Is it easy for foreign students to study at college or university in the US?

This is a very good question, with several answers.  

Here are some positives (YES answers):
1. The US has more than 4,000 public and private colleges and universities, ranging from technical colleges (where students learn a trade such as mechanical repair or hair care) all the way up to advanced degrees at prestigious universities (getting a PhD from Harvard, Yale or Princeton). The choice and variety of college and university educational programs is enormous, giving students the chance to go to the university of their dreams.

2. Most colleges and universities will accept any student who fits their admission criteria (TOEFL and SAT exam scores, secondary school grades, academic recommendations, and leadership experience), regardless of the student's ethnic or racial background. In the US, it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, age, country of origin or physical abilities. At least theoretically, all applicants have the same chance at being admitted, regardless of their parents' political views or social standing at home.

3. Many colleges and universities want to diversify their student body, and actively recruit foreign students. These universities may have special orientation programs for foreign students, including administrative assistance in obtaining student visas. Some universities offer counseling and on-going support for foreign students.

But there are some negatives, as well:
1. It's not easy to get the proper visa. The US government requires the following qualitifactions to get a student visa:
The Immigration and National Act is very specific with regard to the requirements which must be met by applicants to qualify for the student visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet student visa requirements including:

  • Have a residence abroad, with no immediate intention of abandoning that residence;
  • Intend to depart from the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
  • Possess sufficient funds to pursue the proposed course of study.

2. US colleges and universities are not free. Some public institutions are relatively inexpensive, but only for legal residents of the states where they are located. The average cost of college or university tuition ranges from about $3000 per year to more than $40,000 per year. There are few scholarships on the undergraduate level for foreign students, and most universities expect foreign students to pay for their entire educational experience (tuition, room and board, books, fees, etc.)

3. Adjusting to American student life is difficult and frustrating. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the most respected American publication reporting on colleges and universities, a Study Abroad  administrator says this about foreign students compared to American students :

That's why the toughest question you can ask a foreign student is also the easiest you can ask an American: "What do you  think?" Many foreign students don't know what they think because their parents and teachers just order them about. Their education alienates them from one another, from the world in which they live, and ultimately from themselves. Unable to construct a self-narrative, they may live comfortably in their bubble but have problems overcoming new challenges. In short, a foreign education does not prepare most students to study abroad.

American education at its best challenges students to reason, to support their opinions and arguments, and to listen carefully to other people's ideas. This is very different from education that emphasizes correctness, memorization, recitation and conformity of thought. Add to this basic difference of world view more differences in food, recreation, social relations, friendship, transportation, romantic attachments, and personal goals, and you can see that a foreign student in the US has ongoing adjustment challenges.

 Studying abroad is more than just going to classes and doing the homework. Foreign students who are successful in studying in the US must have considerable resources in addition to intelligence and ambition. They need sufficient financial support, a great degree of emotional maturity and physical stamina, and a certain kind of mental toughness to be able to live in a foreign culture every day for the years of their education.

Is it easy for foreign students to study at college or university in the US? No, it's not easy, but for well-prepared students, it's possible, and it's worth the effort to fulfill their dreams of study in the US.


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