US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

US Study Abroad Guide for International Students 's photoBy Ernest Emeka
Tue Aug 01 2023
US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

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The United States of America is home to spectacular sceneries, recognizable icons, and bucket list destinations. Each of its brimming cities conjures notions of a better life, education, entertainment, cuisine, and culture. America draws visitors worldwide to experience its big open skies, snow-covered peaks, restaurant-loving cities, bluegrass, redwood forests, and beaches.

Most international students from different parts of the world, especially Africa, have found America as their study abroad dream country. But, whether you pick New York City or Texas, a closer look offers you more than education. Each city provides a unique style to what makes America grand.

 For instance, the easygoing charms of Florida, Portland's free-spiritedness and eco-consciousness, the magnificent views of San Francisco, or the extravagance of Nevada leave you mesmerized. 

Read: How to Get Your First Job as an International Student: A Guide

US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

Why should you study in the United States?

The United States accommodates everyone, which endears it to international students who don't feel out of place when they relocate for their studies. As a result, the country has the world's largest population of international students. Every year, the number of international students coming to America keeps increasing because of favourable cultural diversity and career support.

Studying in the United States allows you to make a life-changing decision about your future as you join more than one million international students in the country. Do you wish to study in the United States? Across the Horizon has created the ultimate guide to help you with this decision. First, we will go over all the basics of how to study in the United States.

Types of United States Higher Education Institutions

1.   State School/College/University

Each state in the U.S. has at least one university or college that offers students quality higher education at low rates. The respective state governments fund and equip these schools with state-of-the-art facilities. The state schools have different selection criteria, and students must meet a certain minimum percentage for admission.

2.   Private University/College

The private institutions are run privately and cost more than state schools.

3.   Community Colleges

Community colleges offer students two-year certification or associate degree, which can be transferred. In addition, community college graduates can transfer to universities or four-year colleges to complete their degrees. Meanwhile, these colleges offer ESL courses or other programs that prepare students for studying university-level courses.

4.   Technology Institutes

Technology institutions offer students four-year courses or programmes related to science and technology.

5.   Liberal Arts College

Liberal arts colleges allow students to study a 'major'; however, the students must take General Education courses in almost all other subjects offered. For instance, liberal arts schools offer students one expansive study area, whereas universities offer the same major in two or more degree areas. Therefore, you can decide to major in Mathematics but still, choose an engineering career.

The United States Study Abroad Requirements

The following documents need to be submitted:

·         Certification of English language proficiency (IELTS/ TOEFL)

·         Evidence of financial support (required for the I-20 form -)

·         Statement of Purpose (SOP)

·         Resume

·         Essays (If demanded by the university)

·         Photocopied score reports of GMAT / GRE / IELTS / TOEFL

·         Portfolio (For students applying for art and design courses and architecture programs)

·         Others (certificates/achievements at the state and national level and extracurricular activities)

·         At least two academic reference letters from professors who have taught you most recently. 

·         If you have work experience, then two letters of recommendation from the employer/manager who knows you well and can comment on your professional abilities.

·         Proof of funds

US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

United States Examinations

English Language Tests: Most U.S. universities require international students to pass IELTS or TOEFL within the required rate. However, you can enroll in any intensive language programme if you don’t get the required level before starting your academic program.

The required level of the IELTS test ranges between 5.5 and 6.0 for unconditional admission at the bachelor's level. However, you may reach 7.0 or 7.5 for your master's and doctorate studies. 

If you take TOEFL, you should rate from 80 to 100.

Other Examinations


·         Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT): SAT is accepted in most  American universities and some Canadian universities. This test measures your ability to address and solve problems, including math, reading, and academic skills.

·         American College Testing (ACT): ACT is similar to the SAT and consists of 4 parts, namely English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Natural Sciences.

·         Graduate Record Examinations (GRE): This test measures your English language skills, critical thinking, and quantitative and analytical skills.

·         Graduate Management Business Admission Test (GMAT)/Graduate Management Admission Test:  International students who want to study in any MBA programme must take this test. The test assesses applicants' analytical problem-solving ability, data exploitation, and logical thinking skills.

·         Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): Students take the test before completing their bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or any specialty that qualifies for studying human medicine. MCAT consists of 4 sections the chemical and physical principles of biology, critical and intellectual analysis skills, and the psychological, social, and biological bases of behaviour.

·         Dental Admission Testing Program (DAT):  DAT is conducted under the supervision of the American Dental Association. The test consists of four sections: natural sciences, cognitive ability, quantitative thinking, and intellectual analysis.

·         Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT): The test is for students who wish to enroll in the American College of Pharmacy. PCAT consists of 5 sections: Writing, Biology, Chemistry, Analytical Reading, and Quantitative Thinking.

·         Law School Admission Testing Program (LSAT):  LSAT is a basic test for admission to some law schools in America.


Assimilating the millions of information online about studying in the United States of America could be overwhelming. As an international student, you must research your options to find the university or college that suits your needs.

The first mistake many students make is trying to match themselves to schools. We recommend finding the school to reach your long-term goals and priorities. The United States has no official ranking system for its colleges and universities. The best institution should meet your academic, personal, and financial requirements.

You should start your research by attending a U.S. institution at least 12 to 18 months before your academic year. We have created some basic questions to help you define your study in the United States.

·         Why do you want to study in the United States?

·         Which colleges or universities will meet your needs? 

·         What are the application and financial aid deadlines?

·         Where will you fit in best? 

