1.1 History, Economy and Government

Native Americans – also known as American Indians or indigenous Americans – are the original inhabitants of the United States. It is estimated that anywhere between 1.8 and 18 million Native Americans were living in what is now the US at the end of the 15th century. They spoke hundreds of distinct languages and developed complex societies.

However, the area that would become the US remained largely unknown to the rest of the world until Christopher Columbus set off in search of a sea passage to Asia in 1492. Although the Italian explorer never actually saw the US mainland – he landed in the present-day Bahamas – Columbus is nevertheless credited with opening up the Americas to exploration, settlement, and exchange. In the centuries that followed, explorers and settlers from England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and other parts of Europe came to what was known as the “New World” in search of riches, freedoms, and new beginnings. Africans also arrived, as early as 1619, though unfortunately they initially arrived as slaves.

Eventually, 13 distinct colonies developed in what is today the northeast coast of the United States. They soon fell under control of the British Crown and remained so until winning independence from Britain during the 18th-century American Revolution. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, proclaimed that all men are created equal, and founded a new nation, the United States of America. The 4th of July has since been celebrated as America’s Independence Day.

In the mid-1800s, the North and South of the country became bitterly divided on the practice of slavery. This paved the way for the American Civil War (beginning in 1861), which pitted Confederate states from the South against the Union. The war resulted in the end of slavery and a stronger role for the federal government.

The rest of the century was marked by rapid economic development, and by 1890, America had become the most industrialized and wealthiest nation in the world. At the same time, record numbers of immigrants came to the US, adding to its cultural diversity, and the women’s movement began to demand equal rights and the ability to vote for women.

When World War I broke out, the US attempted to remain neutral but ended up contributing significantly to the Allied movement that finally defeated Germany. The 1920s saw the further expansion of the economy as well as the Great Depression of the early 1930s. President Roosevelt helped the country out of the Depression, creating systems of welfare, unions, and other security measures for the working class and poorer families in America.

World War II began in 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland; America began fighting in the war in 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The war pushed American workers into ever-greater efforts to improve productivity and America’s contributions to the Allies. At the same time, Americans tried to buy less and save more – habits that allowed the economy to rebound quickly after the Allies won the war.

World War II saw the US abandon previous isolationist policies, and so began America’s role as a global leader and champion of democracy. Some call the twentieth century “America’s Century” given its influence in the world. But also, for several decades, there were two “superpowers”: America and the former USSR.

The 1950s were marked by the Civil Rights movement – in which American blacks struggled against institutionalized racism, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1955. Another equality movement – the Women’s Liberation Movement – was a major feature of the 1960s; women campaigned for and won much more equality under the law and in society as a result.

By the 1980s, the two superpowers were at serious odds with each other, each strongly committed to contrasting ideologies. The Cold War era began, with both the US and the USSR building up their nuclear powers as the world watched in fear. The Soviet Union’s President Gorbachev was a crucial figure leading to the end of the Cold War in 1991, at which time the USSR dissolved into separate political regions: Russia and independent republics around it.

In the first few years of the twenty-first century, the US remains a global leader but welcomes the contributions of other democratic, progressive nations to the world order. The US government is increasingly working on cooperative initiatives with other countries to meet the challenges and opportunities inherent in the twenty-first century.


Natural resources, a stable government, and a relatively well-educated workforce are just some of America’s competitive advantages in the global marketplace. Although Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, they generate and earn more than 20% of the world’s total income.

The US is the second-largest trading nation in the world behind China. Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are some of its largest trading partners. It is a free market economy, in which individuals or corporations own most of the technology and the economy is determined by independent transactions between buyers and sellers. Nevertheless, the government does intervene in the economy in other ways – from regulating taxes to changing interest rates. At times, the government takes an active role in matters the private economy overlooks to make sure vital services or stewardship (for example, of the environment) are provided for citizens. However, the US government generally favors less economic intervention relative to other industrialized nations.

With almost 30 million small businesses and 139 of the world’s largest 500 companies, the US represents one of the world’s most influential financial markets: the New York Stock Exchange. Banking, retail sales, transportation, and health care account for two-thirds of the value of America’s GDP, and the economy is very rich in information technology. The US also produces roughly 18% of the world’s manufactured goods. After more than a century as the world’s top manufacturing nation, the US is now ranked second globally, behind China.

The currency of the US is the United States dollar. It remains the most popular world reserve currency, although it has been suggested that its share of total reserves may decline in the future.


The United States is a federal republic with a strong tradition of democracy. Its government is based on a written Constitution that was adopted in 1789 and continues to be the country’s overarching law. Political powers are constitutionally divided between the Federal and State governments, and the legislative, judicial, and executive branches:

  • The legislative branch is responsible for making and modifying federal laws. This duty is carried out by the Congress, which consists of the House of Representatives and Senate. Members of the House of Representatives are elected from constituencies based on population, and members of the Senate are elected statewide (two per state).
  • The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the laws passed by Congress. It consists of the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts.
  • The executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws. It consists of the president, vice-president, Cabinet, and independent agencies.

The President is the leader of the executive branch and the Head of State. American presidents are elected every four years and are not permitted to serve more than two terms.

Historically, American politics has been dominated by a two-party system consisting of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

1.2 Population and Culture

Over 330 million people live in the United States, making it the third most populous country in the world, after China and India.

The majority of Americans – just over 80% – live in urban areas. Many American cities are thriving thanks to multiculturalism, artistic offerings, and greener lifestyles than in the past. As of 2020, the largest US cities are:

  • New York (18.8 million)
  • Los Angeles (12.4 million)
  • Chicago (8.8 million)
  • Houston (6.3 million)

America’s coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the nation as a whole. Compared to many other developed countries, however, the population density of the US remains relatively low.

The US is an ethnically and culturally diverse country whose current population is a result of original settlement, colonization, and immigration. Except for Native Americans, most people living in the US are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, beginning with the English who colonized the country in the 1600s.

Most Americans’ ancestors are European. People who identify themselves as Hispanic are America’s second-largest ethnic group and one of its fastest growing. Native Americans – America’s original inhabitants – today number approximately 6.3 million people. Following European contact in the 17th century, nearly every Native American community was negatively affected by deadly new diseases – to which they had no immunity – as well as the seizure of their homelands. It is estimated that disease epidemics alone devastated Native populations by 50–90%.

But over the last five centuries Native Americans have been strengthening and rebuilding their cultures. Today, they are diverse peoples, belonging to around 500 tribes, speaking some 175 languages, and residing throughout the US. Native Americans balance modern lives with various degrees of traditional language, history, spirituality, and customs.

Most people speak English in the United States, the official language of many states. Nevertheless, many Americans speak other languages. Almost 38 million people aged five and over speak Spanish at home, making the US the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. The next most commonly spoken non-English languages are Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, French and Tagalog. Despite the prevalence of English, international students will hear Spanish in Miami, French around New Orleans, and even German in some Midwestern and Western areas.

Freedom of religion is one of the founding principles of the United States and a guaranteed right in the US Constitution. Americans are open to a range of religious viewpoints and most have a tolerant approach to faith. Students should not hesitate to seek out opportunities to practice their religion if they wish to do so.

Americans tend to be more religious than their counterparts from other Western nations. More than half consider religion to be very important in their lives. About 20% of the population, however, has no religious affiliation and church attendance is on the decline.

Culture and Lifestyle

Culturally, Americans define themselves in many ways – through the arts, ethnicity, faith, work and play, home life, and community.

Native Americans and immigrants have each contributed their own customs and traditions to the US, creating a multicultural society that has sometimes been referred to as a “melting pot.” Each of America’s regions has its own identity as well, characterized by distinct food, history, attitudes, and culture. Every year, that diversity is celebrated and recognized through events and celebrations large and small, national and local, including Cinco de Mayo, Martin Luther King Day, and Chinese New Year.

Above all else, Americans believe in individualism (a value that prioritizes independence, freedom of thought, and self-reliance), even though many also strong family ties and loyalties to groups. From a young age, Americans are encouraged to see themselves as responsible for their own destiny. Many Americans place a high priority on personal achievement, and they don’t see social and economic status as being barriers to success in life.

Americans also have a good sense of teamwork and value equality in their social relationships and society at large. More than a quarter of them volunteer their time to help others or a cause. Friendly and informal, Americans are comfortable striking up a conversation, and quick to use first names. They are often open and direct in their dealings with others, and encourage the expression of opinions, including in a classroom setting. American college and university life is known to be particularly vibrant, with a wealth of social opportunities, sporting events, and clubs to choose from.

The US has a thriving arts and culture scene, and American artists and creators – such as painter Georgia O’Keeffe, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and director Steven Spielberg – are known worldwide. While students may be most familiar with American TV shows and Hollywood movies, the contemporary arts scene in the US also includes modern dance, avant-garde visual art, independent theater, literature, and other artistic practices. And popular music has long expressed what it means to be American, from folk songs to jazz, rock and roll, hip-hop, and country.

Some say that what really draws Americans together is sports. Baseball, American football, basketball, ice hockey, and car racing all have millions of fans in the US. Soccer (known as football in some other parts of the world) is also gaining in popularity at the professional level and is one of the country’s most popular youth sports.

Perhaps not surprisingly, foods such as apple pie and hamburgers often come to mind when one thinks of American cuisine, but the country offers an array of dining options – from fast food to fine dining. Americans have mixed food cultures to create their own, and food from around the world – for example, Japanese sushi, Mexican tacos, and Indian curry – is readily available.

Many traditional American foods originate from a specific region. For example, the Cajun gumbo and grits (ground corn cooked to a porridge-like consistency) was first created in the South; and clam chowder and Boston baked beans are associated with New England. Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition for many American families. Coffee is also an extremely popular beverage in the US and students will find coffee shops everywhere – from cities to university towns.

Americans lead a variety of lifestyles and there are important differences between rural and urban areas, and between social classes. The US has one of the world’s highest standards of living. The median household income is around $51,000, though it varies by region and ethnicity. 

Material success, however, is not everything for Americans, who also appreciate the cultural, spiritual, and human aspects of life. The United States placed among the top 20 countries in the world – ahead of the UK, France, and Japan – in the second World Happiness Report, a United Nations survey that rates respondents’ overall satisfaction with life.

