The United States of America (USA), commonly referred to as the United States (U.S.) or America, is a federal republic composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major territories and various possessions. The United States is a developed country and has the world’s largest national economy by nominal and real GDP, benefiting from an abundance of natural resources and high worker productivity. While the U.S. economy is considered post-industrial, the country continues to be one of the world’s largest manufacturers. Accounting for 34% of global military spending and 23% of world GDP, it is the world’s foremost military and economic power, a prominent political and cultural force, and a leader in scientific research and technological innovations.
Undergraduate studies can be done at two-year colleges. These schools are also known as junior or community colleges. There are over 1,000 two-year colleges in the United States. Students who choose a two-year program route in higher education study, earn an associate (also known as intermediate) degree. Associate degrees are awarded by a community, junior or technical college indicating that you have completed a program of study with a broad base in general education and a concentration in a specific area. In order to obtain an associate degree, you must earn 60 semester credit hours, which typically takes about two years. Programs generally consist of three parts: general education requirements, requirements within your major (or concentrated area of study) and electives (courses of your own choosing based on your interests).
There are different types of associate degrees. Both the A.A. degree (or Associate of Arts degree) and A.S. degree (Associate of Science degree) are designed to prepare students to transfer into a 4-year college or university. At the university, you can study further to earn a degree that will enable you to become a teacher at a preschool or elementary school.
Some community colleges have automatic enrollment agreements with a local college, meaning that the community college will provide the student with their first two years of study and the university provides the remaining years of study, occasionally all on one campus. Other associate degrees, such as an A.A.S. degree (Associate of Applied Science degree), are designed to prepare students to join the workforce immediately following their two years of study. These degrees, also called occupational or vocational, are sometimes preferred by employers in science and technology-related industries for mid-level jobs.
Over 2,000 colleges and universities offer four-year programs in which students earn a bachelor’s degree. Last year, over 1.3 million people in the United States earned this degree. Commonly called a “college degree,” the undergraduate bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete and is comprised of 120-128 semester credit hours (60 of which may be transferred from an associate degree at a community college – see 2 year programs above).
The four years spent as an undergraduate at a university are typically known as the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. The curriculum of many undergraduate programs is based on a “liberal arts” philosophy in which students are required to study courses from a range of subjects to form a broad educational foundation. These general education courses include study in English composition, social sciences, humanities, history, mathematics and natural or physical sciences.
Once they have met the core curriculum requirements, students at most institutions are asked to choose a specific field of study, also known as the major. Your major should be in an academic area that is of great interest to you, and one in which you will likely seek a career in the future. The final two years are spent taking more courses that are more directly related to your major. Other four-year colleges and universities emphasize preparation for special professional areas—fine arts, pharmacy, engineering, business, agriculture, and other specialized fields.
Unlike other undergraduate models, degrees in law and medicine are not offered at the undergraduate level in the US. Instead, they are completed as professional study after receiving a bachelor’s degree. Neither law nor medical schools require or prefer a specific undergraduate major, although medical schools do have set prerequisite courses that must be taken before enrollment. Undergraduate students who are preparing to attend medical school following their undergraduate careers are known as pre-med.
The two types of bachelor’s degrees typically offered are B.A. degrees (Bachelor of Arts degrees) and B.S. degrees (Bachelor of Science degrees). If you choose to earn a B.A., the majority of your coursework will typically be in the arts, such as social sciences, humanities or fine arts. Students who earn a B.S. degree take the majority of their courses in life, physical or mathematical sciences.
Other, more specialized bachelor’s degrees include:
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.)
Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.)
Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs (B.S.P.A)
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.)
Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.)
Bachelor of Architecture Degree (B.Arch.)
Bachelor of Design (B.Des.)
Students who major in certain fields such as business, engineering or science find that the curriculum is often more tightly structured than it is in the humanities or socials sciences. Business, science and engineering majors may have to take more courses related to their major field of study and have fewer electives, or optional courses. Following graduation from undergraduate studies, many students choose to go on to earn a graduate degree.
Some students choose to continue their learning beyond the four years of study as an undergraduate by going on to receive a graduate education. This specialized advanced study can result in either a master’s degree or a doctoral degree.
Graduate school—often shortened to “grad school”—is a school that awards advanced academic degrees to students who have previously earned an undergraduate degree. A distinction is generally made between graduate schools and professional schools, which offer specialized advanced degrees in professional fields such as medicine, nursing, business, engineering, or law.
