Studying in the U.S. requires legal documents and planning ahead

There are a few good sources for you to learn about the process of applying for a student VISA and other necessary legal documents. Planning and following the necessary steps is important! Your school will help guide you through the process, but it is wise to learn as much as you can ahead of time to avoid surprises.

In this issue...

1. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Government
2. Admissions Office
3. International Student Office

1. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Government

-The Department of Homeland Security has a website to learn about SEVIS. You will need an acceptance letter from the college/university and an I-20 Form from that college/university to move forward in the process of obtaining a VISA. The college you plan to attend will send the I-20 to you once you commit to attending. It is important that the information on the I-20 form matches the information on your passport exactly - name (spelling), date of birth etc. After receiving the I-20 form, the next step will be SEVIS.  SEVIS is the Homeland Security database. You must register for this and pay the fee BEFORE obtaining a VISA. This can be done on-line and for most students costs $200.

Student Process - How to Navigate the U.S. Immigration System

SEVIS I-901 Fee

Each campus has a DSO - a designated school official that oversees the SEVIS status of each incoming international student. The school you plan to attend must be SEVP certified. To check if your school is on this list go to:

VISA information

- You will need to make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country as part of the process. Information about this and wait times can be found here:  PLAN AHEAD!

From the Travel.State.Gov website: When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa?

  • Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Students may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so.
  • Students should note that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 120 days or less, in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time for application processing.
  • Students are advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start/report date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S.

*These are credible sources of information and reliable.

2. Admissions Office

The admissions office at the college/university you are attending will also have VISA and SEVIS application information for you. Admissions offices at colleges/universities are the best source of information BEFORE you arrive on campus. They have admissions counselors who can answer specific questions you may have. Most colleges have admissions counselors assigned to work with international students. They are well versed in how to prepare for enrolling at the college/university of your choice. Many admissions offices employ international students who can also help to answer your questions.

To find the international admissions counselor at your college/university, go to the college's website and click on admissions. Look through the directory of the admissions staff and locate the international counselor's name and email address.

Note: Email the international admissions counselor with any questions - no question is too small.

3. International Student Office

 Most colleges/universities that enroll international students have an international student office on campus. This office is responsible for keeping records of your documents to make sure you maintain legal status while studying here. They are a good sources of information before and after your trip. Look for this office on the college website.

Deciding what college/university is right for you

If you are in the lucky position of having to decide between two or more colleges/universities, you are probably making your final choice with these considerations:

In this issue....

1. Cost to attend
2. Reputation of the college/university
3. Location
4. Academic offerings (majors and minors)
5. Size of college/university
6. Support for International Students

1. Cost to attend

Colleges/Universities in the United States are either public or private. Public colleges and universities are directed and funded by the state they are in. For example, the University of Massachusetts is run by the state of  Massachusetts. It has a few campus locations; Boston, Amherst, Dartmouth. The state of Massachusetts also oversees state schools with different names (not University of Massachusetts) that are located in different areas of the state such as, Salem State College, Bridgewater State College,  Framingham State College etc.  Private college/universities are plentiful and are not overseen by the state they reside in. They are funded by student tuition and gifts from alumni.

State Colleges have two tuition cost tiers - one for in-state residents and one for out-of-state residents. If you live in the state (substantial proof required) where the college/university is located, the costs are significantly less than for students who live elsewhere. However, state college/universities are still usually less expensive, even for out-of-state residents, than private colleges.

Private colleges have a set cost for all students, where students come from does not affect the cost. It is the same for all who attend.

International students must have proof of financial ability to pay for school with evidence that funds are available to support four years of study in the United States.

Example:  Florida State University   (State University)

According to their website, the cost to attend :

Florida Residents   Total $17,604 USD
Non-Florida Residents  Total $ 32,771 USD

Example:  University of Miami   (Private University)

According to their website, the cost to attend:

Cost of attendance: $58,782 USD

2. Reputation of the college/university

There are thousands of college and universities in the United States. A look at  will help you learn about which colleges are ranked higher than others. US News ranks colleges each year, and though some find their ranking system less than perfect, you can use this link to get some idea of which colleges serve their student population better than others.

3. Location

Where the college/university is located will impact your overall experience. The United States is a very large country with cultural differences in its many areas. Living on the East or West coasts,  North or South coasts will offer different dynamics.Colleges and universities located in the middle sections of the United States have their own cultures as well.

Take a look at these sites: 

4. Academic offerings

You may or may not have a concrete idea of what career you want to pursue. If you do, you will want to enroll in a college/university that has a program that will offer you the skills and tools to succeed in your chosen field. However, if you do not know, you will want a large enough college/university that will allow you to try different skills and career paths so that you can decide what you are most interested in. Most colleges require that students decide their major by the end of their sophomore year.

Too many times, students enroll in a small college, (less than 2000 students) and realize in their first semester that they don't like the program. For students attending a small college and in this situation, the choices are either to endure the program even though they know it isn't a good fit, try to find another program within the college that probably has limited choices, or transfer to a different college/university. Enrolling in a college that is large enough to transfer within it has benefits for students who are unsure of what they want to study. A liberal arts college may also be a good choice, as they prepare students in broader areas of study.

5. Size of college/university

Size does matter! To get an idea of what size college you would like, think of the high school you presently attend. Is it too big, too small or just right for you? The answer will help determine which size college you could comfortably see yourself attending. Larger colleges tend to have more diverse populations, therefore, you probably won't be one of the only international students. This may or may not be important to you. In addition, smaller schools tend to have more opportunities for undergraduates to work with professors, smaller class sizes, and more intimate campuses. Larger schools may have more options of programs to study, more school spirit (athletics and sorority/fraternity) and greater opportunities for advanced study.

6. Support for International Students

As international students, English may not be your first language. If this is the case, you may want to consider if the college you are interested in has support in place for you to be successful. Does the college have a writing/learning center, an ESL program, special courses for you to take that help close the communication gap? These are important questions to ask the college. Why? Because attending classes that are culturally different and in a different language will pose issues for you. How big or small the issues that arise may be, it is helpful to have a resource on campus for you. Check with the admissions department or view the college website to see if any of these resources exist.

Introduction and Planning for your move to the United States

At this time of year your applications for admission to colleges are being reviewed and you are being notified if you are accepted or rejected. It is a scary time, one filled with uncertainty on many levels. For if you ARE accepted, you must begin planning for your trip and studies here in the United States.

I hope that you will use me a source of information. I will answer any questions you may have and offer advice that will make your transition easier.

I am a college professor in Boston. I have coached and taught many foreign speakers of English and provided assistance for both students and professionals from other countries/cultures.  Each week I will focus on a different aspect of what you need to know to make your transition successful. If you have a topic you would like me to cover, please write it in the comment area.

Professor Cathryn

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