In 2015, the United States was ranked in the top ten on the UN Human Development Index. The US also ranks highly regarding overall quality of life among industrialized democracies, according to the OECD’s Better Life Index. Americans are also more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 83% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones.

1.3 Geography, Regions, and Climate

Situated in the center of North America, the United States covers a total area of 9 million square kilometers and is the third largest country in the world after Canada and Russia. The continental US is made up of 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii, and the federal district of Washington, DC, which is the nation’s capital. Alaska – the largest US state – is located northwest of Canada, and the islands of Hawaii are found southwest of the US mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

The continental US stretches from east to west, bordering both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. To the north, it shares an 8,893-kilometer land border with Canada, and to the south, a 3,145-kilometre border with Mexico. In-between its borders, the US boasts a staggering range of landscapes, including forests, swamps, farmlands, beaches, and deserts. Its notable mountain ranges include the Rocky Mountains, Cascades and Coast Ranges, and Sierra Nevada Mountains in the west; and the Appalachian and Adirondack Mountains in the east.

There are over 3.5 million miles of rivers and streams in the US, including the great Mississippi River, which is one of the world’s major river systems. The country’s almost 40 million acres of lakes and reservoirs serve as a major water resource. The five Great Lakes, which the US shares with Canada, are the greatest expanse of fresh water on the planet and a major part of America’s physical and cultural heritage.

Utah’s Great Salt Lake, with an area of 4,400 square kilometers, is the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere and just one of the natural wonders found in the US. Others include the immense and majestic Grand Canyon, the world’s tallest trees in the Redwood Forest, and the sand dunes of the Mojave Desert.

With such landscape, it is perhaps not surprising that taking a road trip – embarking on sightseeing adventures by car – is a timeless American tradition.


The United States is made up of 50 states and one federal district. There are six main regions in the US:

  • New England
  • The mid-Atlantic
  • The South
  • The Midwest
  • The Southwest
  • The West

New England: Situated in the northeastern corner of the United States, the states of New England include Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. New England is an intellectual, cultural, and economic hub in the US. It is home to four of the eight Ivy League Universities – Harvard, Yale, Darmouth, and Brown – as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The region is known for its seaside villages, lighthouses, and colorful fall foliage, as well as the bustling city of Boston. Its seafood is also justifiably famous! 

The mid-Atlantic: This region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. It is home to the US centers of government and finance, as well as the bright lights of Broadway, world-renowned cultural institutions, and historic monuments. Today, some of the region’s largest cities are New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, but the mid-Atlantic is more than just skyscrapers and steel. It also offers dense forests, soothing parklands, and gorgeous scenery – from the peaks of the Adirondacks to the beautiful views along the Delaware River.

The South: This region is renowned for its friendly culture, giving rise to the term “Southern hospitality.” Southern states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The South is the birthplace of blues and rock and roll, and home to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Southerners also have a musical way of speaking, and their cuisine – from barbecue to bourbon – is legendary. The region has a complicated history, marked by slavery in its early centuries and segregation in the 20th century. In more recent decades a “new South” has emerged, attracting many to its warm climate and laid-back lifestyle. The South is now America’s fastest growing region with just over 14% of the nation’s population. 

The Midwest: The Great Lakes and much of the Mississippi River are found in the Midwest. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin are all midwestern states. Architecturally stunning Chicago is the region’s largest city, followed by Indianapolis, Columbus, and Detroit. In virtually every city there are clubs and bars where you can hear jazz, blues, or rock. States such as Illinois and Indiana are well known for their residents’ love of high school basketball. The Midwest has been called the “nation’s breadbasket,” as its fertile earth makes it the country’s agricultural powerhouse. However, the region offers a diverse range of landscapes, from big open skies and grasslands, to tree-lined mountains and Mount Rushmore – the world-famous mountainside sculpture featuring the carved likenesses of four US presidents.

The Southwest: Home to prairies and deserts, the Southwest is culturally diverse, rich in history, and artistic. It is made up of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, although other states are sometimes considered part of this region as well. The Southwest is home to some of the world’s most incredible natural wonders, such as the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns.

Parts of the region have large Native American and Hispanic populations, and both groups have influenced the development of southwestern food, art, history, and culture. Houston, Texas is the region’s largest city and the most racially and ethnically diverse city in America. The Southwest has a history of attracting eclectic people – artists, hippies, and stargazers – as well as tourists who are drawn to its quirky galleries, peaceful retreats, Native American fairs, and general sense of mystery.

The West: The era of the “Wild West” is a huge part of American folklore. Today, however, visitors are more likely to encounter a snowboarder than a cowboy in America’s West. This diverse region includes Alaska, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. It features pristine wilderness, desert stretches, snowy mountains, and beautiful beaches, and is a popular sports destination. From year-round skiing in Oregon to surfing in Hawaii, there’s something for everyone. Food-lovers will adore California, well known for its fusion cuisine and award-winning wines. The most populous city in the region, Los Angeles, boasts the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico, and the Chinese community in San Francisco is the biggest in North America. The West’s three fastest growing urban areas are Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Portland. 


The climate in the US varies by place and time of year. Mostly temperate (i.e., mild), it can range from tropical in Hawaii and Florida, to freezing cold in Alaska, and extremely dry and hot in the deserts of the Southwest.

Florida has the highest average annual temperature at 21°C, followed closely by Hawaii at 21.1°C, and Louisiana at 19.1°C. At the other end of the scale, Alaska – not surprisingly – has the lowest average annual temperature at -3°C, followed by North Dakota (4.7°C), and Maine (5°C). In the middle is Indiana with an average annual temperature of 10.9°C.

The US has four seasons: summer is generally understood to begin on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and end on Labor Day (the first Monday in September). Spring begins in March and ends in May. Fall goes from September to November, and winter from December to February. But not all regions experience the changing seasons this way. Much of the central and southern US experience consistent weather, and warm to hot temperatures – sometimes year-round. Northern states have much colder temperatures and more extreme weather variations, including heavy snowstorms in winter.

The United States is the premiere destination for international students from all over the world. The main advantages of higher education in the USA are as follows:

World Class Learning Institutions

The United States has more institutions of higher learning than any other country in the world. More importantly than that, however, is the quality of these academic bodies. Most American colleges and universities offer top-notch education programs with highly qualified teaching staff. The research at many of these universities is cutting-edge and often published in journals worldwide. Many of the professors at these schools are leading authorities in their field. The list of world-class learning institutions in the USA is endless and includes, but is not limited to: Stanford University, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, California Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, John Hopkins, Northwestern University, etc.

One of the best things about studying in the USA is the vast number of academic options offered to students. Since the USA is such a large country with vast resources, almost every field of study is available in the country. One can study everything from Russian history to nuclear physics. That is why so many foreigners choose to obtain their training in the USA. If you can perceive it, you can probably find some place in America to study it.

Worldwide Recognition

A degree or certificate from a college or university is useless if it is not recognized by employers, other institutions or field authorities. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to ensure than the degree from the school you choose is recognized in the place you plan to use it in. Fortunately, colleges and universities in America are given professional accreditation by different governing bodies. These schools have to earn their accreditation by meeting certain criteria, helping ensure a quality education, as well as a degree or certificate that is recognized. Most schools in the USA are accredited, though we strongly suggest that you thoroughly find out what each school’s accreditation is before deciding. There are thousands of US schools that offer credentials recognized in almost every corner of the world.

Supporting Industries, Training and Research

Because of the vast wealth of resources in America, the opportunities for practical training related to your field of study are vast. Most college and universities have established affiliations with employers and researchers in different fields of study, thereby creating an avenue for students to obtain hands-on and invaluable experience. Many universities even require that students obtain practical training in order to graduate. In many cases, these opportunities are not available anywhere else in the world.

People and Culture

America is a melting pot of people from all over the world. One will find most Americans to be very hospitable, friendly, kind, generous and accepting of foreigners. Of course, there are a few exceptions, as in any country, but these are not the norm. In general, the people are funny, gregarious, innovative, and eager to learn. These are traits that many international students adopt and take home with them.


Regardless of what degree a student chooses to pursue in school, he or she will have to use computers and other technologies in order to succeed. Many universities incorporate the latest technology into their curriculum, encouraging students to obtain proficiency before they go out into the workplace. Specialized technology, such as the newest medical equipment in medical schools, allows each student to maximize their true potential and gain experience that is marketable in the real world.


Since the USA school system utilizes credit units and often accommodates working students, most schools offer academic programs that are flexible in nature. This means that, very often, one can choose when to attend classes, how many classes to enroll in each semester or quarter, what elective or optional classes to take, etc. An American education is very conforming to each student’s needs.

Campus Experience

It has been said that the friends and experience obtained during campus life are worth as much as the education itself. Many make friends that last lifetimes. The lessons learned my co-existing and living with others from all over the world are priceless.

Global focus

More and more often, American colleges and universities are focusing on the global aspects of each subject, better preparing students with a worldwide view of their field. No longer can students merely focus on certain geographic areas when obtaining their academic training. Most US learning institutions have recognized this and offer a more comprehensive and global curriculum to meet these new trends.

Misconception about Study in the USA

There are numerous misconceptions by foreigners about the USA and Americans themselves. Sadly, much of this misinformation is initiated by people who have not visited or studied in the USA. It is important that these misnomers are fully understood and not prevent a potential international student from obtaining a quality American education.

America is full of crime and is a dangerous place

Television, Hollywood and sensationalized news reporting have done a disservice to the USA, as far as painting a picture of a crime-ridden country is concerned. While it certainly is true that there are areas in America with crime problems and high crime rates, that is not the norm. One of the founders of this website, a former international student himself, has lived and worked in the USA for 13 years and has never encountered any serious crime whatsoever. In any country, there are areas that one would be more likely to be victimized by crime, and efforts should be made to avoid these areas. The USA is no different. Good judgment is always the best defense. Television and sensational news reporting gain viewers and sell newspapers. But they do not always reflect the norm.

There are numerous misconceptions by foreigners about the USA and Americans themselves. Sadly, much of this misinformation is initiated by people who have not visited or studied in the USA. It is important that these misnomers are fully understood and not prevent a potential international student from obtaining a quality American education.

