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Here's What It's Like to Study Abroad in the U.S.

Many students around the world set their sights on studying in the U.S. If you are considering taking this step for your high school or college studies, or are just interested in a semester abroad, we've got you covered.

There are many great options available in the United States, and some programs even provide scholarships for qualifying foreign students. Read on to learn more about student visas, popular programs, and scholarship opportunities.

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Here's How to Study Abroad in the U.S.

Foreign students have long been drawn to the United States due the educational opportunities it affords both high school and college-age students. The U.S. offers a vast range of schools and programs, and there are many work-study and scholarship programs for anyone looking to make their studies affordable and attainable.

Before you get ahead of yourself, lets cover the basics for how to study abroad in the US, the benefits that come with choosing to study in the States, the best study abroad companies, the best study abroad programs, and everything in between.

Here are the main topics we will be covering on this page:

What Is Studying Abroad in America Really Like?

Are you considering enrolling in an academic program in the U.S.? There are numerous programs available to international students at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels. If you have always dreamed of coming to America for your studies, now is the time to make it happen!

As an international student, you will be able to enjoy the robust student life that is so prevalent in higher education in the U.S. From sports and clubs to travel opportunities, a student's experience in the university setting encompasses classroom study and a variety of activities outside of the classroom.

Let’s run through a few important points to know about the U.S. and what it’s like to be an international student in America. First, some quick facts:

Studying in the United States can be a challenge for international students, but for most, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

Pros of Studying Abroad in America:

  • Get access to a variety of degree options. The U.S. is known for its expansive variety of degrees and programs, meaning you are more likely to find a school and major that aligns with your career goals. 

  • Boost your career opportunities. Whether you’re looking to pursue a career in the U.S. or in your home country, study abroad experience can benefit your resume and increase your career opportunities. You may be seen as a more desirable candidate in your home country or have access to internship experience in the U.S. that can help you build relationships with future employers in the U.S.

  • Perfect your English. One great way to become fluent in a language is to live and immerse yourself in a culture where the language is widely spoken. If you’re not a native English speaker, even just a semester abroad in the U.S. can improve your English language skills.

Cons of Studying Abroad in America:

  • Education comes with a hefty price tag. It’s no secret that universities in the U.S. can be pricy. The average cost of tuition in the U.S. was $38,185 for one year at a private college for the 2020-2021 school year. The average tuition and fees for one year at a public college for an out-of-state-student were $22,698 for the 2020-2021 school year. International students often have to pay higher tuition than domestic students, so make sure to keep that in mind. However, there are some more affordable U.S. colleges for international students that offer a high-quality education too.

  • Most schools emphasize a holistic admission process. This can be a pro or con for different people. However, U.S. university admission teams often look for more than just good grades to decide whether a student is admitted. They also consider extracurricular activities, awards and competitions, and test scores (i.e., SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, TOEFL, or IELTS scores). This can be a surprise to some students who grew up in countries where extracurricular activities are less relevant to school admission.  

  • Medical treatment is expensive. Though the U.S. typically offers high quality healthcare, international students will be on the hook for covering the cost of any care received during their time in the country, so they might want to purchase international student travel health insurance.  


PRO TIP! Life as an international student is much easier for those that have a firm command of the English language. Of course, if your skills aren't yet where you want them to be, coming to study in the U.S. is an effective way to brush up and master the language.


How Do I Choose the Right Study Abroad Programs / Schools in the U.S.?

Similar to choosing a program in your home country, the study abroad program in which you decide to enroll will make a significant difference in your experience. Is a small college the right setting for you, or would you thrive at a large university? These are the types of questions that you should begin to ask yourself. 

There are many areas of study, such as medicine and engineering, where international students find the United States to offer the best educational experience. Both undergraduate and graduate studies in the U.S. are popular for a reason.

Because of all the available options for studying in America, there’s a good chance you’ll find exactly the type of program you want. Ideally, you will want to establish your education goals first so you can choose a program that works best for you (and that accounts for your preferred learning style). Choose an institution that is considered the best for your field of interest and start from there.

Many international students are in awe of just how large the U.S. is and how different the various regions of the country are. There are a number of study abroad organizations that can help you narrow down your options.

Note that some of the best college study abroad programs are located at the country’s biggest and best institutions. If you want to know which colleges are the best for international students, look for institutions where the student body includes 10% or more international students.