Because of the size and variety of higher educational institutions in the United States, it can be difficult to determine which school will offer a program that is best suited to your goals and interests. For graduate students, the research or study facilities available are critical, as independent research is often a crucial component to the graduate school education. Potential graduate students will also want to look at the publication records of the faculty in a chosen department.
These factors are probably your best measures of quality for a particular school and/or program, although you should remember that even a “good” department might not have a top professor on the specialization for which you are looking to study.
Provides education and training in a specialized branch or field.
May be either academic or professional.
Most programs offer a thesis and non-thesis option.
Generally requires one to three years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree.
There is a variety of types of master’s offered in the U.S., but the two most basic are the Master’s of Arts (M.A.) and Master’s of Science (M.S.). Students, in these areas, typically spend between two and three years studying to earn a master’s degree, though it is possible to earn some degrees in just one year. In general, master’s degrees require that you complete six to eight advanced courses, in addition to an intensive study project and/or a thesis (a long paper based on independent scholarly research). Some graduate programs offer internships, which provide a chance to work in your specific field of study with the sole purpose of gaining knowledge and experience.
Graduate education is different from the undergraduate level of study, in that all of your coursework is relevant to the academic area on which you have chosen to focus. You will probably be required to take certain courses, but you may also have the chance to take more electives than you did as an undergraduate. The coursework tends to be more challenging, but you are only studying material that is directly related to your chosen field, so many students find it more interesting. Graduate students also tend to find that invaluable networking opportunities with their graduate student peers and professors are a result of their study experience.
Only 3% of Americans earn a master’s degree, so you may well find that a graduate education is a benefit if you choose to stay in the U.S. when you enter into a profession. A personal sense of accomplishment and achievement often accompany the earning of a master’s degree.
Is designed to prepare students for college faculty and research scholar positions, as well as for other careers that require advanced knowledge and research skills.
May be academic (such as a doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D.), professional (such as a doctor of education, or EdD), or doctor of business administration (DBA).
Requires candidates to pass a comprehensive examination and complete a piece of original research leading to a dissertation.
Usually required five to eight years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Some programs might require applicants to have completed a master’s degree.
The doctoral degree, or Ph.D., is the highest academic credential that a student can earn in the U.S., making it arguably the most prestigious. In 2005, U.S. institutions awarded more than 45,000 doctorates. On average, a student may spend four to six years earning his or her doctorate following receipt of the master’s degree.
Doctoral coursework typically consists of three to four semesters of full-time advanced classes, usually done in small seminars. Students must then pass written and/or oral exams before beginning a period (usually at least a year) of intense independent research on a highly specialized topic relevant to their studies. This original research will ultimately result in the student spending a year or more writing a book-length thesis, or dissertation. Once the work is complete, students earn a Ph.D. only after defending the thesis to a committee of three or five professors in the program who have helped to guide their research efforts throughout the student’s years of study.
Many Ph.D. students find that one of the benefits to this course of study is the mentoring that they receive from their professors and other faculty in their academic department. Because so much research and guidance is needed in doctoral work, particularly when preparing the dissertation, many students find that they form close relationships with people who share their interest in a specialized area of study.
Financial assistance offered to international students can be extremely competitive.
TYPES OF AID or FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
Teaching, Research or Graduate Assistantships
Living costs vary greatly depending on where one lives in USA. Assuming a student with economical ways of living, the average cost comes to $12000 to $18000 per year. That gives a monthly average of $1000 to $1500. This includes your accommodation (room and board), travel, food, some books, some clothing and may be some entertainment expenses too.
Working as a student
On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and it does not require USCIS approval. However, although F-1 status includes an on-campus employment privilege, on-campus employment opportunities at most schools are limited. Even if you can obtain a job on campus, you may not rely on it to prove financial resources for the year, and often these jobs are not related to your studies. Many schools do require that you obtain permission from the International Student Office prior to accepting any on-campus employment, and may not permit such employment in a student’s first semester or year.
You must maintain valid F-1 status
You can work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session
You can work full-time on campus during holidays and vacation periods if you intend to register for the next academic semester
The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident
International students in the U.S. in valid F-1 immigration status are permitted to work off-campus in optional practical training (OPT) status both during and after completion of their degree. Rules established by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) govern the implementation of OPT, and all OPT employment requires prior authorization from USCIS and from your school’s International Student Office.
