by Theodore Olsen
You�ve finished school. You�ve got your whole future ahead of you. Lots of questions. Lots of possible answers. One possibility is to continue your studies in the US. But how do you go about it? What steps do you take to ensure that your American educational experience is a success?
Choosing a School
The first thing you have to consider is which US school is right for you. The American secondary educational system is extensive, offering everything from professional certificates to doctoral degrees. There are schools of every size, from small, private institutions to large, bustling state university campuses. The choices seem limitless.
Your first decision to make is your course of study. Determining what you want your future career to be will help determine what sort of school you need to attend. Can you acquire your education at a trade or vocational school? Do you need an Associates, Bachelor�s or even higher degree? Once you�ve determined the type of educational institution to attend, you�ll have to decide to which school you send your application for admission. If possible, do some research, especially among the school�s international student community. Just because a school is considered to be prestigious in one or two areas does not mean that all of its programs are just as strong. Weaknesses are inevitable. Make sure your program of interest is considered one of the best the school has to offer. If not, choose another school. Community attitudes are also something to consider. You don�t want to place yourself in an unfriendly atmosphere, on or off campus.
Each school also has its own admission requirements. Contact the school you are interested in to ensure that the information you have is up-to-date and accurate. Research other schools, too, in addition to just one. Many large colleges and universities receive numerous applications but accept very few new students, while other schools accept nearly everyone who applies. Spare the heartache of being rejected by having an alternative second choice already picked out.
Obtaining Your Student Visa
You�ve been selected by the school of your choice. Now, how to you go about getting here? You must first apply for a student visa. A visa allows you to travel to a US port-of-entry and apply to the immigration officer there for entry into the country. It does not guarantee entry will be given, but it is the next step in your US academic success. There are several different types of US student visas � the F - 1, the J - 1, and the M - 1.
The F-1 visa is for students studying at an accredited US college or university, or studying English at a college or university, or attending an English language course at an intensive language institution. It is the most common student visa applied for and granted to foreign students.
The J � 1 type student visa is for those who are participating in a student exchange program. It allows you to trade places with an American student for a specified period of time.
The M � 1 student visa is for those pursuing technical or vocational, but not academic, education in the United States. Nonacademic programs offer educational opportunities for students wishing to pursue careers that do not require academic degrees. Many are certificate or diploma programs.
Whichever type of visa you determine you will need, you�ll need a form from your chosen college or institution, either an I-20 or a DS-209. These forms state your entry qualification as an accepted and enrolled student in a US school. You�ll also need to schedule and complete a visa interview at the embassy or consulate nearest you. Since acquiring the appropriate form and interview can take some time, it is essential that you begin well in advance of the start of your courses. You cannot enter the US more than 30 days before the start of your classes, but it still better to be completely ready to arrive than to chance being late or even hurried.
Your First Weeks as a US Student
You�ll want to arrive early enough to settle in, making your dorm or apartment a comfortable, pleasant place to live. First year students, no matter how fervently engaged in learning and social activities, tend to experience feelings of loneliness, homesickness and culture shock. Creating a warm, inviting, safe place to come home to at the end of a bad day is important to both your mental and emotional state.
You�ll also want to acquaint yourself with the campus and the community surrounding it, whether New York City or a small town in rural America. Being familiar with campus will help you navigate buildings and classrooms, easing some of the anxieties often associated with new environments. Getting to know your school�s community can offer you new and exciting cultural experiences as you get to hear, see, smell, taste and touch �real America.� You may find a haven away from the hustle and bustle of campus, or a religious or cultural center that can make you feel a little closer to home.
Most large US colleges and universities have social groups specifically for foreign students. Some are culture or language specific, while others may just offer the company of other students far from home These groups or clubs can be excellent places to meet and socialize, especially if your language skills make socializing with English speaking student uncomfortable.
Keeping a journal, scrapbook or photo album will create an invaluable memoir of your time spent in the US as a student. Begin early, taking photos or writing journal entries from your first day. Not only will they serve to preserve memories you may otherwise forget, they can offer a record of your journey, from being a �stranger in a strange land� to a confident, comfortable �citizen of the world� upon graduation.
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