This is a helpful benchmark when beginning your search for the perfect institution for your study in the U.S. Utilize this metric when considering study abroad programs for college students and their graduate student counterparts.

If you already know where you want to study, try typing it into a search engine for a variety of “top schools” lists (i.e., “best study abroad programs in California”).


Study Abroad in USA Universities to Consider

If you want to study abroad in USA universities, there are plenty to pick from! Most every type of institution has an international student program, from large universities to small liberal arts colleges. There are even a host of excellent affordable options if you are looking to keep your educational expenses as low as possible. 

Each of these schools have an international student body of 17% or more, making them excellent candidates for your U.S. study abroad experience: 


DID YOU KNOW? Choosing a university that has a significant international student body (10% or greater) ensures that the school has the resources necessary for you to be successful as a foreign student. And, you will likely have access to guidance from personnel like Designated School Officials (DSOs) whose job is to help you transition into the school and have a successful experience.


These more affordable universities offer a quality education and are worth considering for students on a budget:

Consider these universities if you’re wanting to complete your medical residency in the U.S.:

Are you looking to get your master’s in engineering at an American university? Consider these top engineering schools that offer the most financial aid to international students: 


Apply for a Student Visa

Before you begin your studies, you will need to secure a student visa. An F-1 visa is the most popular visa required for international students and should be secured well before your scheduled departure date. This visa is designed for students studying at a university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution (ex., a language training program). 

Before you apply for your visa, make sure that the program you will attend is approved by the U.S. government. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires you to attend an approved institution. In most cases, you will need to get an F-1 visa once you have been accepted for an approved program. Double-check that you have all of the required paperwork for your visa and be sure to begin the application process early.


How to Study Abroad in the U.S. in High School 

There are many benefits to joining a study abroad in the U.S. high school program. Some of the best foreign exchange programs for high school students include language study programs, exchange student situations, and boarding schools. Whether you are interested in a semester abroad, studying overseas for one year, or undertaking your entire high school education in the United States, there are numerous options available. 

You will want to ensure that you choose an accredited program and that your diploma will be accepted by colleges and universities in your home country (or wherever you will continue your education).

There are also many high school exchange programs for international students that provide wonderful experiences for the participants who enroll. If you choose to have a study abroad in USA high school experience, you will surely enjoy the adventure of a lifetime! Many students prefer the exchange program option as they find it easier to adapt to life in a foreign country when living with a family, rather than at a boarding school.

Remember to consider purchasing high school study abroad medical insurance for your trip that meets the needs of your program/school and visa.

Learn more about what studying abroad in the U.S. in high school is like.


Can I Work and Study Abroad in the USA?

If you opt to work and study abroad in the USA, ensure your work is allowed under your student visa limitations and requirements. F-1 student visa holders can work and study in the USA in 2023 under one of four different categories:

  • On-campus employment
  • Off-campus employment
  • Curricular practical training (CPT)
  • Optional practical training (OPT)

When you begin your foreign educational experience, you will be put in contact with a Designated School Official (DSO) who will help you navigate your educational experience. They are the first point of contact when it comes to pursuing work opportunities during your time as an international student. 

We’ve created a complete guide to working in the U.S. while studying abroad. Learn about your work limitations and opportunities from our “4 Ways to Work with a Student Visa in the U.S.” guide.


Apply for These Study Abroad Scholarships

These are some reputable programs and sites that can assist you as you search for study abroad scholarships to help mitigate the cost of being an international student in the United States. If you concentrate on a specific area of your experience and pursue scholarships and grants in those areas, you may be more likely to be successful in your quest.

For example, if you excel in a certain sport, extracurricular activity, or area of academic study, start there. There are also many grants and scholarships awarded by government agencies, so be sure to check those too!

Read our “Best Study Abroad Scholarships and Grants (and How to Land One)” blog for an extensive list of scholarship opportunities and tips for applying.

In addition to study abroad scholarships, creating a reasonable budget that you can stick to is another effective way to enjoy a study abroad experience without creating financial hardship for yourself.


Start Your Study Abroad Preparations Now!

Now that you know what it’s like to study abroad in the U.S. and have learned about the advantages and disadvantages, the best schools for international students, visas, work and study tips, and scholarship opportunities, you can begin your preparations. Let our study abroad checklist guide you through the process and get after it! 

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