The United States of America (also referred to as the United States, the U.S., the USA, or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district. The country is situated mostly in central North America, where its forty-eight contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. At 3.79 million square miles and with over 310 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and the third largest both by land area and population. It is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries. The U.S. economy is the world’s largest national economy.

Indigenous peoples of Asian origin have inhabited what is now the mainland United States for many thousands of years. The current United States Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 its ratification the following year made the states part of a single republic with a strong central government.

The USA is a top university destination choice for study abroad and hosts more international students than any other country in the world. Her’s why:

    • World renowned education

      US degrees are recognized around the world for their academic excellence and enhanced learning experiences. American universities include many prestigious institutions that are respected globally. In the 2014 Academic Ranking of World Universities:

      • 16 universities in the USA are ranked in the world’s top 20 universities
      • 52 US universities are ranked the top 100 universities worldwide
      • 77 American universities ranked the best 200 universities in the world

      Getting an American degree is the key to a successful future. The connections you make and the many work experience opportunities will open the door to a prosperous and rewarding career.

    • Academic choice and flexibility

      The USA has one of the world’s best university systems, offering flexible education opportunities at over 4,000 institutions. With EQUALS, there are routes to bachelor’s degrees for both high school and undergraduate (transfer) applicants, and graduate student options leading to fast-tack master’s degrees, graduate certificates, and prestigious MBAs.

      Bachelor’s degrees in the USA include core courses, such as math, history, literature, and communications in the first 2 years. This gives a broad-based knowledge across many disciplines – essential for competing in the global workplace. American curricula are flexibly designed to allow students to change their ‘major’ after 1 or 2 years. There is a huge choice of elective courses so students can tailor their degree to their interests and strengths.

      It is also common for students to change university after 2 years of study in the USA, or to transfer into a US university after studying in another country. It’s not necessary to complete all 4 years at the same institution in order to get a degree from there. This flexibility means students can improve their grades for transfer to a more selective institution.

    • Career preparation

      There will be many opportunities for you to gain practical, career-related experience during your US university studies. Cooperative (co-op) education and internship programs are widely available and often integrated into program curricula to make it easy for you to build up your resume before graduation.

    • Optional Practical Training

      Studying on an F-1 visa also allows you to gain temporary employment authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT), either during or immediately following your degree studies. Through OPT, you can work:

      • up to 12 months full-time per degree level (e.g., bachelor’s, master’s) completed in the USA, or
      • up to 29 months per degree level if you complete a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering or mathematics)

      Many of these opportunities are paid, allowing you to start paying down the cost of your US education soon after graduation.

    • Experiencing a different culture

      Studying in the USA and exploring a culture different from your own will help you gain essential life skills such as improving your confidence, communication and social skills. You can choose to travel around, see world famous attractions and immerse yourself in the American culture and language.


As you begin your school search, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the American education system. Understanding the system will help you narrow your choices and develop your education plan.

Academic Calendar

The U.S. academic calendar typically runs from September to May and can be divided into two academic terms of 16-18 weeks known as semesters. Alternatively, some schools may operate on a quarter or trimester system of multiple terms of 10-12 weeks.


More than 4,500 accredited institutions make up U.S. higher education in the United States. Unlike many countries, U.S. higher education institutions are not centrally organized or managed, but are accredited on a national or regional level by independent accrediting bodies.

Most international students in the United States hold an F-1 visa, which is the U.S. non-immigrant student visa. F-1 students are allowed to work in the United States, but only under certain conditions and in accordance with complex guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

With all employment is contingent on remaining within the terms and restrictions of your F-1 visa, there are several categories of employment during the term of your stay as an F-1 student in the United States.

On-campus employment is the most freely available, and then there are four categories of off-campus employment

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Economic Hardship
  • International Institutions

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and it does not require USCIS approval. However, although F-1 status includes an on-campus employment privilege, on-campus employment opportunities at most schools are limited. Even if you can obtain a job on campus, you may not rely on it to prove financial resources for the year, and often these jobs are not related to your studies. Many schools do require that you obtain permission from the International Student Office prior to accepting any on-campus employment, and may not permit such employment in a student’s first semester or year.

For on-campus work, an F-1 student is subject to the following rules:

  • You must maintain valid F-1 status
  • You can work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session
  • You can work full-time on campus during holidays and vacation periods if you intend to register for the next academic semester
  • The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident

The definition of on-campus employment includes:

  • Work performed on the school’s premises directly for your school (including work affiliated with a grant or assistantship).
  • Work performed for on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria (Employment with on-site commercial firms which do not provide direct student services, such as a construction company building a school building, is not deemed on-campus employment for the purposes of the rule).
  • Work performed at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. The educational affiliation must be associated with the school’s established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. In any event, the employment must be an integral part of the student’s educational program.

Regardless of citizenship, applicants whose first language is not English must generally take one of the following exams and achieve the indicated scores in order to demonstrate English proficiency.