·         Will you need financial assistance?

·         Where do you want to live in the United States?

The Student Exchange Visitor Program must certify the school you want to attend in the U.S. Therefore, you must research the schools you wish to attend. First, you must evaluate your finances before applying to any school. Second, you must evaluate the best career and educational goals you want. 

Then, you should learn about the cost of living in the state you want to live in and the educational rules guiding the schools.

US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

Each year, international students enjoy special opportunities and financial aid from different organizations, including schools. Hence, you should start your financial planning because the competition is high. 

Search for information from websites like Pay4Me, Across the Horizon, and others for financial opportunities like in-state tuition benefits, scholarships, grants, waived application fees, and similar provisions.

US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

Read: Health Insurance for International Students: A Guide

University Application Deadlines in the U.S.

Universities offering undergraduate (Bachelor's) degrees in the U.S. offer two application deadlines: early admission and regular admission.

Fall (Autumn) Admission:

·         The early deadline happens between October and November of the previous year.

·         Regular admission deadlines happen between February and March of the same year.

A post-graduate (Master's or Ph.D.) degree application deadline depends on the semester in which you are enrolling (spring or fall intake). The fall admission deadline can be anywhere from January to March.

Spring Admission:

The deadline is between July and September of the previous year. However, the deadlines vary depending on the programmes.

The major intake season happens in September for major courses, while January is for a reasonably small number of courses.

Application to U.S. Schools

Here is the step to follow in preparation for your study in the United States: 

§  Search for colleges and courses

§  Contact schools and visit websites for information

§  Narrow down your list of schools

§  Take the entrance exams like SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS

§  Write SOPs and ask for LORs

§  Apply to the colleges which fit your interests

§  Appear for video interviews of the colleges that shortlisted you

§  If accepted, apply for a student visa

A letter of recommendation (LOR): LOR is a reference letter written by a third party(direct manager, professor, etc.) that talks about a student's characteristics, qualities, and capabilities as a recommendation.

Essay: Essays submitted by prospective students are essential to university admissions. Common topics include skills, experiences, career aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, and reasons for considering a particular school.

A Statement of Purpose (SOP): SOP is a prospective student’s introduction to the college and admission officers. SOP is always written in the first person and describes the reason for applying to a particular college. 

I20 and SEVIS

All F and M international students in the United States require a Form 1-20, the "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status." International students receive a Form 1-20 when they get accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school from their designated school official (DSO). 

If a prospective student wants to travel with eligible dependents, the student must obtain Form 1-20. 

However, please note that the name on Form I-20, a SEVP-certified school dictates the type of student visa you may obtain from the U.S. Department of State and the status you will need to maintain in the United States. 

You and your designated school official (DSO) must sign Form I-20. In addition, students under the age of 18 need their parents to sign Form I-20 for them.

US Study Abroad Guide for International Students

Form I-20 Uses

International students must keep their Form I-20 safe because they will need it throughout their student life cycle.


SEVIS stands for "Student and Exchange Visitor Information System ."The U.S. government uses SEVIS to maintain accurate and up-to-date information about non-immigrant visitors in the U.S. on a student visa (F and M) or exchange visitor visa (J-1) or their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2).

Without SEVIS, international students could not participate in a study or exchange program in the United States of America. However, you don’t have access to SEVIS, but your sponsor does.

Read: Paying SEVIS Fee for J1 Visa: A Comprehensive Guide

Schools in the United States use SEVIS to:

·         Issue I-20 forms for non-immigrants to obtain F and M visas.

·         Report a student's address, enrollment, courses of study, employment, and compliance to SEVIS

·         Keep their information up-to-date to offer study programs to international students continuously

·         Migrate the student’s SEVIS records to other schools

Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors use SEVIS to:

·         Issue DS-2019 forms to obtain J-1 visas and sometimes DS-7002 forms as well

·         Report exchange visitors’ address, program participation, employment, sites of activity, housing,  and compliance

·         Migrate exchange visitors’ SEVIS records to another sponsor

·         Keep visitor information up-to-date to offer exchange programs to exchange visitors continuously

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The Purpose of the I-901 SEVIS Fee

Congress mandates the I-901 SEVIS Fee to support the program office and the automated system that keeps track of students and exchange visitors and ensures that they maintain their status in the United States.

The fee is used to:

  • Hire and train SEVP Field Representatives
  • Support the current version of SEVIS and develop and deploy the next modifications to SEVIS
  • Staff and manage the SEVP Office to:
    • Develop SEVP policies and procedure 
  • Offer SEV
  • IS-related training, assistance, and problem resolution to the schools and exchange visitor program sponsors
  • Maintain enforcement oversight to ensure that:
    • Schools are maintaining accurate, timely information 
  • Students or exchange visitors who fail to maintain status either leave the United States or apply for reinstatement

After September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., immigration policies like SEVIS check biographical information against terrorist databases.

I-901 SEVIS Fee

You can only pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Fee after receiving Form I-20 from a DSO. The I-901 SEVIS Fee is mandatory and must be paid before you enter the United States. 

All prospective F and M students must provide the following before they can pay for their I-901 SEVIS fee:

·         Name, address, date of birth, and email address.

·         Country of birth and country of citizenship.

·         School Code as listed on the Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”

·         SEVIS Identification Number as listed on Form I-20.

The Form I-20 lists the international students' programme start date, 30 days before they can enter the United States.

 F-1 and M-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days before your course of study start date. 

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