Going to college is tough. Going to college in another country is even tougher. But if that means studying in one of the best schools the U.S. has to offer, why not take the chance?
Besides, most U.S. colleges are pretty accommodating of international students. Aside from the usual student support programs (like mentorships, meal plans and on-campus employment), they also offer these services tailored specifically to students from outside the U.S.
International Student Advisors
Before you even set foot inside the campus, make sure you look up your school’s international student services office first. These offices usually assign you an advisor, who will teach you everything you need to know about lawful immigration, visas and other travel requirements.
They can also advise you on general campus matters like changing majors, applying for employment and handling your personal finances. You can learn more about them by checking your college website, or you can ask an international student advisor yourself.
International Student Clubs
Not sure which club to join? Ask around if there are clubs for international students in your school. For example, Harvard University has around 50 organizations that cater to various cultural and ethnic groups. Even if your chosen college isn’t as big as Harvard, there’s bound to be at least one club where you can feel at home with fellow international students.
International Student Classes
If you’re experiencing “culture shock,” ask your advisor whether your college offers classes for international students. These classes typically cover American culture in general, as well as required college skills that you may not have mastered (e.g. academic writing). In case you’re struggling academically, there are ways for you to cope with difficult classes.
International Student Accommodation
In the U.S., you can stay in on-campus dormitories or off-campus apartments. Dormitories are more convenient, but they can also be disruptive to your studies if you’re not used to living with rowdy peers. On the other hand, apartments give you more freedom, but they can also be more expensive. If you need help choosing between the two, don’t be afraid to contact your college’s Liaison Officer for help.
International Student Scholarships
Studying in the U.S. doesn’t have to be expensive. You can apply for scholarships like the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program and Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship. Or, you can look for those that are specific to your nationality, like the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (for Japanese students), East-West Center Scholarships and Fellowships (for students from the Asia-Pacific Region) and the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program (for African students).
Keep in mind that different scholarships have different requirements. They may require you to maintain a certain Grade Point Average (GPA), enroll in a specific program or meet an age limit. In any case, know what you’re signing up for, and put your best foot forward when applying for scholarships.
In general, you’re entitled to the same benefits as local students. You can get help from student mentors, teaching assistants and other personnel from the academic support center. You can take advantage of your school gym to avoid the dreaded Freshman 15. Or, you can take on-campus jobs that don’t have stringent visa requirements.
Some services may not be available to you, though. If you’re not sure whether you can use a service or not, consult your advisor. You may be worried about asking your advisor too many questions, but think of it this way: It’s their job to make sure you’re as comfortable with your stay as possible.
Wrapping It All Up
As an international student, you meet challenges different from those of native U.S. students. But don’t let that discourage you from studying in the country of opportunities. Th triple bottom line here is that failing to plan is planning to fail. There are always ways to make your college years worthwhile — as long as you’re willing to look for and take advantage of them.
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