It is too expensive

One thing that cannot be denied is that, if an international student is using foreign funds to pay for his education costs in the USA, he or she is affected by fluctuations in currency exchange rates. However, it is a misnomer that attending college or university in the USA is extremely expensive. Given the quality of the education, the potential earning power of working in the USA, as well as the various forms of aid available to students, an American education is still affordable. While there are some schools that are notorious for charging high fees, there are many schools offering great programs for much less. The key is to know how to pick the school that is right for you.

I may not be accepted or well received by the locals

Americans are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people on this earth. The USA is made up of immigrants from all over the world, and most Americans understand that their history, too, descends from another land. In fact, most Americans are eager to learn about new cultures and they welcome the chance to meet foreigners. Of course, international students should reciprocate by learning and respecting the local laws and cultures. Always ask for help. You will be surprised at how much will be forthcoming.

The USA is not known for certain academic disciplines

When one thinks of innovation, one thinks of the USA. It is no exaggeration that America is a world leader and innovator in thousands of industries. One of the main reasons is because the USA is a rich country and it possesses the infrastructure and the opportunities to train and innovate. Whether it is in molecular biology and DNA or acting and drama, the USA offers some of the best training and employment opportunities of any country in the world. It is this very culture that attracts students from all over the world.

Recent international developments have made the USA dangerous

Daily life in the USA has long returned to normal after the events of September 11. While the government and its people do take more precautions in general, there simply is no cause for alarm or for an alteration to one’s academic plans to study in the USA. In fact, applications to colleges in the USA have not decreased and continue to increase constantly. Life in America has never been better!


Across the world and for many years, students and parents have recognized the benefits of obtaining a US education. The best accredited US programs at every level offer an approach to education that encourages students to develop their own capacity and passion for learning with the support of cutting-edge instructional resources and facilities. Graduates of such programs emerge not only with job-ready skills, but also with a foundation for learning and success that serves them their whole lifetimes.

Some of the hallmarks of the US education system are:

Quality: Across the range of American schools, from Ivy-league to smaller colleges and vocational schools, students can find programs taught by leading experts in their field – experts in the US and often the world. Such experts have a natural inclination toward best-in-class research and practical applications of knowledge, both of which encourage rich learning experiences for students.

Varie​ty: The US education system has often been said to be the most diverse in the world, in terms of:

  • Size of student population (from only a few hundred to tens of thousands of students);
  • Admissions criteria (from highly competitive to completely open);
  • Setting (from world-famous metropolises to lovely small-town campuses, and from desert-hot to northern climates);
  • Programs (in terms of duration and field of study, as well as approach, i.e., vocational to academic);
  • Delivery (from physical campuses to blended delivery models and entirely online programs);
  • Culture (from rigorous and specific academic programs to arts-focused, sports-intensive, or technically oriented programs).

Student-centered: The American school system, like US values in general, is centered on a belief in individualism, on personal growth, and on opportunity for anyone – regardless of race, class, or other differences – to achieve a quality education. From an early age, students are encouraged to voice their opinions, and to participate actively in their learning. They receive a broad-based education from the day they first enter school as children to high school and even into the first years of college. Extra-curricular activities and social skills are prioritized alongside academics.

Well-rounded: Students are viewed as individual human beings most of all, and while grades are important, American educators believe strongly that students being active in social, sports, and cultural activities is crucial to their well-being and eventual success in their lives and careers.

Structure of the US Education System

The US education system may be organized very differently from the system in the home countries of international students. Reflected in a chart, it looks like this, complete with pathways between levels:

Pre-school and Kindergarten

American students begin either in preschool or kindergarten for 1–3 years before progressing to elementary (primary) school. In most states, the age at which a child must start school is 6.

Most school districts offer a free year of kindergarten before the starting year; in most cases, children must be 5 years of age to enter kindergarten. If you are counseling a family planning to have a child under the age of 6 attending school in the US, make sure to ask the kindergarten schools under consideration about their cut-off birth dates for turning 5, as this varies by school district.

Elementary (Primary) and High School (Secondary School)

Children attend elementary (primary) school for varying amounts of time. In most cases, they attend elementary until Grade 6. They then progress to one of the following: a junior high school for two years, a combined junior/senior high school (generally Grades 7–12), or a four-year high school. Please note that high schools can also be called secondary schools.

School-aged students in the US have the option of going to public schools (free) or to private schools (where they must pay tuition or be on scholarship). The vast majority (88%) attends public schools; nation-wide, 9% attend private schools, but this percentage is much higher in some regions and cities, and among Caucasian Americans. Three percent are home-schooled, in which case parents and/or caregivers provide education to children provided their practices meet the education laws of the state. 

Charter Schools

An increasingly popular category of public schools in the US is the charter school. This kind of school receives public funding but less than other general public schools – this trade-off allows the charter school to act more independently than other public schools. Charter schools generally have different curriculum, teaching methods, and niche focuses than general public schools, though their students are required to take state exams. 

Graduating High School

There is no federally set national examination determining whether a student has successfully graduated high school in the US. However, as of this writing, 25 states require that students take a high school exit examination for graduation, and three additional states have legislation that will see such exams required in the future. Whether or not a national examination is used in assessment, American high schools issue high school diplomas to students who have completed their curriculum. Because of the state and local jurisdiction over education in the US, what courses must be completed to earn a high school diploma will vary from one school to another. American students normally graduate high school at age 17 or 18.

Post-Secondary Options

With a high school diploma (or, for international students, the equivalent), students have the following options, admission to which will be dependent on their grades and goals. Please note that pursuing a certificate or degree in two of the categories – PET (Professional Education and Training) schools and community colleges – does not prevent a student from eventually attending a four-year college/university if this is desired. It is important to note that not all PETs are accredited, however (or not accredited by an organization considered prestigious enough for a university to accept students’ credits from the PET school). Students and agents must investigate the accreditation status of PET schools, especially if they have plans to progress to a university after.

PET (Professional Education and Training) Institutes

These schools, mostly private, are for students with a strong sense of what they’d like their career to be upon graduating – and whose desired careers depend upon specialized technical or vocational training. Examples of business sectors that include the kind of careers for which PET institutes can prepare students are health sciences, business, and technology, but there are many more. Diplomas, certificates, and associate degrees take from six months to four years to complete. Some Professional Education and Training institutes offer degrees that are admissible in applications for graduate school.

Professional Education and Training is not the only term in use for this sector – other terms you may see are CTE (Career and Technical Education) or VET (Vocational Education and Training), professional schools, and technical schools.

Associates Degree: AA and AS

The associate degree is a two year degree given by US colleges. The degree is awarded to students who have completed all the requirements of the program. There are three classes of these degrees in the USA: the associate of arts degree (also called the A.A. degree), the associate of applied science degree (the A.A.S. degree), and the associate of science degree (A.S. degree). These degrees are awarded by two types of colleges: community colleges, which are operated by the local government and financed by public funds, and junior colleges, which are generally privately run. Both are excellent options.

There are three general groups of students who will enroll in community or junior college. The first are students who do not want to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree, but prefer instead to complete an associate degree program. The second are students who eventually want to earn a bachelor degree, but choose to complete the first two years of their education at a community college before transferring to a four-year college or university. The third are members of the local community who want to take classes in various subjects without pursuing any type of degree or enrolling in a formal program (this is called “continuing education”).

At all public colleges in the US, including community colleges, the tuition paid by an international student will be higher than what is paid by a student living in the college’s local community. The international student will pay the same tuition as an American student who lives outside the local area. Typically the cost of attending a community college will still be much lower than attending a four-year college or university, even a public one. Therefore completing an associates degree program at a US community college is a very cost effective way of obtaining an education. It also gives international students the ability to greatly reduce the cost of completing a bachelor degree if they choose to transfer to a four-year college upon finishing their first two years, even if they don’t complete all the requirements for the associate degree.

Junior colleges offer associates degrees similarly to community colleges, but because they are privately funded they charge the same tuition to all students. Therefore, international students do not have to pay more than American students when attending a junior college. However, a privately run junior college may not be as economical as a community college. International students who are on a tight budget should carefully research the cost differences between all their options. This holds true whether the student is planning to complete a two year degree, or whether the student is planning to eventually transfer to a four-year college.

Another matter that should be carefully researched is whether the college you are considering is fully accredited to award associate degrees and whether the courses you complete at the college are fully transferable to another college. The best way to determine whether the college is fully accredited is to ask major universities if they would recognize an associate degree from that community college or junior college. Search our US community colleges and junior colleges offering associate degree programs.

Advantages of an Associate Degree

Time savings: they can be completed in approximately two years.

Higher earning potential: many skilled professions and high-paying jobs require at least an associate degree in a specialized field or discipline.

Cost savings: tuition at community colleges is typically lower than at public four-year colleges.

Convenience: most cities in the USA have colleges that offer associate degrees so it will be easy and convenient to complete your degree anywhere. You can also complete a degree online from your own home.

Higher demand: associate degree holders are now in more demand than ever thanks to the increasingly favorable reputations of many community and junior colleges.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor degree is the most traditional degree given by US colleges and universities. It normally requires at least four years but not more than five years of full-time college-level coursework. The two most common classes of bachelor degrees awarded by US schools are the Bachelor of Science degree (also called the B.S.) and the Bachelor of Arts degree (also called the B.A.). Some schools offer only the B.A. degree, even for science majors (such as a B.A. in biology). Other schools offer both the B.A. and the B.S.

A bachelor’s degree is what most students pursue when enrolling in a US university or college. In fact, people with a Bachelor’s Degree earn substantially more than those who don’t have one. More and more jobs and careers today require applicants to posses one. Some would argue that a Bachelor’s Degree is the first step to success. At the very least, it helps open doors of opportunity.

All students pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree must select a major, usually by the end of their second year. Students must complete a required number of courses (or units) within their major in order to graduate with a degree in that major. They may also be required to complete a number of courses in closely related fields in order to satisfy other requirements. For example, a student who is majoring in chemistry will not only have to complete chemistry courses, but also mathematics, biology, and physics courses in order to graduate with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. In addition to the requirements for the major, students must also complete a series of courses outside of their major. These requirements will apply to all students attending the college, regardless of major. For example, all students may be required to complete courses in writing, foreign language, communications, and American history. Without it, they cannot graduate.

