RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS
The first step to studying in the United States is researching your options to find a college or university that best fits your needs.
Community colleges offer two-year programs leading to the Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree. These colleges also have technical and vocational programs with close links to secondary/high schools, community groups, and employers in the local community. You can find large community colleges with multiple campuses in an urban/suburban setting or small campuses in a rural setting.
Undergraduate students studying at community colleges can earn academic credit towards a bachelor’s degree. Earning academic credit at a community college, which is usually less expensive, can help lower the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges may also have a more flexible admissions process.
Community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities often develop special agreements for the transfer of credits and degrees between the institutions. In this “2+2 process,” you can earn a bachelor’s degree with two years of community college, followed by two years of university study.
Community colleges often lead the United States in educating students in cutting- edge fields such as biomedical technology, biotechnology, robotics, laser optics, internet and computer technologies, and geographic information systems. The small size of classes at community colleges can be highly beneficial for international students as they adjust to the pace of U.S. academic life and practice their English-language skills.
Community colleges offer a variety of support services and cross-cultural programs, including tutoring, advising, career planning, study skills, and counseling—many designed specifically for international students.
Finance Your Studies
Start your financial planning as early as possible to assess what you can afford. As you work to develop a budget for your studies, keep in mind that your overall costs include tuition, fees, and living expenses. Actual costs vary by institution, so refer to the institution’s website for specific amounts. When budgeting, you should estimate that tuition costs typically increase 6-10% each year.
Beginning your studies at a community college is often a great way to save on funds as tuition costs tend to be lower. Furthermore, many four-year colleges will accept transfer credits from community colleges, allowing students to complete the “2+2” model whereby they spend their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution to complete their bachelor’s degree, often saving thousands of dollars. Some community colleges have articulation agreements with specific four-year institutions that further ease the transfer process. While some community colleges offer financial aid to international students, it is less common than at four-year colleges.
Assess Personal Funds
Start out by evaluating how much funding you or your family can provide for your education. If you are planning to apply for financial aid, note that general financial aid amounts are based on the difference between the college cost and what your family can afford. Understand that most scholarship awards cover only part of the total educational and living costs and may not be available to first-year international students.
How can you reduce your educational costs?
- Research a wide variety of community colleges
- Think about applying to colleges in areas of the United States that have a lower cost of living, such as in the South or the Midwest or in more rural areas of the country
- Attend a community college first and then transfer to a four-year school to complete your bachelor’s degree
How can EducationUSA Advisers help you plan your expenses?
Advisers can help you distinguish yourself in a highly competitive applicant pool so that you have a better chance of competing for admission with financial aid. Advisers have access to resources that help you learn about scholarships and new programs. Advisers also share current information about financial aid.
General Funding Resources:
- IIE Funding for US Study Online
- Scholarship Help
- International Education Financial Aid
- Global Student Loan Corporation International Student Loan Access GroupGuaranteed Scholarships
Complete Your Application
Applying to U.S. colleges and universities requires preparation and planning. Plan adequately for the time and effort involved in preparing your application package.
In the United States, application requirements can vary greatly from one institution to another. It is important to check the specific requirements on the website of each institution’s international admissions office.
What are some general application requirements for community colleges?
- Online application form (including personal information, education history, etc.)
- Educational credentials. These are typically your secondary/high school diploma and transcripts, translated into English. Final national exams scores from your country are optional at community colleges.
- Standardized test scores. TOEFL, SAT, and other test scores may be accepted to assess your academic ability and English proficiency level. However, these tests are not usually required for admission to community colleges. Upon arrival, you will most likely take placement tests in the English language as well as in your area of study.
- Other forms, depending on the institution, such as financial information, proof of health insurance, vaccination records, passport and visa information are often required.
Since community colleges usually have rolling admissions or periodic application deadlines throughout the year, the timeline for applying is more fluid than for a four-year college or university. You should consider your target date for beginning your studies and verify the deadlines on the institution’s website well in advance. It can take a considerable amount of time to fill out application forms, to request and translate educational transcripts, to order copies of test scores, and to register for classes so plan ahead.
Apply For Your Student Visa
The United States government offers three student visa types including F, J, and M.
- F Student Visa: for study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute.
- J Exchange Visa: for participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study
- M Student Visa: for non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States
Before you can apply for an F, J, or M student visa, you must first apply and be accepted by a U.S. institution of higher education that is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
Even when an institution is SEVP-certified and able to issue I-20 and DS-2019 forms for use in visa applications, it may not hold national or regional accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases list accreditation status for all U.S. institutions. Institutions designated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to place participants in Academic Exchange programs (J visas) must be accredited. Recognition of course credits and degrees by other institutions and by U.S. and international employers is linked to an institution’s accreditation. To learn more about accreditation talk to an EducationUSA Adviser.
Once accepted at an SEVP-certified school, you will receive a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from the institution’s international student office to present when you apply for your student visa. Once you receive your form, visit:
It is important to note that two separate U.S. government agencies are involved with international student arrival and status while studying in the United States. The State Department is responsible for the visa application process and issuing the visa. Once a visa holder arrives in the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security then takes over as the responsible agency for entry into the country, as well as issuing and enforcing international student regulations. Please read information from all three sources above before applying for a U.S. student visa. The sites address employment, maintaining your status, and other vital topics.
Prepare For Your Departure
Studying in the United States is a memorable and rewarding experience – congratulations on taking this exciting step towards your future!
In planning your move to the United States, you may want to ask for assistance from an EducationUSA Advising Center in your home country and from the international student adviser at your chosen community college. The more that you prepare for your study experience, the more you will enjoy it.
Make Travel Arrangements
Before making travel arrangements, confirm with your community college when you are expected to arrive on campus to comply with visa regulations. It is also important to finalize health insurance, communication plans with family and friends, emergency plans and other travel related items. Remember that you are not allowed to enter the United Stated more than 30 days prior to the start of your I-20 or DS-2019.
Attend a Pre-departure Orientation in Your Country
EducationUSA Advising Centers around the world organize pre-departure orientations for students making final preparations to depart for their studies in the United States.
EducationUSA advisers and students who have returned from the United States provide information and resources that will help prepare you for new experiences and skills to adjust to new challenges. Topics discussed include cultural differences, motivation, changes from your home environment, academic systems and expectations, housing, and handy tips for settling into your new home.
Gather Pre-departure Materials & Important Documents for Arrival
Everyone arriving in the United States passes through an inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Learn more about this arrival process and the documents required for entry.
Reporting to Your School & Attending Orientations
U.S. community colleges typically offer a special orientation for international students in addition to a regular student orientation. New students should plan on attending both as they cover different information. At these orientations you will meet your Designated School Official (DSO) to check in, complete your required visa information session, and learn additional information about the institution’s international student policies and procedures. Attending these orientations is crucial for all new international students on campus.