RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS
Online learning, also known as distance education, is a great way to experience the U.S. education system without leaving home. U.S. institutions offer a variety of full-time degree programs at undergraduate and graduate levels as well as individual courses.
Classes are facilitated through a variety of methods, including websites, mobile apps, email, telephones, and more. To receive credit from a U.S. institution for distance learning, the student usually pays a tuition fee.
There are options now available for online learning such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are usually tuition-free, but in most cases do not offer credit. The U.S. Department of State also facilitates a free in-person MOOC Camp program in many countries.
In addition to full-time degree programs or individual courses, some U.S. institutions of higher education offer part-time blended programs that may be partially online and require occasional on-campus attendance, called “low-residency programs.”
Students taking full-time online programs are not eligible for U.S. student visas but, when short-term U.S. attendance is required for low residency programs, a student visa is needed. Students attending a U.S. university in person for full-time degree study and who are also enrolled in any online courses should speak with the institution’s Designated School Official (DSO) in the International Student and Scholar Office to ensure visa compliance.
Why do students enroll in distance education?
- They have childcare or eldercare obligations.
- They cannot take time away from their current jobs to enhance their future employment possibilities.
- The program may be offered at a location that is not feasible to attend for economic, cultural, or political reasons.
Consider the following:
- Is the university accredited?
- How long has the institution been enrolling students in this program?
- How often and through what means is the program and curriculum reviewed?
- What is the average length of time it takes for a student to complete this program?
- Where can you find evaluations of this program?
- What types of employment do graduates of this program find?
- Will this program be recognized in your home country or by employers?
Finance Your Studies
Costs for distance education vary considerably. Distance education can save you the expenses of travel, taking time off from work, and lodging, but the actual academic fees may correspond to those of traditional campus programs. If any period of residency on campus is required during the course of the program, you should include those costs in your budget as well.
Review the costs of any learning materials associated with each course and allow for the shipping fees and import duties these may incur. Also take advantage of the growing number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are free. A common business model for MOOC participation is that students who would like to receive a certificate of completion or credit for a course pay a small fee but all others may participate free of charge. Participating in a MOOC is often a great way to “test drive” a U.S. education.
Assess Personal Funds
Evaluate how much funding you or your family is able to provide for your education. To reduce educational costs, compare programs of interest to see if there is any fluctuation in cost, depending on the type and location of the U.S. institution.
Complete Your Application
Plan ahead! Confirm the application and admissions process with the short-term study programs that interest you.
Application and admission procedures vary based on the program. Each short-term program provider will have exact instructions on the institution’s website, including deadlines for application and other requirements.
Before applying to a short-term program, answer the following questions:
- What are your educational goals for completing the program?
- Is earning a degree important to you, or do you want to take a few classes to learn a new skill or to complete a certificate program to increase your professional status?
- What are the total costs of the program?
- Do the fees include books and shipping, if necessary?
- Are there any additional expenses?
- Is there any financial aid available?
- What academic or technical assistance is offered throughout the program?
- Where will you live?
Before applying to a distance education program, think about:
- Do you have a place at home or at work that you can claim as your own for extended periods of study and communication with the program?
- Is occasional attendance on the campus in the United States possible for you?
- Do you require a program that can be completed entirely from your home country without traveling to the United States?
- If the program is given at a particular time, would the time difference between your country and the campus in the United States prevent you from participating?
- How is the program information delivered, and what equipment will you need to receive it?
- If it is a computer-based program, does the computer that you use meet the requirements of the program?
- Will the information be delivered to you in enough time (for example, if it is delivered by mail) for you to complete the course?
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.
For short periods of recreational study, a Visitor (B) visa can be used
Enrollment in a short recreational course of study, which is not for credit toward a degree or academic certificate, is permitted on a visitor (B) visa. Learn more about Visitor Visas.
Prepare For Your Departure
Studying in the United States is a memorable and rewarding experience. Congratulations on taking this exciting step towards your future!