There are various types of schools that offer bachelors degree programs. The different types of US schools can be classified into the categories that are described below.

Private universities

These are schools that are operated by private individuals and are financed by private funds. These schools are not controlled by any government agency and also offer many bachelors degree options. Tuition at private schools is normally much higher than at public schools because of the lack of financial support from the government. There is no difference between the amount of tuition paid by American students and foreign students. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree at a private university or college is what many international students choose. Make sure the university is properly accredited so that your degree will be recognized.

Public universities

These are schools offering bachelors degree options are operated by a state government and are financed by public funds. They are also called state universities and sometimes have the word state in their names (for example, San Diego State University). The tuition charged by these schools is typically much lower for students who are residents of the state where the school is located. Public universities offer bachelor’s degrees and some offer master’s and PhD degrees, too. Students who are residents of other states and international students will pay higher tuition because they and their parents have not contributed to the taxes that help finance the schools. The bachelors degree programs offered at public universities vary per school and are popular with international students.

Liberal arts colleges

These are schools that offer bachelor’s degree programs and provide students with a broad-based, rather than a highly focused, education. These schools are described in detail in the Liberal arts section.

Institutes of technology

These are schools that offer bachelor’s degree programs and courses primarily in the fields of science and engineering. Unlike a liberal arts college, institutes of technology provide students with an education that is focused in their major. These schools are usually best known for their graduate programs.

Religiously affiliated universities

These schools offering bachelors degree programs were founded by religious organizations. Most religiously affiliated schools in America were founded by Christian organizations, but other faiths are also represented. These are all privately funded, and many offer what is referred to as a liberal arts education. Nearly all will admit students of all faiths, and only some will require students to attend religious services.

Specialized vocation schools

These are highly specialized schools that offer vocational training in certain fields. Examples of such schools would be Julliard (acting), Berkley, (music), Parson’s School of Design (fashion), etc. In addition to Bachelor’s Degree, these vocation schools also often offer graduate degrees.

Online colleges and online universities

Besides physically attending a school in the USA, international students also have the option of obtaining their bachelors degree online.

Doctoral and Master’s Degree Programs

A college graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree may find that degree to be insufficient for the type of profession he would like to have. It may often be necessary to pursue an advanced degree, such as a US master’s degree or US doctorate (also knows as PhD) degree, to advance your career. For example, a US master’s in finance degree online may be necessary if you are seeking a position as an economist with your local government, or you may need a PhD degree to teach at a university in your country. In addition, some disciplines are taught only at the graduate school program level in the USA. Among these are law, medicine, and dentistry, all of which are doctoral programs.

Not all USA colleges and universities offer masters degree programs. Even fewer offer PhD degree programs. Also, the number of majors offered at the graduate level will usually be much smaller than the number of majors at the undergraduate level. Occasionally, a school will only offer a major at the graduate program level. For example, Stanford University offers a master’s degree in business administration, but offers no undergraduate business degree program.

The US masters degree is a graduate school degree that typically requires two years of full-time graduate school coursework to complete. Unlike students pursuing a bachelor’s degree, students in a master’s degree program will complete courses that are highly focused in their field of study (their major). As such, students must have already decided on their major before applying to a program.

The US PhD degree or doctoral degree is even more focused and specialized than the master’s degree. Some students will complete a masters before applying to a doctorate degree program, but that is not always necessary. Completion of a US doctorate degree typically takes between three and six years. The length of time will depend on the student’s educational background (a student with a masters degree may take less time to complete his PhD if it is in the same field), the field of study selected, the student’s dedication and ability, and the complexity of the thesis the student has chosen for his PhD. The thesis is a very long, extensive, and original research paper that is a requirement for completing the program. (Some master’s programs also require a thesis, but it is much simpler and shorter than the PhD program thesis.)

College courses are assigned a value in what are called “credits” or “units.” The number of units assigned to a course corresponds to the number of hours that a student will attend class for that course. For example, a course that consists of three class sessions per week, and where each class session last for 50 minutes, will be assigned a value of three units. Typically, colleges require that students complete a minimum number of units in order to graduate, rather than a minimum number of courses. This gives students more flexibility in what courses they decide to take to complete their graduation requirements.

Most colleges and universities follow either a quarter-based calendar system or a semester-based calendar system. In a quarter system, the academic year is divided into three sessions called quarters. Each quarter lasts about 12 weeks. There is usually an additional quarter in the summer, where registration is optional. Foreign students are not required to attend courses in the summer to maintain their status. In a semester system, the academic year is divided into two sessions called semesters. Each semester lasts 16 weeks. Again, there may be an optional session during the summer.

Students who have registered for at least 12 units in a session (either a quarter or semester) are said to be “full-time” students. Students who have registered for fewer than 12 units in a session are called “part-time” students. Foreign students must maintain a “full-time course load” (in other words, they must always register for at least 12 units) in order to maintain their visa status.

The United States does not use written or oral national examinations to determine graduation from school or access to further studies, and there is no national curriculum on which to base such examinations. School curricula are set by local school districts, private schools, and homeschooling parents with reference to state standards and postsecondary requirements. Postsecondary or tertiary curricula are determined by the individual institutions with reference to accreditation requirements, professional requirements, and the expectations of graduate programs and employers.

There is considerable commonality across the U.S. education system despite the absence of legally enforced national curricula or examinations. Common evaluation and assessment standards and tools are the result of the pressures of the competitive academic marketplace, the expectations and requirements of employers and state agencies, and the standards required by accrediting agencies and professional and research associations.

The following links will take you to information on important aspects of assessment and evaluation as practiced in the U.S. education system.


Accrediting Agencies

Students and agents need to know whether institutions conform to standards of educational quality. Institutions are not required to seek accreditation but most do to show they meet the standards of their competitors. Please see the link at the bottom of this page to find out which accreditation agencies cover which regions and sectors of the American education system.

Knowing whether or not an institution is accredited is important because:

  • Credits are more transferable between accredited institutions;
  • Financial aid is available only from accredited institutions;
  • Degrees and diplomas from accredited institutions will be recognized not only in the US but also internationally.

The US Department of Education lists the following as Functions of Accreditation:

  1. Verifying that an institution or program meets established standards;
  2. Assisting prospective students in identifying acceptable institutions;
  3. Assisting institutions in determining the acceptability of transfer credits;
  4. Helping to identify institutions and programs for the investment of public and private funds;
  5. Protecting an institution against harmful internal and external pressure;
  6. Creating goals for self-improvement of weaker programs and stimulating a general raising of standards among educational institutions;
  7. Involving the faculty and staff comprehensively in institutional evaluation and planning;
  8. Establishing criteria for professional certification and licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation; and
  9. Providing one of several considerations used as a basis for determining eligibility for Federal assistance. 

It also notes that “Accreditation does not provide automatic acceptance by an institution of credit earned at another institution.”

There are two kinds of accreditation: (1) for institutions as a whole and (2) for certain programs (especially professional/vocational programs). Regarding #2, each institution the student is considering will be able to provide the standing of their programs the student is interested in. They can also go to the Contact page on the American Council of Education’s page to ask about the accreditation of specialized programs.

There are several respected national and regional accrediting agencies in the US. When a university is accredited by one, it is essentially accredited by all.

Please go to this link (

 or for a list of the accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education.

For international students hoping to study in the US, scholarships can be a significant help in financing your higher education. Whether you are a student of the first year, a student going on to graduate school, or simply returning to college for a new year, there are few available scholarships in the USA.

How to get scholarships in USA for international students?

  • The sponsors of the scholarships consider several factors into consideration when assessing applications. You need to show patience, commitment, and dedication, which means you have to start early and keep trying for it.
  • If you are looking for scholarships in USA, you will have to put in a lot of effort to score excellent grades and test scores, which will increase your chance to get the scholarship.
  • When searching for scholarships, your first step should be your school’s financial aid office. Most universities offer scholarship programs specifically for international students attending the institution. Research about your school’s financial aid website and get into contact with the office there if you can’t find what you’re looking for.
  • Check the eligibility of the scholarships. There are few requirements for scholarships in USA. It may be a requirement of certain TOEFL score; requirement of certain grade point average; or some may ask that you are from a certain country. You will need to do some research to see whether you are eligible for that scholarship or not. You can even get in contact with that college admissions officer and financial aid experts for your help. Then apply for that particular scholarship in USA for the international students.

There are many scholarships and financial aid schemes out there for international students. There are different types of scholarships in USA for international students. Some are funded by the USA government, some are funded by private organizations and some are funded by specific institutions. The list of top scholarships to study in USA Is given below:

USA Government-funded scholarships for international students

Fulbright Foreign Student Program  

  • This scholarship program is open to international students in all fields excluding medicine and specially designed for non- degree postgraduate studies. This is a masters or PhD scholarship in USA for international students. This scholarship will be sufficient for the airfare, tuition fees, textbook fare, health insurance, and the living stipend.

Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program

  • Another  USA Government scholarship program is the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program. It is a non-degree scholarship program, designed for experienced international professionals who are wishing to pursue 10 months of academic study in the USA.

Non-governmental US scholarships for international students

Abbey Road Summer Scholarships

  • This scholarship offers financial aid worth US$1,000 for language and art international students, and also US$500 fellowships for “summer enrichment” at the various institutions within the country.

#YouAreWelcomeHere Scholarship

  • Your application must include either an essay or video detailing your plans for bridging cultural divides to get this scholarship.  Application requirements may differ depending upon the school.  Check the website of the school to which you are applying for the requirements.

Civil Society Leadership Awards

  • It is the fully-funded scholarships for masters in USA. It is available for students from eligible countries to study in the USA at the master’s level.

David P. Shapiro Autism Scholarship

  • David P. Shapiro Autism scholarship valued US$1,000 is awarded to current or prospective students in the USA identified with autism.

Preply Scholarship

  • This Scholarship program is based on competition in which 3 students will be receiving a sum of $2,000. The only condition is you should be in the age group of 16 – 35  in order to be eligible for this scholarship. To get this scholarship the candidate has to submit an essay of 500 words related to online education, multilingualism, and professional development.

Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship

  • This scholarship program awards twice a year to the passionate students of other countries planning to study in the USA. It is valued at US$1,000.

Surf Shark Privacy and Security Scholarship

  • A  price worth  $2,000 is available to a student presently admitted to the USA institution as a high school, undergraduate or graduate student. This scholarship is open to all the citizens of different countries. Students will need to submit an essay to apply.

For Asian students:

East-West Center Scholarships and Fellowships

  • Scholarships to study in the USA within selected institutions, aimed at international students from the Asia-Pacific region.

Wesleyan Freeman Asian Scholarship Program

  • This Scholarship is for 11 exceptional Asian students to pursue their studies in the USA at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Japan-United States Friendship Commission

  • An initiative run by Japan and the USA, this commission provides grant programs to students coming from Japan planning to study in the USA.

For Australian students:

Australian-American Fulbright Commission

  • It offers scholarships to Australian citizens across all career stages. Awardees take part in an academic and cultural exchange, pursuing research or study at a USA university and bringing back their knowledge and experience in the home country to share with their communities.

For female students:

Bat and Ball Game Women’s Sports Scholarship

  • This scholarship offers $1,000 to a woman presently studying at any of the USA universities in a degree related to sports.

AAUW International Fellowships

  • This fellowship is for international female students, offered by the American Association of University Women(AAUW) to pursue their higher education in the USA.

MIT-Zaragoza Women in Logistics and SCM Scholarship

  • This scholarship is for female international students, to pursue their studies at the Zaragoza Logistics Center at MIT in the USA.

For graduate scholarships in USA

Rotary Peace Fellowships

  • This Scholarships to study in the USA is awarded to master’s degree students studying at one of the Rotary’s Peace Centers such as at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill OR Duke University.

For students from Africa:

  • Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship Programme = Masters scholarships in USA for African students
  • MasterCard Foundation Scholarships  = Scholarship in USA for African students

Universities offering scholarships in USA

Some of the schools offering scholarships in USA for international students are mentioned below:

  • American University Emerging Global Leader Scholarship
  • Clark University Global Scholars Program
  • Brandeis University Wien International Scholarship Program
  • Emory University Needs-Based Scholarship Program
  • Illinois State University International Awards
  • Harvard University Scholarships
  • Iowa State University International Merit Scholarships
  • New York University Wagner International Scholarships
  • Michigan State University International Scholarships
  • University of Arkansas International Scholarships
  • University of Iowa Scholarships for International First-Year Students
  • University of Minnesota International Scholarships
  • University of Oregon International Scholarships
  • University of Wisconsin Superior Non-resident Tuition Waiver Program

The first decision that you need to make regarding housing is whether you will be living on campus or off campus. Some small schools and some schools in large cities do not offer any on-campus housing. These are usually referred to as “commuter schools” because all students need to commute to school every day. Both living on campus and off campus have benefits. Read the information below to determine which is best for you.

On campus

One major benefit of living on campus is you will have easy access to everything the school has to offer. You can go to the libraries, the sporting facilities, and computer centers at your convenience. All will be within walking (or at least cycling) distance. Another convenience is the school cafeteria. Most schools offer affordable meal plans to students who live on campus, since on-campus residences do not have kitchen facilities. On-campus housing can also be cheaper, depending on where the school is situated. If a school is located in a suburban area, it may be difficult to find apartments close by. And if the school is located in a large city, you will find that it can be competitive and expensive to find any apartments at all.

Another benefit of on-campus housing is safety. College campuses are patrolled 24 hours a day by the schools’ own security forces. Living alone in an area with which you are not familiar may not always be the safest choice. A final benefit is the relationships you will develop by living closely with your fellow students. Not only will you most likely have a roommate, but you will also be surrounded by hundreds of other students. You will never be lonely, making the transition to a new country much easier.

Most university housing consists of dormitories, also called “residence halls.” Typically two students will share a room. There will be one or more bathroom and shower facilities on each floor that will be shared by all students living on that floor. Some universities offer residence halls that cater to specific interests, such as an “international house” for students who want to learn more about other cultures. Often there are also halls for first year students only, for graduate students only, and for women only.

Some universities offer living options in addition to the traditional dormitory. These include facilities that resemble apartment living, where perhaps four students will share two rooms and a bathroom, and facilities that resemble a house, where each student will have his own room and be given access to a bathroom and kitchen. Find out from your school which options are available before making a decision. Note that sometimes the options for first year students can be limited, because continuing students already made their housing arrangements before the end of the previous school year.

Off campus

Some colleges and universities do not provide on-campus housing. Still others do provide housing, but it is not sufficient (and therefore not guaranteed) for all their students. Often there will be an off-campus housing office to assist students in finding an appropriate place to live. The office will help students find a compatible roommate to share expenses and will also provide information about the local neighborhoods, including what restaurants, shops, and public transportation are accessible.

Many international students, particularly graduate students, prefer the independence of living off campus. They feel that it also creates fewer distractions and gives them more privacy. Sometimes living off campus can be more affordable, particularly if you rent a house and find several roommates to share it with. You will also find that food costs may be lower, since you will be doing your own cooking. (Having access to a kitchen is an added benefit for students who miss their local dishes.) Don’t forget to calculate what you will need to pay for transportation and utilities, such as electricity and local telephone service, when figuring the cost of living off campus.

If you decide to live off-campus, it is wise to wait until you arrive in America before making any commitments, like signing a lease and placing a monetary deposit. You will want to see the houses or apartments you are considering and also the neighborhoods where they are situated before making any final decisions. Once you find a suitable place, make sure that you carefully read the rental agreement, or lease, before you sign it. Understand your commitments and responsibilities, and also understand the landlord’s responsibilities and obligations.

Health coverage and medical costs can be costly for both citizens and non-citizens of the United States, and having a sufficient international student health insurance plan is beneficial when studying abroad. International medical insurance programs make it easier and more convenient to obtain quality health care in case of a medical emergency or illness. Not only is it simpler to find the right doctor and quality medical facilities when you have foreign student health insurance coverage, but you will be in a much better position to support yourself financially. Medical bills and expenses can lead to financial ruin without appropriate insurance, and preventing potential money stresses is easy by selecting the right plan.

What is International Student Health Insurance?

International student health insurance is available for students who are studying away from their home country, and offers them access to health care and facilities. It makes it much easier to receive quality health care and benefits from legitimate insurance providers, and can help save thousands of dollars in case of an emergency or illness. Medical expenses can be very costly, especially for those entering the United States on a temporary basis. In addition, many health care providers at colleges and universities can deny treatment if a student does not provide appropriate records of international student insurance coverage.

Current U.S. Laws Requiring International Student Medical Insurance Coverage

Each state has different laws and regulations regarding medical insurance coverage, but almost every college and university that accepts students on an ‘F’ visa requires proof of financial ability before enrolling in a college program. This means that students may be deemed ineligible for studies in the U.S. if they cannot support themselves financially; having the appropriate medical coverage is essential to this process, and all students need to carry at least the most basic international student medical insurance during their stay. While colleges and universities cannot track if a student is continuing with their selected foreign student health insurance, the risk of getting sick or requiring surgery is still a problem. If a student cannot afford to take care of their health because of increased medical expenses, they may be required to forfeit their status as a student and return to their home country.

Why Is Foreign Student Health Insurance Important While Studying in the U.S.?

International student health insurance is important when studying in the U.S. for a variety of reasons including:

  • Receiving adequate and quality health care in an emergency situation
  • Having access to doctors and other health care providers to ensure optimal health throughout the year
  • Reducing the chances of having to manage the high costs of health care, treatment, doctor visits, and prescription medication
  • Receiving adequate health care from legitimate providers
  • Reducing the burden of financial hardship in case of emergency treatment
  • Compliance with university requirements and guidelines
Cost of International Student Insurance

The cost of international student medical insurance varies significantly depending on the individual, medical history, and the state that they plan to pursue studies. Rates can range from $50 to $200+ per month depending on the type of insurance and deductible requested. Choosing the right amount for the deductible is often the first step, and can help you decide which foreign student health insurance plan will be right for you. Many insurance companies review individual student medical history records, and may require a check-up or initial visit to determine your status. International student medical insurance may also be offered by independent healthcare providers in a given state, and finding out what the local area offers is easier by contacting the university or college’s student health department.

Rates also vary depending on the type of ‘premium’, ‘elite’ or ‘gold’ packages will cover more medical expenses but will cost significantly more than basic coverage. If you are regularly sick, require treatment, or need above-average health care, it is important to review the options and ensure that doctor’s visits and treatment procedures are covered under your selected plan.

Where to Buy International Student Insurance

Affordable international student health insurance plans are available online, as well as through local area networks in the state you are pursuing studies. Contacting the university admissions office first can lead you to discounted rate plans specifically designed for international students. These are often priced much lower than standard options available elsewhere, and can provide enough protection for adequate coverage.

Other companies and websites to consider include:

  • HTH Travel Insurance that offers global student plans for up to $250,000 per year.
  • Expat Financial that offers global financial security plans for a variety of travelers and international students. Foreign exchange students can also find a customized plan here.
  • International Student Organization that features a variety of health plans through the COMPASS Health Insurance group. The maximum medical benefits vary significantly depending on the type of coverage involved, but premiums can be purchased directly online
  • International Health Plans that offers exclusive rates for many types of international travelers. It may be valuable to get quotes and compare rates here after reviewing various programs and packages from other companies.
What Should I Look For When Buying Foreign Student Health Insurance?

Knowing what to research and review when choosing an international student health insurance plan is the first step to finding the right package and plan for your needs. You will need to consider:

  • Affordability: calculate the monthly rate and make sure you can keep up with payments
  • Flexibility: do you have an option to upgrade, cancel, or change your policy or are you under a contractual agreement?
  • Medical examinations: how often do you need to undergo these, and what are the guidelines of getting the first examination for verification of your health?
  • Travel assistance services: does the insurance company extend these to its foreign student health insurance recipients?
  • Maternity benefits: are these included, should you need them at any time during your stay?
  • Low deductibles: what are the different deductible options available, and what is the most realistic match for your health coverage needs?
  • Eligibility criteria: what specific items is the insurance company looking for (e.g. medical records, visa documentation, income verification)

United States visa regulations stipulate whether or not international students are eligible to work in the US, and what type of employment they can hold. As such, international students who want to work must know their visa rules and regulations. Limited work permission is possible for students in F-1 and J-1 status. But, employment is not guaranteed and cannot be used as part of students’ financial support for visa purposes.