You can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but you cannot begin employment until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and you have been enrolled for at least a year. You do not need to have a job offer to apply for your OPT EAD, and your OPT employment can occur anywhere in the US. Start early—USCIS takes up to 90 days to process your application—and make sure you work closely with your school’s International Student Office. As with everything you will do while in the U.S., permission is based on maintaining lawful F-1 status and your International Student Office is there to help you maintain that status throughout your stay.
General OPT Requirements:
Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
Student must maintain lawful F-1 status
Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total – part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part-time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months)
Students can be authorized for 12 months of OPT for each successive level of degree achieved – for instance, you can do 12 months of OPT after receiving your undergraduate degree, go back to graduate school, and then do 12 months of OPT after receiving your graduate degree.
Pre-completion OPT (students are still in school) and post-completion OPT (students have completed their degree) each have different rules:
Students must be enrolled in school full-time
Students may only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
Students may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as the student will return to school after the break)
Student may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree
After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full-time (40 hours/week)
All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of the degree
Be mindful of the travel regulations governing F-1 students on OPT. If you leave the country after completion of your degree, but before receiving your EAD and obtaining a job, you may not be readmitted. You can leave the country after completion of your degree if you have your EAD and a job, but make sure you bring everything that you’ll need to get back in (including valid passport, valid EAD card, valid F1 visa, all your I-20s with page 3 endorsed for travel by your international student advisor within the past 6 months, and a letter of employment, including dates of employment and salary).
In April 2008, the Department of Homeland Security updated their OPT requirements for students who are studying certain degree programs so that OPT can be extended for an additional 17 months, up to a total of 29 months of OPT. This was instituted to plug the gap between students who completed their OPT and did not have a chance to file for an H1B visa due to the time frames and visa caps that exist on the H1B visa. Students can now extend their OPT so they still have the opportunity to apply for an H1B visa.
The special extension of the OPT program is only available to those who are employed by companies who are enrolled in the E-Verify program, and you have to be studying one of the following subjects:
Computer Science Applications
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an off-campus employment option for F-1 students when the practical training is an integral part of the established curriculum or academic program.
CPT employment is defined as “alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” To qualify, the work experience must be required for your degree, or academic credit must awarded. And yes, you can get paid for CPT employment. Prior authorization by your school’s International Student Office and notification to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is required.
To be eligible for CPT employment:
You must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F-1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)
The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit
You must have received a job offer that qualifies before you submit your CPT authorization request
Your job offer must be in your major or field of study
Your International Student Office must authorize you for CPT. Once you receive CPT authorization, you can only work for the specific employer and for the specific dates authorized (unlike with OPT or severe economic hardship off-campus employment, where you can work anywhere in the US). Your CPT authorization will also specify whether you are approved for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT employment. While in school, you can only be approved for part-time CPT.
Regardless of whether you are approved for full or part-time on CPT, there is no limit to how long you can work. However, if you work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT. If you work part-time on CPT, or full-time on CPT for less than 12 months, you are still eligible for all of your allowable OPT. So make sure you watch the dates and hours closely – don’t jeopardize your OPT.
As with all employment, you should work closely with your International Student Office. The general rules will apply somewhat differently to undergraduates, graduate students and Ph.D. candidates, and they can guide you. The office can help you determine your eligibility for CPT, make sure your job offer qualifies, and make sure you follow all necessary steps in applying to USCIS. They also have to authorize your CPT, so you have no choice – you have to work with them. But they are pros, especially when it comes to USCIS regulations, so use them – they are there to help you.
Many schools in the United States offer work and study programs that coordinate immediate employment through CPT programs. Not only does this give international students the opportunity to help cover the costs of their education, but they will at the same time gain valuable work experience and obtain their master’s degree.
English Proficiency Exams :
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
PTE Academic (Pearson Test of English Academic)
Types of Visas for U.S. Study
The two most common visas for U.S. study are the F-1 Student Visa and J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. Please note you will not have to choose which visa to apply for. Your university or sponsoring organization will determine your visa type.
F-1 Student Visa: Most students pursuing full-time study at an educational institution recognized by the U.S. government will enter the U.S. on an F-1 Student Visa. Spouses or children accompanying F-1 visa recipients will travel on an F-2 visa. Please note that spouses are not able to work but may accompany and/or apply for their own visa to the U.S. to work or study.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa: The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa is for students, visiting scholars or lecturers pursuing an exchange program. For example, Fulbright scholars and many students on short-term study abroad programs from Indian universities will travel to the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Spouses or children accompanying J-1 visa recipients will travel on a J-2 visa. Please note that spouses are able to work when permission is obtained in advance.