generally known as colleges, of which there are two main types:
- Public colleges – large, state-funded institutions that have lower tuition fees but more students. International students will pay higher fees.
- Private colleges – smaller universities funded by private donations, tuition fees and grants. The opposite of public colleges, they have higher fees but fewer students. Overseas students pay the same fees as state residents.
Five of the top ten universities in the world are US institutions according to the QS World University Rankings 2019. These include:
- 1st – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- 2nd – Stanford University
- 3rd – Harvard University
- 4th – California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
- 9th – University of Chicago.
Eight institutions also make up the Ivy League, a group of prestigious colleges:
- Brown University (Rhode Island)
- Columbia University (New York)
- Cornell University (New York)
- Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
- Harvard University (Massachusetts)
- University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
- Princeton University (New Jersey)
- Yale University (Connecticut)
The academic calendar is split into two semesters; fall (autumn) runs from mid-August to December, and spring runs from January to May.
Degree courses in the USA
There are two types of undergraduate degree on offer in the USA:
- Associate degrees – take two years to complete and are usually studied at technical, community or junior colleges. Students can study for an associate qualification in a range of subjects and then transfer to a Bachelors programme to complete an additional two years of study to gain a Bachelors degree.
- Bachelors degrees – take four years to complete. They differ from UK undergraduate degrees in that students study a variety of subjects before deciding on which to focus on, known as a ‘major’. Students may also gain a ‘minor’ qualification by completing classes in an additional subject alongside their ‘major’.
For entry onto a Bachelors degree you’ll need at least five GCSE passes and two A-levels. To ensure that your chosen university recognises your qualifications you’ll need to contact the admissions office.
Known as ‘graduate degrees’ in the USA around 1,700 colleges offer programmes in a variety of subjects.
There are two types of graduate degree:
- Academic/research – usually completed in two years (some courses may only take one). Academic graduate degrees generally lead to a career in academia or research.
- Professional – these are designed to prepare students for particular professions. They take two years to complete.
Unlike in the UK there are no pure research graduate programmes on offer. Instead students learn through a combination of taught and research components. Students are also assessed on a more regular basis in the USA. Instead of undertaking a small number of large assessments you’ll face more frequent, smaller assessments.
Applying for a Masters degree follows a similar process to the UK. You will need a minimum of a 2:2 undergraduate degree from a recognised institution. It is worth remembering that there is no official conversion rate between UK A-level/degree results and US grades. Most institutions will have their own policy so it’s vital to get in touch before you apply.
A Doctoral degree is the highest qualification that a student can achieve in the USA. They typically take four to six years to complete.
To be awarded with a PhD you’ll need to pass comprehensive examinations and produce original research, usually in the form of a dissertation.
Commonly studied subjects include anthropology, biology, education, engineering, psychology and sociology.
UK students and graduates can apply for a range of exchange opportunities with the Fulbright Commission’s Fulbright Awards Programme. You can attend a US institution to pursue a postgraduate degree or lecture and conduct research in the USA.
Many UK universities are partnered with a US counterpart or are members of the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). For example, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is an ISEP member and has partners in the USA and other countries.
Studying in the USA is expensive, so any decision to study here should not be taken lightly.
Public universities charge two sets of fees: a lower rate applies to in-state students while a higher rate is charged for all out-of-state students. Private institutions don’t differentiate between out-of-sate and domestic students and charges the same rate for all, although fees will be higher than at public universities.
Fees for graduate programmes vary widely depending on your chosen subject and institution. For example, course fees and living costs at a top ranked institution could cost as much as $70,000 (£55,000) but there is financial help available depending on your circumstances. To find out exactly how much your postgraduate course costs contact your university.
While tuition fees are pricey the annual cost of living is generally much lower than in other countries such as the UK.
Funding to study in the USA
Each year international students receive a significant amount of financial help. Funding for overseas students does exist and generally differs between institutions. Some provide scholarships covering the entire cost of study, while others contribute towards the overall cost. Common sources of funding include:
- Needs-based financial aid – if your family income falls below a certain amount then many institutions can assist with tuition fees and accommodation.
- Merit scholarships – for those with outstanding talent or excellent grades in a specific subject.
- Sports scholarships – for talented sportsmen and women. You need the required grades as well as sporting excellence.
Around 20 scholarships are offered each year by the Fulbright Commission Award Programme. UK students looking to pursue a postgraduate degree are eligible, with awards varying from journalism to medicine. For a list of awards visit Fulbright Commission – Awards and Programmes for UK Postgraduates.
A number of institutions also set aside a significant sum to assist international undergraduates.
Any foreign national looking to enter the USA will need a visa.
The F-1 non-immigrant visa is the most common type for those wishing to study in the USA at an accredited college or university. You’ll need to have been accepted and approved on your course before applying for one. You will then register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and there is a $200 (£155) fee for this.
You will also need to make an appointment for a visa interview with the US embassy in your country. You’ll need to bring the following:
- your passport
- your visa application form
- financial documents.
The earlier you start this process the better – F-1 visas can be issued 120 days before your course start date.
US visa requirements can be complicated so for a complete guide visit the US Department of State – Student Visas.
Due to the current political situation in the US and the changeable nature of immigration laws, nationals of predominantly Muslim countries will need to keep a close eye on any rules or restrictions that may affect them entering the USA.
