Frequently Asked Questions About Studying in the United States
- Where can I find a list of accredited colleges and universities?
- How do I know if a school that has contacted me is legitimate?
- Are distance learning programs a reasonable option for international students?
Choosing a School
- How do I choose the U.S. institution that's right for me?
- Which colleges and universities are the best? Is there a way to tell?
- Where can I find a searchable list of United States institutions of higher education?
Education System in the United States
- What is the difference between undergraduate and graduate degrees?
- How long does it take to complete a degree?
- What is the difference between a college and a university?
- What are the different types of institutions?
- How much does a U.S. education cost?
- Does EducationUSA provide scholarships?
- Are other scholarships or financial assistance available?
- How can I find out which universities offer the most financial aid?
- What tests must I take to be considered for undergraduate admission?
- What tests must I take to be considered for graduate admission?
- What type of visa do I need to become an academic student in the United States?
- What is a Visa?
- What are important steps in applying for a Student or Exchange Visitor Visa?
- Where can I find more information about the visa application process in my country?
- What is SEVIS?
- What happens when I arrive in the U.S.?
Distance learning programs can be an affordable way for international students to obtain U.S. course credit or degrees without moving to the United States or applying for student visas. There are thousands of distance learning programs in the United States, so you'll need to do your homework in choosing the program that's right for you. As with any program of study, it is important to make sure that the distance learning programs you consider are accredited. The recognized accrediting body for distance learning programs in the United States is the Distance Education and Training Council. Visit their website for a list of accredited distance learning programs in the United States. More information on accreditation.
Each institution has its own requirements for admission, so it is very important to carefully read information available on the school’s website or the directions on the application form before you begin. Most schools will require some or all of the following documents: an application form that includes important information about you, certified copies of all academic records (diplomas, transcripts, etc.) in both the original language and translated into English, standardized test reports (for example, the TOEFL and/or the SAT, GMAT, or GRE), a personal essay or statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and evidence of financial resources to pay for the education or a financial aid application. In addition, most schools charge an application fee. More information about admissions requirements.
Choosing a School
EducationUSA advisers like to say, “There is no best school in the U.S., only the best school for a particular student”. The more attention you give to selecting the right school for your interests and personality, the more likely you are to be accepted and receive financial assistance. Colleges and universities look for students who will “fit in” on campus and truly want to be part of the community. There are over 3,000 regionally accredited colleges and universities in the U.S., and the types of academic programs and personal development opportunities they offer vary greatly. Some of the factors to consider when you begin your school search are: quality, reputation, competitiveness, admission requirements, funding availability, class demographics, living environment, location, field of study, geography/climate, urban/rural setting, enrollment size, number of international students, faculty profiles, potential graduate mentors, faculty publications, research facilities, curriculum structure, and professional accreditation. Find-a-School Search Engine.
Since there are more than 3,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, choosing the right school can be a difficult process. Several companies and websites offer search engines and other services to help you make the best choice. These include:
- Peterson's Find-a-School Search Engine
- College Board College QuickFinder
- U.S. News and World Report College Search
- College Source Online
- College Opportunities On-line (COOL) - U.S. Department of Education
Education System in the United States
The first level of higher education in the United States is called “undergraduate,” and it leads to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. Most undergraduate programs require four years of study, and usually a completed secondary school education is sufficient to enroll as an undergraduate student. First-, second- and third-year students of foreign institutions of higher education can transfer into U.S. undergraduate degree programs. Graduate degrees include the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) or Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD). Students who have already received their first higher education diploma, either a BA or BS in the United States or the equivalent, are eligible to apply to graduate programs. The MA and MS degrees are usually awarded after two years of study. The Ph.D. is the highest academic degree in the U.S. This degree follows an MA or MS and typically requires at least three years of study and a lengthy dissertation. For more information on each level of study, consult the undergraduate, graduate, and specialized/professional links available at www.educationusa.state.gov
Most undergraduate programs require four years of study and in some cases give credit for time spent studying in one's home country. Master's degrees typically require two years of study, awarded after two years of study. PhDs usually require at least three years of study and a lengthy dissertation.
Degree-granting institutions in the United States can be called colleges, universities, institutes, or other terms, and colleges and institutes are in no way inferior to universities. As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller and usually offer only undergraduate degrees, while a university also offers graduate degrees. More information.
There are four basic institutional types: state universities, private universities, community colleges, and technical/vocational colleges. State and private universities usually offer 4-year bachelor's degrees, community colleges offer 2-year associate's degrees, and technical or vocational colleges usually offer certificates. More information on these institutional types.
EducationUSA does not provide scholarships or other financial assistance. Advising centers have information about institutions and organizations that do provide financial aid and can help you compile competitive applications. More information.
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): Almost all U.S. institutions require international applicants whose native language is not English to demonstrate their English language proficiency by taking the TOEFL before they are considered for admission. A new, Internet-based version of the TOEFL test (TOEFL iBT) is being introduced beginning in 2006. The TOEFL iBT score assesses speaking, listening, reading, and writing. More information.
SAT Reasoning Test: The SAT Reasoning test is a 3-hour 45-minute long paper-pencil test that assesses how well students analyze and solve problems – skills learned in school that are needed in college. Almost all institutions require the SAT Reasoning Test for undergraduate admission. SAT scores, course grades, and other information about an applicant’s academic background help college admission officers evaluate how well prepared the student is for college-level work. Because courses and grading standards vary widely from school to school, scores on standardized tests such as the SAT help colleges compare the ability of students from different schools in different countries. SAT Website.
SAT Subject Tests: The SAT Subject Tests are 1-hour, multiple-choice tests in specific subjects. Unlike the SAT Reasoning Test that measures general abilities, SAT Subject Tests measure student knowledge of particular subjects and the ability to apply that knowledge. Not all colleges require SAT Subject Tests for admission or placement. Many colleges may either require specific combinations of subjects, or permit students to choose from among the various tests. Check the requirements of the colleges where you might apply before deciding which subject tests you need to take. Subject Tests falls in five subjects areas: literature, foreign languages, history, mathematics, and sciences. SAT Website.
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): Almost all U.S. institutions require international applicants whose native language is not English to demonstrate their English language proficiency by taking the TOEFL before they are considered for admission. A new, Internet-based version of the TOEFL test (TOEFL iBT) is being introduced beginning in 2006. The TOEFL iBT score assesses speaking, listening, reading, and writing. TOEFL Website.
Graduate Record Examination (GRE): The GRE test is required for students to enroll in master's or doctoral programs in the arts, sciences, humanities, and engineering fields. It consists of two independent tests, the General GRE and the Subject GRE. The General Test is a computer test that measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills developed over a long period of time and not necessarily related to a particular field of study. The Subject Tests are designed to measure knowledge and understanding of subject matter related to graduate study in specific fields and also to assess whether a student has the prerequisite background to undertake graduate study in a particular field. Since most graduate departments within a university establish their own entrance requirements, including tests, you should write directly to the universities in which you are interested to find out whether the Subject GRE is required and in which subject. GRE Website.
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT): The GMAT is designed for business schools to assess the qualifications of applicants for advanced study in business and management. It does not test specific knowledge attained through college course-work or achievement in a particular subject area. It measures general verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills developed over a long period of time. GMAT Website.