Challenges for International Students in the United States

Eric Rosenberg
Challenges for International Students in the United States

Are you one of many students from all over the world who has applied to study in the United States- or are you thinking about studying in the U.S.?

The U.S. is home to several of the top universities in the world and offers many opportunities for research and other academic endeavors. Whether it is finding international student aid, dealing with cultural differences, or finding a solution to an academic problem, international students in the United States face many challenges.

Even in light of these challenges, you can find a solution that works for you so that you have the opportunity to study at the American university of your choice.


Cultural Challenges

When you arrive in the United States, you will be immersed in a different culture than you are used to at home. Known as "culture shock," the intense feelings of homesickness and irritability you may experience when traveling to a new country with a different language and customs can feel overwhelming at first. American customs at restaurants, in the classroom, and in everyday life can feel strange if you are used to another culture.

challenges for international students in the united states

For example, in Japan it is common to bow when meeting someone new, but in the U.S. this would be highly irregular.

In Spain, people commonly touch and bump into each other in busy areas, but in the U.S. people value "personal space" and do not wish to be touched in any way by strangers.

To get up to speed quickly, on everything from tipping to communication styles, check out the following tips to overcoming cultural barriers in the United States:




Financial Challenges

College in the United States is expensive. Out-of-state tuition at a public university costs "an arm and a leg," and private schools cost even more.

According to, a moderate budget for a private college is $47,831 per year. With that kind of expense, it is important to figure out how to pay for tuition and expenses before you arrive.

challenges for international students in the united states

An additional financial challenge many international visitors to the United States don't expect is the cost of health insurance. There is no automatic, universal healthcare for Americans or visitors, so make sure you get good insurance through your university.

If your university does not offer you a health plan, look into international student health insurance, such as StudentSecure from WorldTrips, to make sure you don't end up with big medical bills in addition to your education, room, and board costs.



  • There is a scholarship for nearly every topic of study and minority group. Other scholarships are merit-based (based on high achievement and extracurricular activity) or need-based (applied when an applicant meets certain financial criteria). Some are available for United States citizens only, but many are available for anyone. You can't get the scholarship unless you apply, so talk to your school's financial aid office for scholarships specific to your school, and look at an online directory like Fastweb for more options.

  • Apply for other financial aid, which may include grants and student loans. While most student loans are only available to United States citizens, your university's financial aid office may have additional options for international students.

  • Work a part-time job. Some on-campus jobs for students include positions in the school cafeteria, bookstore, library, or gymnasium. While it's unlikely you'll be able to earn enough to pay the majority of your expenses, a part-time job can help cover books, clothing, and personal expenses. Be sure to note U.S. working regulations for international students.


Check out our solution guide for international students facing challenges in the U.S.


Social Challenges

challenges for international students in the united states

Not only do students and teachers interact differently in the United States, but people interact differently in social situations as well.

Starting out as a new student in a program abroad can feel intimidating and lonely, so try to step out of your comfort zone and get to know as many people as you can while you are getting acquainted with your new home for the duration of your studies.



  • Get to know other students in your program who are going through the same social changes. Attend optional meetings and outings and sign up for any weekend trips or excursions.

  • Get involved in student groups on campus—volunteer and academic groups are generally a great place to start. Your university should have a listing of all active student groups available.

  • Befriend local students, as they can help get you acquainted with the school and introduce you to new friends. Sit next to them in class and offer to partner with them on projects.

  • Attend local events. Free apps like Now and Like a Local can zero in on your location to help you find cool spots and happenings nearby.

Before you head overseas, be sure to check out these disadvantages of study abroad!


Academic Challenges

challenges for international students in the united states

With so much else going on, it can be easy to focus on everything but your school work, but remember that your academic experience is what brought you to the United States.

While your studies should always come first, this can be a challenge if you discover that U.S. language and classroom expectations are different than in your home country.

Follow these solutions, focus on your studies, and embrace your new culture so you can have an educational and fulfilling experience.



  • Talk to the professor. While it may be intimidating to talk to a professor who lectures in front of hundreds of students at a time, his or her job is to teach. Take advantage of office hours if you are unable to stay after class.

  • Ask your guidance counselor for a student mentor's email address and connect with him or her.

  • If you are not clear on an assignment, talk to the professor, a teacher's assistant, or another student from your class. In America, study groups are common. Joining a study group for your difficult classes can help you learn better, collaborate with other students, and give you an opportunity to receive a little extra help clarifying assignments and coursework.


Intl Student Financial Aid Guide

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