Study in the USA – a guide for international students

Study in the USA
Worldwide, the United States is still number one destination for studying abroad. Picture: Billion Photos /

The USA (United States of America) is a federal republic comprising 50 states. It is located in the western hemisphere between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, and is bordered by Canada in the north and Mexico in the south. With more than 300 million inhabitants and having over 3,7 million square miles of land, the USA is the third largest in the world by land area and population; it is also recognized as one of the world’s most socially diverse nations, which is a direct result of a massive wave of immigration from every part of the globe.

In the last 231 years since the USA won the Revolutionary war against Great Britain and proclaimed independence in 1776, there were many wars, including the Civil War which ended slavery there, the Spanish-American war and World War One, which gave the country a great power status. In World War Two, the USA emerged as the first country with nuclear weapons. Since then, it has remained the most powerful economic, political, and military force in the world. The USA is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world.

Through past immigration from a multitude of international countries, such as England, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, and Scotland, newer immigration from Mexico, Asia, and Latin America, and also including many cultural influences of Native Americans and Western Africans, the majority of North Americans refer to their country as having a “Mainstream American Culture.”

North America has, as a result of its large size, many different geographical regions. This is the reason for the wide range of climate types. Most areas are, however, classified as temperate, but Alaska for example, has a Polar climate, and Hawaii and Florida have a tropical climate; California’s weather is Mediterranean, and if one travels from there eastward, they will find that the Southwest has a desert climate.

Study system in the United States

North American universities and other higher education institutions offer students virtually every course of study. There are about 4,000 universities, colleges and community colleges, and the total of enrolled students is approximately 14 million, from which more than a half a million students are international. In 2001, 20,000 of these international students were German, and since then, the number has risen. Community colleges offer a two-year study period, after which one generally is awarded an Associate’s degree; the other option when attending a community college is transferring to a four-year university to undertake a Bachelor’s program of study.

The Associate’s degree is not recognized in Germany as a complete degree, and therefore, this type of school is generally not recommended for international students. Colleges offer students four years of academic instruction; the first two years comprise basic studies, where students will receive fundamental college instruction necessary for the subsequent two years. This phase is referred to as the undergraduate period, when students complete their “major.”

Universities offer students undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate phases of study. Students can begin with a four-year study program, which is concluded with a Bachelor’s degree; the first two years comprise basic studies, where students will receive fundamental college instruction necessary for the subsequent two years.

This phase is referred to as the undergraduate period. Students wishing to continue their studies can enter into the graduate phase of study, called a Master’s study program, which usually takes two years to complete and is concluded with a Master’s degree; a Master’s study program is essentially a specialized continuation to the undergraduate degree, and offers specialized and in-depth instruction. The highest possible degree is the Doctorate’s degree, which can be undertaken having completed a Master’s degree, or in some study areas, can be obtained directly after the bachelors degree.

Application process and requirements to study in the USA

Those who wish to study in the USA must have completed high school or equivalent and received their diploma; This is the minimum requirement to enter into an undergraduate study program at a college or university. To enter a community college, a high school equivalent is recommended but not necessary in many cases, other, also professional and extracurricular qualifications may apply. Universities, colleges and community colleges may also require standardized tests for Americans as well as international students such as the TOEFL (Vergleich of English as a Foreign Language), the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Vergleich) and others. The entrance to a Master’s program requires students to have a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent and also major-specific admisssion tests such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) , GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Vergleich) and others.

Usually, colleges and universities individually set entrance requirements and decide if the student is accepted to a degree program. The admissions office is responsible for the application to the respective university or other higher education institution. The application package usually includes such documents as the necessary admission tests, forms to enter other school records, forms for letters of recommendation, a confirmation of necessary and sufficient funds for the study period, a letter of motivation, and several subjects and forms for admission essays. The individual requirements vary from institution to institution; therefore, students are advised to inform themselves thoroughly about each institutions admission criteria.

Cost of tuition / funding options for US study

The approximate cost for higher education in the USA varies a lot, depending on the type of institution, qualification of personnel, institutions funding or learning environment : roughly estimated, An average academic semester’s tuition cost for a community college is about 5,000 American Dollars; 11,000 American Dollars for a college, and 15,000 American Dollars for a university. Luckily there are numerous financial aid opportunities, which can cover some or the major part of the costs, such as government loans, need-based scholarships, achievement scholarships and many funding options of private companies and organisations.

Living options / Expenses

Students in the USA have many options in terms of accommodation; these options of course vary depending on the city and school. Student dormitories, which are located- in most cases- close, if not directly on-campus, are in most cases furnished and responsible for students´ meal plans. There are also apartments, which are in some cases owned and operated by the university either close to, or on the campus area. Students who wish to integrate themselves into American society might want to consider the option to live in a host family. This option allows the student to live with a family and experience culture and lifestyle first-hand, as well as speak English constantly. The costs vary greatly from city to city and school to school, but also are contingent upon the amount of roommates and the type of room. Also, the meal plan raises the price.

The dormitory costs are approximately 3,500 to 6,000 American Dollars for a semester depending if the meal plan is included; a campus apartment costs on the average about 400 American Dollars for a double bedroom with a shared bathroom, and 800 American Dollars for a single private room. The cost for lliving with a host family is about 400 to 700 American Dollars per month depending if the meal plan is included. Universities and colleges usually have an accommodation office, which can help in the search for appropriate room. Students are advised to inform themselves through the university web sites or contact the housing department directly for information.

Visa and health insurance

International students remaining in the USA longer than 90 days (which is usually the case) are required to have an F1 Student Visa; participants in language programs or other less intensive programs with less than 18 hours per week do not need a special visa and can enter the country as a tourist. With regard to health insurance, international students are offered an insurance package; however, the more cost-effective option is organizing a health insurance at home; it generally covers all costs for medical services. Students are advised to inform themselves with the insurance details from their insurance company.