M-1 visa holders in technical and vocational programs cannot work during the course of their studies. M-1 student visa applicants must prove that they have sufficient funds immediately available for all costs associated with their entire course of studies.

Types of Possible Employment for F-1 Students
On-Campus Employment

International students on F-1 status can work on campus 20 hours a week while school is in session, and full-time during scheduled breaks, such as winter and summer breaks. This work can occur on the school’s campus or at an off-campus location “educationally affiliated with the school.”  In the latter case, the work must be “associated with the school’s established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level.”

Practical Training

Practical training is available to F-1 students who have been attending a college, university, or conservatory full-time for at least one academic year (in other words, nine months). High school and English language program students are not eligible for practical training even if the program is part of a college or university. Practical training is divided into two types, “curricular” and “optional:”

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) describes work that is an “integral” (essential) part of the established curriculum and is usually required or for credit. CPT is designed to provide students with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in their area of study. Such training is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. To obtain employment authorization for CPT, students must have completed one year of their degree program, have a declared major, and currently be in F-1 status. They must have a job offer at the time they apply for authorization so the job can be evaluated to see if it meets the requirements for CPT.

The Designated School Official (DSO) at the institution completes the employment authorization in SEVIS by indicating who the employment will be with, the location of the employer, the dates of employment, and whether the employment is full time or part time. Employment of 20 hours per week or less is considered part time. Anything over 20 hours a week is considered full time. For the most part, only part-time CPT is permitted for undergraduate students while they are studying unless the CPT is part of an internship component of their program. Full-time CPT is generally permitted only when school is not in session.

The student’s I-20 form, I-94 card and unexpired foreign passport is the employment authorization. No authorization is needed from the Department of Homeland Security. Students are not limited in the amount of curricular practical training they may use. However, students who have engaged in one year or more of full-time curricular practical training are not eligible for Optional Practical Training. Students should ensure they track the hours they spend in CPT for this reason.

PLEASE NOTE: CPT requirements differ for undergraduate students and graduate students. Students should check with their International Student Office to be clear on all the details of CPT opportunities.

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is an opportunity for F-1 students to gain work experience to complement their academic program; as such, the work must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. All F-1 students are entitled to one year of Optional Practical Training for each higher education degree they receive. Students must have completed one academic year of their degree to be eligible for OPT.

Students who complete a degree on the STEM Designated Degree Program List may be entitled to a 24-month extension of OPT (36 months total). STEM refers to degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics and includes: 

Actuarial Science          Computer Science (except data entry/microcomputer applications)


Engineering Technologies

Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Mathematics and Statistics

Military Technologies

Physical Sciences

Science Technologies

Medical Scientist         

To qualify for the 24-month extension the students’ employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify Employment Verification Program operated by US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

OPT for F-1 students can occur under four circumstances: 

During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is eligible, and intends to register for the next term or session; While school is in session provided that the OPT does not exceed 20 hours a week; Full time after the student has completed all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or the equivalent), if the student is in a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree program; Full time after the student has completed a program of study. 

The first three circumstances are referred to as “pre-completion” OPT while the fourth circumstance is called “post-completion” OPT. To engage in OPT employment the student must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the DHS Service Center that has jurisdiction over the area where they live. The student’s DSO would enable this via a recommendation.

OPT employment must be related to the student’s field of study. A student studying communications, for example, is not eligible to work as a computer programmer on OPT. The student may not accept OPT employment until the DHS approves the application and provides the student with an EAD. This can take 90 days or more during the summer months.

Off-Campus Employment

In addition to practical training, F-1 students may be authorized to work off-campus, but only after having been in F-1 status for one academic year, and only if they meet certain criteria. Students who are experiencing unforeseen economic hardship and students who have a job offer from an international organization may apply for work authorization from the DHS. 

Severe Economic HardshipSevere economic hardship employment was established to provide students who have experienced a legitimate and unforeseen economic hardship since obtaining F-1 status the opportunity to obtain employment authorization. The DSO will determine the legitimacy of the request. Typically, a DSO would look for such things as loss of on-campus employment, unexpected loss of a scholarship, serious currency devaluation when the funds come from abroad, excessive tuition and fee increases, medical bills, burglary or robbery (with a police report), substantial increases in living costs, disruption of a sponsor’s income, death of a sponsor, etc.

If the DSO considers the request valid, the DSO recommends to the DHS through a SEVIS endorsement that the student be granted employment authorization. If granted, the employment authorization is valid for part-time employment (20 hours a week or less while school is in session) and full time during scheduled breaks. 

Employment with an International Organization: A special situation exists for F-1 students who have been offered employment under the sponsorship of an international organization, as defined by the International Organization Immunities Act. A student seeking permission to work for such an organization applies to the DHS Service Center with jurisdiction over his or her residence by submitting the following: 

1) A written certification from the organization that the proposed employment is within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship;

2) A Form I-20 ID endorsed for employment in SEVIS by the DSO within the last 30 days;

3) A completed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with the fee required.

12.3 J-1 Student Employment

J-1 Student Employment

Options for J-1 student employment fall into three categories:

On-campus: The Exchange Visitor Program regulations allow for jobs on-campus that are related/unrelated to study, which stipulate that the work can be done “on the premises” of the school. This means that the school does not have to be the employer. For example: exchange visitors work for a commercial company, such as a food service, operating on the campus.

Academic Training:  Academic training is authorized employment related to a student’s field of study. It is intended to provide hands-on, practical experience complementary to the academic degree.  J-1 students are eligible for up to 18 months of practical training upon completion of their degree (three years for post-doctoral training. Application for academic training must be made no later than date of completion of studies indicated on the DS-2019. The student MUST have a job offer related to his/her field of study to request academic training.

 Off-campus: Exchange visitors may be authorized for off-campus employment when necessary due to “serious, urgent and unforeseen economic circumstances” that have arisen since the exchange visitor’s sponsorship on the J-1 visa. Such employment will be authorized in writing by a Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) indicating the name and address of the employer and the dates of employment. 

Students interested in working should contact their designated school official for international students. For more information, visit the DHS “Study in the States” website.

To keep up with current visa regulations, consult the USCIS website.

12.4 Workers’ ID and Rights

Social Security Number (SSN)

Once the international student has been approved for employment in the US and starts working, they need a Social Security Number (SSN). Students should wait until they are in the US for at least 10 days and have reported to their educational institution, before applying for a SSN. 

Students can visit their local Social Security Administration (SSA) office to apply for a SSN. The Social Security Office Locator will help to find the nearest office. More information is available on the Social Security website.

Worker’s Rights and Benefits

International students should be aware of their rights and benefits while working in the US. US laws prohibit employers from discriminating against job seekers and employees because of their gender, race, country of origin, color, religion, or disability.

Workers have the right to be treated and paid fairly. International students should ensure they are paid at least the federal legal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. If the minimum wage is higher in the state in which they work, they should be paid the higher amount. Employers are responsible for ensuring that the workplace is healthy and safe.

Some types of employee rights and benefits, such as minimum wage, overtime, leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, unemployment, and workers compensation and disability, are mandated under US law. Other types of benefits, such as hazard pay, health care, maternity leave, and paid holidays, are not mandated by US law. They are provided at the discretion of the employer and will vary from job to job.

Deductions and Taxes

A student’s employer will deduct money from their pay check for income tax, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. This is legal and done at all employers. International students who earn income in the US must file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by April 15 of the following year. For more information, go to

General Tips

International students should:

Not work for any employer without signing a contract. Without this proof of employment, their rights may be severely reduced if anything goes wrong.

Always ask for pay stubs (a record of hours worked as well as taxes deducted and net pay) and keep them together in a safe place.

Check their pay stubs to ensure that their employer is deducting the necessary taxes from their pay. Not deducting taxes is illegal.

Not accept any “under the table” jobs where they are paid in cash and not registered as official employees. The US government takes working illegally very seriously. An international student caught working without permission may have to leave the US and not be allowed to return.

Not rely on earning extra money after their arrival in the US. Because the visa regulations regarding international student employment are fairly restrictive, international students should plan their finances carefully and come prepared to meet their expenses without the need to work.

Bringing a Dependent to the USA

An international student may be accompanied to the USA by their dependent(s) at any time. Dependents are defined as spouses and/or unmarried minor children. Children over the age of 21 are not eligible to enter as the dependent of an international student (F-1 or J-1 student). An international student’s dependents may apply for their F-2 or J2 visas at the same time that the international student applies for an F-1 or J-1 visa, or they may apply for their F-2 or J-2 visas at a later date. If they are granted the visa, they may enter the United States when the international student does, or they may enter the U.S. at a later date.

If you wish to bring a dependent to the U.S. please contact ISS to learn what information you need to submit to request a dependent I-20 or DS-2019. It is important to determine whether you have sufficient funds to support yourself and your dependents. The University of Wisconsin requires proof of funds that range between $5,000-$7,000 for a spouse and $6,000-$7,000 for each child in order to prepare the dependent I-20 or DS-2019(s). Such proof of funding is required because the U.S. government necessitates that all international students and their dependents present proof of financial resources.

If your family members are abroad and you want them to join you in the US, please complete the form and submit it with the required documents listed on the form.

If your family members are already in the US on another type of visa and you wish to change their status to F-2 or J-2, you should meet with an ISS advisor during walk-in advising. In some cases it may not be possible to change status while in the US or there may be deadlines to consider.

Children born in the United States are US citizens. As such, they are ineligible for F-2 or J-2 status. ISS will not include family members who are US citizens in your documentation.

Note: Please make your requests in a timely manner. ISS strives to complete your requests as soon as possible, but processing may take several weeks. Keep this in mind when making an appointment to apply for visa stamps at an US Embassy/Consulate, booking airline tickets, or meeting deadlines to change status in the US.

