Top 5 Considerations When Preparing To Study In The USA

Preparing to study abroad can be both thrilling and daunting; you may feel ready for the academic challenges, but what about the more mundane issues which need to be faced? Here are five ways of making sure your transition into an international student goes perfectly.

1. Arrange a visa in plenty of time

Anyone attending an academic institution in the United States will need an F-1 visa if they hold a foreign passport. Obtaining a non-immigrant visa can be a lengthy process, so it’s best to act as soon as you have a letter of acceptance from a university. To find out what the specific procedures are for you, visit the visa section of the US embassy website which relates to your country. You’ll be able to find out more about arranging an interview and a check to see whether any additional steps are required. The interview itself is usually quite short, so be prepared to explain your reasons for studying in the US, your financial plans and what you intend to do after the course finishes.

2. Organise methods of staying in touch with the people who matter

When you’re miles from home with continents and oceans in between you and your loved ones, it can be difficult to keep in touch as much as you’d like. This can be a stressful situation for everyone concerned; your family will want regular updates on your US adventure, and you may feel homesick at times and need reassurance from a familiar face. Although you are likely to be contending with a packed social life and shared Wi-Fi, there are ways to stay connected when you take a postgraduate course in the USA. Email, blogging, Facebook and WhatsApp are all excellent options, but if you’d prefer to speak with friends and family, Skype is the best tool. You can see the other person, as well as chatting and interacting with them in real time. If you intend to go home for the holidays or a special occasion, always plan those journeys ahead. Flights booked in advance can be cheaper and are one less chore to worry about.

3. Contact members of your new student body before arriving

American universities tend to have a strong social media presence and well-maintained web pages. These give you the chance to interact with other students and representatives before even arriving, so you’ll feel more at home when you do. Use the university website to search for clubs and societies that interest you, and then reach out to the group leaders before arriving. Some universities, like Yale, assign each student a Student Organisations Consultant, this person will act as your point of contact and help you get settled in to the social scene.

4. Find good student accommodation

Your search for decent student accommodation in the USA should start as soon as your place is confirmed. Living on campus is not suitable for everyone, especially older postgraduates, but if you apply early it can be a convenient solution at least. If you plan to live off campus then get in touch with your university’s International Student Office if they have one, or the general accommodation centre. They will be able to offer a wealth of advice, along with practical assistance like suggesting contacts, so you can have a place ready for when you touch down. There are some useful websites that can be a great source of information, but beware of scammers and don’t part with any money until you are sure the landlord is reputable. Look for a place that fulfils your requirements, be it in terms of proximity to college, a quiet neighbourhood location, or a nice pool. Once you’ve chosen a budget, stick to it – even if that means your accommodation isn’t set up when you arrive. Just stay in touch with your university and keep them in the loop. There are often apartments and rooms to let which aren’t advertised online, so ask staff for help and take advantage of their local knowledge.

5. Research your new hometown in the US

It’s important to get to know your university town so you can find your way around when you first arrive and feel more at home. You can check out your university's website for more details on life on and off campus, but it’s also a good idea to look at independent sources of information. Wikipedia can give a reliable overview of the climate, infrastructure and geography of the place, and guide books/travel websites like Lonely Planet offers a more in depth view.

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