Once a student has received an acceptance letter or email to a US university of their choice, what’s next? It’s time to sort out all the necessary permits and travel documents. As soon as a student is in, it’s time to work on the following critical tasks to study abroad.
Obtaining Student Visa
Once a student has been admitted, it’s time to get the I-20 Form or the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status from the host college or university. Note that this form is only for students applying for an F-1 (academic) and M-1 (vocational or non-academic) student visas. Those who are just undergoing an exchange program would need a J1, which requires a different form.
After that, the student must pay the SEVIS fee of $350. SEVIS is short for The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which is a database used by the United States Department of Homeland Security to maintain information on students entering the country. Payment can be done through credit card or money order. There’s also an additional $160 of visa fees.
Once paid, it’s time to head to the local US Embassy for an interview. The applicant would need to bring the SEVIS receipt along with the other requirements such as score sheets (IELTS, GMAT, etc), transcripts, bank statements, photos, and other documents that support one’s trip and study abroad.
Attend The Orientations
Some universities and colleges will partner with organizations to host pre-departure seminars before flying off to the host country. Not only do these briefing sessions teach students about their new school, but they also students and their parents address concerns and inquiries they may have about studying abroad. This is also a great opportunity to meet with peers, ask invited alumni or resource persons for advice on living abroad, or start meeting new friends.
It is highly encouraged for students to attend these pre-departure and on-campus orientations. Here, one can learn about the different opportunities available as well as the different extracurricular activities. Aside from that, on-campus orientations are also a great way for international students to socialize with local students.
It’s important to make sure that the housing aspect is already settled before a student leaves for the US. International students can coordinate with their school’s student services offices. Most of the time, they will provide the details on housing options on campus and, if none, can help foreign students search through available portals.
International students, especially undergraduate ones, usually stay within the campus dorms for their first few years. These may also include meal-plan programs. This is a great way to experience an authentic student life, and it is also a lot more convenient because utilities are already included and set up.
Greg Connell, dean at Florida Institute of Technology, says that most schools today now offer apartment-style accommodations for more privacy, but a traditional style such as dorms offer more chances for relationship building.
For graduate students, there may be limited options for on-campus housing, but you housing websites can come in handy.
Flying to the US
The F-1 or M-1 states that the visa holder is only allowed to enter the US 30 days before the start of the term. The visa, however, can be issued as early as 120 days before. Students can maximize these 30 days as much as they can by picking the earliest available flight. That way they have more leeway in the event of cancellations or delayed flights.
If one wants to get the best flights for the lowest price, it’s best to book months in advance. Weekdays in the middle of the week are generally cheaper, so book flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. Some airlines also offer student discounts. Before leaving, students should make sure to have copies of all their travel documents.
Perhaps one piece of advice for new international students is this: come prepared, be alert, and have fun with this exciting phase of your life!