How to apply
It can take longer to apply to a US institution due to the various stages you must negotiate. It’s advised that you apply 12 to 18 months in advance. The Fulbright Commission recommends that you apply to no more than six institutions – this will allow you enough time to focus on each application while giving you an increased chance of success.
To study in the USA all students must apply directly to their chosen institution and sit a multiple choice admission exam. Most universities require students to sit SAT or ACT exams. They can be taken in test centres around the UK and cost roughly £50 each. Kaplan provides free SAT practice tools as well as SAT and ACT test preparation courses.
Additionally you’ll need to provide:
- an application form
- a personal statement
- transcripts of academic records
- two or three recommendation letters
- admission exam scores.
For graduate programmes you may have to provide a research statement and CV and also attend an interview.
All students must pay an application fee to each university, usually $50 to $100.
Application deadlines for postgraduate study vary but most fall between November and February.
Courses in the USA are taught in English. If English is not your first language then you will be required to sit an English Language Proficiency test. The TOEFL and IELTS tests are widely accepted.
10 Reasons to Study in the USA
- World class institutes – America consistently holds the top spots for the best universities in the world, which says a lot about the quality of post-secondary education. Those who study at American universities will be happy to know that their credentials will be universally recognized.
- International opportunities – The USA is home to many different kinds of people from all over the world. As a result of the winning combination of a diverse population, the best brains in the world, high quality institutes and being home to the world’s biggest metropolises, the USA may be your launch pad to an international career.
- Easy transition from Canadian culture – Though cultural differences do exist between America and Canada, there are many similarities: political structure, approaches to teaching, and the respect of freedom are some of things we have in common. As a result, Canadians do not have many barriers to integrating comfortably into American society.
- Diverse society – America is home to people of every country. The well mixed society will allow you to integrate into American society.
- Support for international students – The US is home to the world’s largest number of international students, and to support this population, there are many resources in place that make studying in the USA as easy as possible.
- Conversational, broad-based education – The American curriculum emphasizes that students be well-rounded individuals so that they can learn life skills that are applicable to many professions and situations.
- Wide variety of programs to study – Due to the sheer number of people and post secondary institutes in America, no other country can rival the USA in the diversity of the programs it offers. If you are looking to study something very specific, chances are there is a school that offers that program in the USA.
- Unique culture – The “American Dream” is a popular ideal in many countries, and the USA is the only place where you can try your best and reach it.
- Flexible study programs – It is common that students enroll in community colleges for 2-3 years before transferring into a nationally ranked university, so they have time to discover and explore the topic of their choice. The result is a very flexible, accommodating degree that you can customize to suit your interests.
- Be highly sought after by employers – According to universitiesintheusa.com, “More than 50% of undergraduates from American private universities immediately pursue postgraduate education, while 98% of the remainder secure positions in their chosen careers within six months of graduation.” Obtaining an American degree is a signal to employers that you are a worthy candidate for their company.
Studying at a university in the United States will provide you with many opportunities that you will not find in other countries. Thanks to our liberal arts system and strong STEM programs, the U.S. produces students who are well educated across multiple disciplines. But how do international students find the right U.S. university to pursue their educations? Here are 6 reasons to study in the U.S. and how our university system sets itself apart as a study destination for international students.
1. Flexibility in declaring a major
According to U.S. News & World Report, 48 of the top 100 Global Universities are in the United States. While several factors set U.S. schools apart, many students agree one of the best benefits of studying in the United States is the academic flexibility.
Students in the United States typically are not required to declare a major until the end of their second year of study. Many students will remain “undeclared” or “undecided” on their major and use these two years to explore their academic interests before settling on a major.
In other countries, students are typically required to declare their field of study when they apply, or they must apply directly to (and be accepted by) that specific college within the university.
2. Taking a range of general education classes
Most universities in the United States require you to take general education or core classes, which give you the opportunity to study a wide variety of academic subjects – not just your major or focused field of study. These courses—ranging from writing to science classes— are also referred to as “liberal arts,” and will ensure you graduate with a well-rounded education. They also give you the time and experience you need to make an educated decision when declaring your major. Your general education classes may uncover a passion or skill set that you did not know you have.
3. Emphasis on internships & career advancement
Universities in the United States offer internship programs as a way to kickstart your professional career. Many students obtain internships during their college years to take advantage of hands-on experience and get access to better-paying jobs after graduation. Whether you want to return to your home country after graduation or remain in the United States to work full time, your U.S. education will undoubtedly be the starting point for a successful career.
4. Engaging in the full campus experience
The campus community is another one of the many reasons to study in the United States. Colleges and universities in the U.S. offer a wide range of campus activities beyond just academics. You will have the opportunity to join athletics, music, drama, arts, Greek life, volunteering and many other clubs and student organizations. If you want to have an active and engaging campus experience, attending school in the U.S. will provide you with many chances to get involved.
5. Diversity of student population on campus
The United States is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. International students from all over the globe come to the U.S. for college. If you study in the United States, you will have the opportunity to learn new languages, meet new friends and experience new cultures each day.
6. Specialized services and support for international students
United States universities offer a variety of services to help international students both inside and outside of the classroom. Most schools have offices dedicated to international student services. These offices can assist you with English-language skills, visa issues, financial aid and even cultural adjustment while you study abroad in the U.S.
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