I am an F1 or J1 student. How do I secure an F2 or J2 visa for my dependent?

Once the dependent I-20 or DS-2019 is received, mail the document to your spouse and/or children. The spouse should make an appointment with the nearest U.S. Consulate to request an F-2 or J-2 visa. The spouse should bring a valid passport, dependent I-20 or DS-2019, proof of relationship to student (for example, marriage certificate translated into English), proof of birth for dependent children, and proof of funding to the consular interview. Once the visa has been secured, each dependent must present a valid I-20 or DS-2019, a valid F-2/J-2 visa (except citizens of Canada), and a passport that is valid at least 6 months from the date of entry in order to successfully enter the U.S.

Can I invite family members other than my spouse and/or unmarried minor children?

Only the spouse and unmarried minor children (under 21 years old) of an F-1 or J1 student are eligible to enter the United States in F2/J2 dependent status. Frequently, international students wish to invite their parents or other family members to the U.S. to attend graduation or for a visit. If your parent(s) or other family members, including children over the age of 21, wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to visit, they may enter on a B-2 tourist visa. If you are an F-1 or J-1 student, you may request an invitation letter from ISS to send to your relative or family member to submit with their B-2 visa application. More information about Invitation Letters may be found.

What should my dependent know about travel?

The same rules apply to dependent travel as to travel by international students. A current travel endorsement on your dependent’s I-20 or DS-2019 is required for re-entry to the U.S. If you travel outside of the U.S. for more than five months, your dependent(s) may not remain in the USA. If you travel outside of the USA temporarily (less than five months), your dependent(s) may remain in the United States.

Is health insurance required for my dependent? How do I enroll my dependent in a health insurance plan?

The cost of health care is extremely high in the U.S. All students and their dependents must be enrolled in an insurance plan that meets the minimum levels of coverage set by this university for the duration of their time in the U.S. F-1 students and their dependents are not required by USCIS to be enrolled in an insurance plan, but the University of Wisconsin requires that the F-1 students and their dependents be ensured.

J-2 dependents are required by the Department of State to have adequate health insurance. International students on F-1 and J-1 visas must be enrolled in SHIP (Student Health Insurance Plan) or an alternative approved health insurance program; dependent family members must be enrolled as soon as they arrive.

Can my dependent study/take classes in the USA?

F-2 Dependents        F-2 dependent spouses may study part-time in the United States, but they may not enroll as full-time students. F-2 dependent children may study at the elementary and secondary levels (kindergarten through 12th grade), and they may also enroll full-time at a college or university until the age of 21. Furthermore, local schools and community colleges offer recreational courses, such as cooking, swimming, driver’s education, car maintenance, dancing, etc. in which F-2 dependents may also enroll.

F-2 dependent spouses who wish to engage in full-time study may apply for a change to F-1 student status. Likewise, F-2 dependent children are advised to apply for a change to F-1 student status prior to their 21 birthday in order to continue their studies. If you or your dependent(s) wish to apply for a change to F-1 status, please seek guidance from the ISS office.

J-2 Dependents
A J-2 dependent may study full or part time in the United States. Dependent children with F-2 visas may study in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through 12th grade) and at the postsecondary level (college or university). If you are a student whose dependent(s) would like to change their status, please seek guidance from the ISS office.

Is my dependent allowed to work in the USA?

U.S. visa regulations do not allow F-2 dependents to work in the United States. J-2 dependents are allowed to work in the United States with proper authorization. This authorization can be applied for once the J-2 has entered the country. Please be aware that it can take up to 4 months for USCIS to approve the employment authorization, and that the J-2 dependent may not begin working until they have received an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. EAD cards are issued for a 12 month period, and they may be renewed each year that the spouse is in J-2 status. Please visit the ISS office for employment forms and guidance on the application process.


All non-US citizens, including F-2 and J-2 dependents, are required to keep their current US residential address up-to-date with the US Federal government. All F-2 and J-2 dependents must complete the form AR-11 within 10 days of establishing a new US residential address. The form AR-11 is can be downloaded from

Note: F-1 and J-1 students only need to update their addresses using their online MyUW accounts. ISS forwards this information directly to the US Federal government. Because F-2 and J-2 information cannot be updated in this manner, an AR-11 form must be submitted for each dependent family member.

When does F2 or J2 status end?

F-2 and J-2 dependents are eligible to remain in the US as long as the F-1 or J-1 student remains in valid status. Once an F-1 student has completed their program of study, the F-1 students as well as their F-2 dependent(s) are eligible to stay in the US for up to 60 days. Once a J-1 has completed their program of study, the J-1 student and their J-2 dependent(s) are eligible to stay in the US for up to 30 days.

Note the following situations where F-2 or J-2 status ends even if the F-1 or J-1 remains in valid status:

If F-1/F-2 spouses or J-1/J-2 spouses obtain a divorce, the F-2 or J-2 is no longer the dependent of the F-1 or J-1. The F-2 or J-2 cannot remain in the US on a dependent visa. The F-2 or J-2 should depart the US or, if eligible, apply for an alternate visa status prior to the finalization of the divorce.

If an F-2 or J-2 child marries or reaches the age of 21, s/he is no longer the dependent of the F-1 or J-1 parent. The F-2 or J-2 child cannot remain in the US on a dependent visa. The F-2 or J-2 should depart the US or, if eligible, apply for an alternate visa status in a timely manner.

Adapting to life in the USA

Prepare your spouse and children for life in the U.S. by sharing the information that you have learned about the U.S. Help your family to adjust their expectations and to keep open minds when they experience cultural differences.

If English is not your family’s first language, prepare your spouse and children by ensuring that they begin learning some English prior to moving to the U.S. Then make arrangements for more English training after they arrive in the U.S.

Discuss issues of loneliness and other symptoms of culture shock with your family prior to and after arriving in the U.S. Help your family develop coping strategies. Even before you leave home, try consulting with others who have studied overseas or lived abroad. This may be helpful in preparing for the initial stress of relocating. Ask your friends and colleagues about their experiences and ways they resolved initial difficulties.

Support your spouse’s interests and activities in the U.S. Help your children by acknowledging any negative feelings they may have about the move, help them maintain their relationships with friends and family in both countries, and give them something to look forward to during the move (a new privilege, possession or activity). Be aware that schools at home may have focused differently on educational topics and there may be gaps in your children’s education. You can help by providing supplemental teaching for your children at home, hiring a tutor, or securing extra books or software.

Remember that family members will need your time and attention, and you will need to find a way to balance those needs with your studies.


NB: Information regarding visa rules and processes for international students coming to the US may change; for the most up-to-date information please check the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

A very important step in being able to study at a US school is obtaining the appropriate visa and abiding by all work and immigration regulations according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If a student is well-prepared and qualified, the visa process should not be overly stressful. The important point is to prepare the documentation required properly and in good time, making sure not to leave out anything or miss any deadlines.

Visa officers will want to see evidence that the student lives abroad (evidence of residence abroad), and that they have stable ties in their home country. In particular they will look for:

Evidence the student has no plan to abandon the residence abroad;

Evidence the student intends to leave the US after their course of study is completed;

Evidence the student has enough money to pay for their studies and living expenses.

Students should prepare evidence of financial, social, and familial ties in their home country in the interests of showing they have every reason to return after their studies are over in the US.

Student Visa Classes

Students must have a student visa to study in the United States, unless they are from Canada or Bermuda. The course of study they intend to pursue and the kind of school they plan to attend (e.g., K-12, college/university, vocational) will dictate what kind of visa is necessary.

Here are the types of visa that may apply (thanks to NAFSA’s excellent document, “Foreign Nationals in Nonimmigrant Visa Classifications Who May Be Lawfully Employed and/or Study in the United States with Certain Restrictions”), including study and work parameters:

F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 Visa is for international students engaging in a full course of academic study in an accredited educational program that has been designated by DHS (Department of Homeland Security).

Students must maintain a full course of study; part-time study is only permitted with the approval of the DSO (Designated School Official) in accordance with regulations.

Employment restrictions:

While maintaining valid F-1 status, students may be employed on the campus of the school they are authorized to attend for a maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session. Part-time, on-campus employment is authorized “incident to status,” and separate USCIS or school approval is not needed. During official school breaks, students may work on-campus full-time if otherwise eligible and intending to enroll for the next term.
While enrolled, F-1 students experiencing severe, unforeseen “economic hardship” may apply to USCIS for part-time work authorization, if recommended by the DSO. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) – which is a document that establishes the student’s identity and employment authorization issued by UCSIS – is required.
 F-1 students may participate in employment directly related to field of study by obtaining practical training authorization. There are two types of practical training (also covered in Section 12 in more detail):

Curricular Practical Training: This type of employment is an integral part of an established curriculum and occurs prior to the completion of a degree program. It requires the approval of the DSO in SEVIS and on Form I-20. An EAD is not required.

Optional Practical Training: This type of employment occurs during or after the completion of studies. The total period of employment may not exceed 12 months. An additional extension of 24 months is available to STEM graduates working for an e-Verify employer. They must apply to USCIS for EAD. Employment must be related to field of study and recommended by DSO. 

F-2 Dependent of an F-1 Student

F-2 visa holders are individuals in the US who are dependents of an F-1 student. F-2 spouses may not engage in full-time study; F-2 children may only engage in full-time study at the K-12 level. Part-time study that is recreational in nature is permitted. F-2 visa holders may not begin a course of study until a change to F-1, M-1, or J-1 status is approved.

Employment restrictions: F-2 visa holders may not take up paid work in the US.

M-1 Vocational Student Visa

M-1 Visa holders are students enrolled in a vocational program or school in the US. They must maintain a full course of study; part-time study is only permitted if authorized by the DSO.

Employment restrictions: M-1 students may be employed for practical training following completion of studies for a maximum of 6 months. They must apply to USCIS for EAD. Employment must be related to field of study and recommended by DSO through endorsement of I-20.

 M-2 Dependent of M-1 Student

An M-2 visa holder is an individual in the US who is a dependent of an M-1 student. M-2 spouses may not engage in full-time study; M-2 children may only engage in full-time study at the K-12 level. Part-time study that is recreational in nature is permitted. M-2 Visa holders may not begin a course of study until a change to F-1, M-1, or J-1 status is approved.