Undergraduate Applicants

All applicants (including US citizens) whose first language is not English can prove English proficiency by one of the following:

  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) – TOEFL code 5007
    • – Internet based test (iBT) score of 80 or higher.* (Sub-scores for each section of the TOEFL should be 20 or higher.)
    • – Paper-based test score of 550 or higher
  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
    • – Composite score of 6.5 or higher. (Sub-scores for each section of the IELTS should be 6.0 or higher.)
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE)
    • – Score of 53 or higher
  • SAT Critical Reading score of 530 or higher
  • TOEFL/IELTS is not required of non-native English speakers who are educated in US or IB secondary schools inside or outside the US, or in countries** where English is the native language, for at least 4 consecutive years (grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 or equivalent) where English is the only medium of instruction and no ESL courses have been taken.
  • Undergraduate Transfer applicants who have completed two academic English writing courses from a U.S. college or university with a grade of “C” or better from regionally accredited, AG rated institutions or a “B” or better from provisionally accredited, AP rated institutions, are exempt from submitting scores from these examinations.

*To be considered competitive, a 90 iBT score or above is recommended. Sub-scores for each section of the TOEFL should be 20 or higher.

**English speaking countries include: UK, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (except Quebec).

Graduate Applicants

The general English Proficiency requirements for graduate study at American University are given below.

    • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) iBT: Score 100 or higher (600 on the paper-based test)
    • IELTS (International English Language Testing System) – Score 7.0 or higher
    • Applicants who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a US-accredited institution in the United States (or abroad) may be exempt from the English-language proficiency test requirement.

Please see your individual school or college for more information on the English Proficiency Requirement.

The visa category for most international students is F1, and we have more information on that and other categories below. International students visas are issued and regulated by USCIS, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, and the whole process of obtaining a visa to either study in the USA or to work can be quite daunting.

There are general requirements to gain entry into the USA, in addition to the specific requirements of each visa category. In general you must be:

  • Healthy – No inoculations are required to enter the US, unless you were recently in a country with epidemics such as cholera and yellow fever.
  • Law-abiding – Criminal behavior is grounds for deportation.
  • Able to support yourself financially during your stay.
  • You intend to leave the US after you complete your studies.

Visa & Documents

F1 Student Visa

The F1 Visa is the most popular/ common visa that is issued to incoming students into the USA. Generally it is issued to students who are coming to the USA to study on an academic program or to come to learn English as a Second Language. F1 students must maintain full-time student status.

J1 Student Visa

The J1 Visa is issued to students who need to have practical training as part of the academic program; however, there is also a large program called the “Work/ Travel Program” under the J1 Visa where students can come to the USA for three to four months to gain employment and travel the USA.

M1 Student Visa

An M1 visa is issued to a student who is going to attend a non-academic or vocational school.

If you are applying for an F-1 Student Visa from your home country, you will begin by selecting a school in the U.S. where you want to study and applying to the school. You may also want to begin looking into housing information at this time.

If your application is accepted you will obtain Form I-20 from the DSO (Designated School Official) and pay the I-901 SEVIS receipt. You will be added to the SEVIS database with an individual ID number.

After the school enters your information into the SEVIS database, you will receive Form I-20 and schedule the “Initial Entry Visa Interview” with your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Required Documents


A prospective foreign student is required to demonstrate Proof of Availability of Funds when he applies for F-1 student visa in or outside of the United States. USCIS or an Officer at the local US Embassy need to be sure that the student can live in the US and pay his tuition without working, which is permitted for foreign students only under rare circumstances. Proof of Availability of Funds can be demonstrated either by the prospective student directly, or through Sponsorship.


The official title of SEVIS form I-20 is “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Studies.” This form tells USCIS who you are, where you live, what you want to study, when your classes begin, how long your studies are going to take, and how you are going to pay for your tuition, room, and board while you are in school. If you are granted F-1 status, your form I-20 is the most important document you will posses, in addition to your Form I-94. Current form I-20 also serves as evidence of the legality of your presence in the U.S.

Designated School Official (DSO)

Each school approved by USCIS to educate foreign students must have at least one Designated School Official (DSO) who is responsible for the school’s compliance with the USCIS rules regarding foreign students and foreign applicants. The DSO creates and updates an electronic record for each foreign student in SEVIS. The DSO is involved in enrollment, change of major, change of school, practical training, visa extension, visa reinstatement, school completion, and school withdrawal processes concerning the foreign student. The DSO issues and signs all necessary SEVIS forms including form I-20. Every foreign student interacts with the DSO either directly or through the Admissions of Foreign Students office staff.

Both the tuition costs to study in the USA and living costs vary considerably between different universities/colleges, educations and cities. Tuition is usually between $5,000 and $50,000 per year. Costs for food and living are normally between $5,000 and $11,000 dollars per year. In addition to paying tuition, you need money for travelling, course literature, and personal expenses.

Student Accommodation in the United States

There are three accommodation options for students in the United States:

  • On-campus accommodation: you live on the school’s campus in a student room or student apartment. This accommodation can be more expensive, but you get to know a lot of students very fast. On-campus accommodation can be good for your first year at the school to be a part of campus life and meet other students. Meals may also be included in your on-campus accommodation.
  • Off-campus accommodation: You hire a private/shared apartment outside of campus, usually for a lower price than living on-campus. The International Office at the university can usually help you with information about private apartments and where to look for them. It can also be useful for temporary accommodation in the first few weeks upon arriving.
  • Host family accommodation: This accommodation alternative is only offered by a few universities. It is more expensive compared to living off-campus, but gives you the extra support of a family and ingrains you in American culture quickly.