Employment restrictions: M-2 visa holders are not permitted to work in the US.

J-1 Exchange Student Visa

J-1 visa holders are individuals in the US who are exchange visitors for the primary purpose of studying at an academic institution under the auspices of the United States Information Agency and a designated program sponsor.

J-1 visa holders must maintain full-time enrollment. They may reduce course load below full time only if authorized in advanced by SEVIS by a Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) of the designated program sponsor, in accordance with DOS regulations.

Employment restrictions: J-1 visa holders may be employed on the campus of the school in which they are enrolled to a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session (full-time during official school breaks) only with prior authorization in SEVIS from the RO or ARO of their designated program. They may work off campus under limited circumstances provided they have obtained prior authorization in SEVIS from the RO or ARO. Employment does not require additional permission from USCIS or an EAD.

J-1 visa holders are eligible for up to 18 months of Practical Academic Training (up to 36 months for post-doctoral training).

J-1 Exchange Student Intern Visa

Programs designated in the College and University Student category can also sponsor in the Student Intern category. This visa is available only to foreign students currently enrolled and pursuing a degree at a post-secondary academic institution outside the United States, whose US internship will “fulfill the educational objectives for his or her current degree program at his or her home institution.” Students on this visa may engage in incidental study (i.e., study not directly related to the main area of study).

Employment restrictions: Students on the J-1 Exchange Student Intern visa may only be employed according to the terms of the internship described in their Form DS-7002.

J-1 Exchange Visitor: Professor, Researcher, Specialist, Trainee, Physician, Intern

J-1 exchange visitors are individuals in the US who are visiting researchers, professors, short-term scholars, specialists, trainees, interns, or alien physicians under the sponsorship of an exchange visitor program that has been designated by the Department of State. They may engage in incidental study while maintaining J status.

Employment restrictions:  J-1 exchange visitors may be employed “incident to status” only by the designated program sponsor or appropriate designee, and within the guidelines of the program approved by DOS, for the period of validity as stated on the DS-2019. Under limited circumstances, professors, researchers, and short-term scholars may receive compensation from other institutions with prior authorization in SEVIS from the RO or ARO of their designated program.

J-2 Dependent of a J-1 Exchange Visitor

J-2 dependents are individuals in the US who are dependents (spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21) of a J-1 exchange visitor. They may engage in full or part-time study.

Employment restrictions: J-2 dependents of J-1 exchange visitors are eligible to apply to USCIS for work authorization. With an EAD issued by USCIS, they may work for any employer.

How to Apply

The first step for a student wanting a US student visa is to apply to an SEVP-approved school. This is the link to find out whether a school is SEVP-approved. Once they receive notification of their acceptance by the US school they plan to attend, students will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). They must pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee, which is a one-time fee for each program in which the student or exchange visitor participates.

The school will provide students needing an F or M Visa with a Form I-20 to present at their visa interview with the consular officer once the student has proved they have sufficient funds to pay for the course of study.

Students requiring a J Visa (J-1 or J-2) will be given a Form DS-2019 for their visa interview. The school – generally via the International Office/Department – will explain to students the amount of support they need to document and how to document the support.

If the plan is for the student’s spouse and/or children to accompany the student to the US while he/she is studying, each family member must obtain an individual Form I-20 (or a DS-2019 if they pursuing a J visa). However, they will not have to pay the SEVIS fee. 

To learn more about SEVIS and the SEVIS fee (including cases where it does not have to be paid), visit the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Here is a reminder of what forms I-20 and DS-2019 are and what they prove/allow students to do:

What is the I-20?

The I-20 is a multi-purpose document issued by a government approved, U.S. educational institution certifying that (1) a student has been admitted to a full-time study program and (2) that the student has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the U.S. The I-20 is officially titled the “Certificate of Eligibility” because with it, a student is “eligible” to apply for an F-1 [or M-1] student visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

What is the DS-2019?

The Form DS-2019 or “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status” is the basic document used in the administration of the exchange visitor program. This form permits a prospective exchange visitor to seek an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in order to obtain a J visa to enter the United States.

Students and Multiple I-20s/DS-2019s

A prospective student might apply to more than one institution or exchange program. In this case, they may have been issued multiple I-20s or DS-2019s, in which case they would have multiple SEVIS records (and SEVIS ID numbers). Fee payment made on one SEVIS ID number can be applied to another SEVIS ID number issued to the same individual.

12-Month Visa Re-Application Window

In some cases, students will pay a SEVIS fee when seeking a visa in a particular program category but be denied a visa. In these cases, such students may re-apply for a visa in the same category within 12 months following the initial notice of visa denial without having to repay the SEVIS fee.

The US Department of State notes that the order of steps required for applying for a US student visa can be different depending on which US Consulate/Embassy the student has access to. To be sure of what is required, the student should request an appointment with the Consulate. The Consulate will then send a confirmation notice about the appointment; the student should print this out and take it to the appointment to be able to attend the meeting.

In some countries, students will be required to pay the non-refundable visa application fee (US$160) before the interview.

Students can also complete an online visa application to bring to their interview.

Though F-1 and M-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of students’ start date, students will not be permitted to enter the United States in F-1 or M-1 status earlier than 30 days before their start date at the school.

The US Department of State lists the following as documentation to prepare to bring to the visa interview:

  1. Passport valid for travel to the United States: Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
  2. Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  3. Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview.
  4. Photo: You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails,you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements. Please note (2017 update: Eyeglasses are no longer permitted in passport photos).
  5. The 1-20 or DS-2019.
  6. Your academic preparation, such as Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended;
  7. Scores from tests that your U.S. school required, such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, or GMAT.
  8. Once the student’s visa is approved, they will have to pay a visa issuance fee. 

Security Clearances

Students who are applying to fields of study on the Department of State Technology Alert List, or whose country of origin appear on this list, will be checked against databases maintained by the FBI. This security procedure will delay the issuance of the visa substantially.

Students from these countries, currently considered by the US Department of State as State Sponsors of Terrorism, will also have to follow special visa procedures: Iran, Sudan, and Syria. This list changes occasionally; the US Department of State website will have the latest information.

AIRC’s Advice for Students Applying for a US Student Visa:

US Government officials are convinced more easily by documents than by spoken statements. When possible, students should have papers to show their connections to their home country. If their family owns property, have them take the deeds. If they have a brother or sister who studied in the US and then returned home, they should take a copy of the brother’s or sister’s diploma and a statement from an employer showing that they have returned home. If possible, they should show that an individual or company in the home country will give them a job when they return. If they cannot obtain a promise for a job, then a letter indicating that they will be considered for a job may be helpful. Alternatively, company statement indicating a general need for people with the kind of education they are coming to the US to receive.

If the student’s family owns a business, they should take letters from a bank describing the business to the visa interview. Students should not emphasize any ties they may have to the United States or to family members in the United States, but should be honest when asked about such relationships.

Students should not speak of working in the United States unless employment is authorized on the Form I-20/DS-2019. Though limited work permission is possible for students in F-1, J-1 or M-1 status (but not for dependents in F-2 or M-2 status), employment is not guaranteed and cannot be used as part of students’ financial support for visa purposes.

There is no time limit on how soon a student can apply for the visa. The sooner students apply, the better. Consular offices get extremely busy during July, August and September, just prior to the start of the US academic year. However, students will not be allowed to enter the United States more than 30 days prior to the start date on the I-20/DS-2019 form.

11.4 From Arrival to Post-Graduation

Once in the US

Once students arrive in the US with their student visa, they should immediately contact their Designated School Official (DSO). When they arrive at school, they need to contact their DSO again BEFORE the program start date listed on their Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.

Once they are in school, it is very important that students stay in consistent contact with their DSO and advise him/her of any difficulties they are having in school. They must not drop any classes without speaking to their DSO, as this can put their visa status in jeopardy – dropping classes might even force them to leave the country because their visa is no longer in good standing. Students must maintain a full course load – if they cannot, they must consult with their DSO who can help them to see if there’s an option for a program extension.

Please see the previous section for work regulations for international students – but we will impress again that it is of the utmost importance that students work ONLY if they have the proper authorization.

Of course, students sometimes have to take a break from studies, for such reasons as vacations, family emergencies, or a need to seek medical treatment outside the US. In cases like these, students must consult their DSO and if the school employs one, an immigration advisor. There are generally two categories for leaves of absence:

Less than five months;

More than five months.

Each case will require different processes in terms of visas and 1-20/DS-2019 forms in order for the student to be able to return to school and reactivate legal immigration status. Please see Washington State University’s guidelines as an example of this.

This is an excellent link that details what F-1 students must do to comply with immigration responsibilities. And this is another important link, which explains the most common reasons students “fall out of [immigration] status.

Upon Program Completion

F-1 students can remain in the US for up to 60 days after their course of study is over (i.e., the program end date on their Form I-20); J-1 and M-1 students have 30 days. To stay in the US for longer than this, students can investigate these possibilities.

Transferring to another school;

Progressing to another level of school (e.g., from master’s to PhD, or bachelor to master’s);

Changing visa status (e.g. H-1B-temporary worker; O-extraordinary ability in science, art or business; P-athlete).

This website lists various visa options for international students wanting to stay in the US and work; each option has different requirements in terms of what kind of graduate might be eligible.The US Department of Homeland Security also has a helpful page for understanding what options are available to students on different visas who wish to extend their stays in the US.

1. Education Information – Overview of the U.S. Education System – Guide to U.S. higher education – Accrediting Organizations – Regional Accrediting Organizations – College Navigator – University Finder – University College Directory – US Education Advising Center – Department of Education – Student and Exchange Visitor Programme – Free Online English Learning Site

2. Visa and Immigration Information – USA Embassy in Nepal -Travel and Visa Information – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – U.S. Department of State – U.S. Department of Homeland Security – U.S. Customs and Border Protection

3. Scholarships Information – U.S. government’s free online scholarship search tool – Scholarships for Graduate and PhD – Scholarships for Women – Financial Aid for Disabled

4. Alumni Information – Stories by International Students

5. International Student Insurance – International Student Insurance