"When do I begin applying to U.S. universities?"

Begin at least one to two years before you plan to start your program. The U.S. academic year begins around the end of August and ends in May. Midyear admission (to begin classes in January or February) may also be possible, but not in all departments or at all levels of study. Application deadlines may fall as early as the end of November at some schools. International mail can be slow and unreliable, and you will also need time to register for and take standardized tests.

"What kind of grades do I need to be accepted into American universities?"

Requirements vary significantly from one university to another; some institutions are very selective while others accept most applicants. Generally speaking, if you are applying to a selective university, you will need at least a B average in secondary sc hool, equivalent to placing in the top 20 percent of your class. The most difficult universities are likely to require placement at least in the top 10 percent of your class. Graduate students are generally reviewed with an emphasis placed on the final si xty units of study. Eligibility requirements vary from department to department.

"What admission tests may I be expected to take?"

TOEFL. If English is not your native language, you must submit a TOEFL score. Many institutions require a minimum 550 score on the TOEFL for both undergraduate and graduate students to enter their academic programs. A few s chools may not require the TOEFL if you completed high school or college in the United States or if you graduated from a four-year, degree-granting institution where English is the language of instruction.

SAT I or ACT. The Scholastic Assessment Test I or the American College Test may be required of undergraduate applicants, but most commonly only students who completed their final three years of secondary school in the United States are asked to take these examinations. No standard score is required; results are weighed with secondary school grades and other elements of the undergraduate application. SAT II. Each SAT II examination tests knowledge in a specific subject area. O ne or more may be required of some undergraduate applicants.

GRE. Most graduate applicants are required to submit results on the Graduate Record Examination general test and sometimes subject tests as well. Some graduate programs require a minimum 450 verbal score; others may also have a 420 minimum required on the quantitative section.

GMAT. Graduate applicants in business- and accountancy-related areas usually must take the Graduate Management Admission Test. (Applicants to programs in such areas as public administration may have a choice between taking t he GMAT and the GRE.) A minimum score of 500 is often required, with a score of at least 25 percent on the verbal portion.

TSE. The Test of Spoken English may be required for graduate students seeking teaching assistantships.

"How much does it cost to study in the United States?"

Because the United States is so diverse, with the living costs varying from one geographic area to another and over 3,200 colleges and universities setting their own tuitions, it is not possible to determine the exact amount any given student will pay. In 1994-95, tuition for an academic year (nine months) would generally range from $5,000 to $17,500. University fees, books, health insurance, housing, food, and incidentals would add another $8,000 to $19,000. Total costs for nine months for a single stude nt would thus total $13,000 to $35,000. Bringing a spouse would increase the amount to $18,000 to $45,000. You are expected to prove you can meet these yearly costs, both to the university to which you are applying and to the consul who grants student vis as. Additional costs not figured into these totals include travel to and within the United States, furniture and other settling-in costs, and summer expenses. Tuition costs generally increase about 10 percent each year.

"Are any scholarships available to international students?"

Universities very seldom give scholarships to international undergraduates. Some awards are available at the graduate level but are very competitive and based on merit only. Chances are better for doctoral level than master's level students. Most awards s till do not cover full expenses and may not be available in the first year of study. Check with your local advising center for information on home country government, Fulbright, and other award possibilities.

"Which are the best schools?"

The United States does not publish any official list of best universities. Several privately compiled "best" lists have been created based on such factors as research funds or the opinions of professionals in a given field. These lists vary considerably i n their conclusions, which is not surprising given that over 3,200 institutionally accredited U.S. universities and colleges currently operate, each with its own goals and strengths. Often the most famous universities are also the most expensive and the m ost difficult to enter. The "best" university is going to be the one that is right for you, that is, one that offers your field of study and meets other criteria important to you such as location, financing, housing, and facilities for international stude nts.

"What does the term "accreditation" mean?"

The United States government does not have a central ministry of education that provides national control over U.S. educational institutions. Each state regulates education to some extent but colleges and universities have considerable independence. Accre ditation, in which institutions voluntarily agree to be evaluated by their peers, provides a system designed to ensure that these institutions achieve basic levels of quality in their programs, facilities, and services. Two types of accreditation exist-- institutional and professional. Institutional accreditation refers to the college or university as a whole. Six regional accrediting bodies accredit institutions. A few national bodies accredit special types of schools, such as religious colleges.
Professional accreditation exists only in fields where professional competence is of broad concern, such as engineering, nursing, and business. The importance of professional accreditation varies from field to field. Some overseas governments recognize U. S. degrees (in fields that have a professional accrediting body) only from programs that are both institutionally and professionally accredited. Other ministries maintain their own lists of "approved" U.S. institutions that are even more narrow. Internati onal students should look into any such possible limitations before choosing a program and at a minimum should seek a degree only from U.S. institutions that are institutionally accredited.

"What is the process of applying to U.S. universities?"

While application procedures may vary slightly from one university to another, below are some of the steps you can take in applying for admission:

1. Register for the TOEFL or any other exam required for your field and level of study at least two months before the date you wish to take these exams.
2. After research, make a list of approximately seven to fifteen schools that seem to match your needs and preferences. Send letters to each requesting information and application forms.
3. Locate teachers or employers willing to write letters of recommendation and have a dozen passport-sized photographs ready for use in university and visa applications.
4. When you receive the application forms, complete one form for each of the three to seven universities that best meet your academic needs and send each one, along with the application fee, to the university.
5. Your academic documents and test scores may be sent later, although applications received without the application fee will be returned. Test scores must be sent directly from the testing agency. Copies are not acceptable.
6. When you submit your academic documents to the university, you will need to furnish evidence that you completed secondary school and submit transcripts showing the courses you took. If you took a school-leaving examination, then send a copy of the resu lts. Graduate students must submit all college or university transcripts and show proof of having earned a recognized bachelor's degree. Documents not in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.
7. Once acceptances and I-20 Certificates of Eligibility are sent to you, make your decision and write a letter confirming that you accept admission. Reserve housing if desired and write to the other universities informing them that you will not attend an d enclosing the unused I-20s.

"What is the deadline for application to a university?"

It differs from university to university. Some schools have deadlines in early November for September admission, whereas schools with "rolling admissions" (which process applications as they are received) may accept applications year-round, simply offerin g admitted students entry to the next available session.

"I sent my materials to the admission office several weeks ago. When can I expect to receive my I-20?"

Many universities do not make admission decisions until March or April and will not send any correspondence until then. If you are accepted, you will receive an I-20 directly from the university. In some cases, universities require prepayment of the year' s tuition or some portion of that tuition before they issue the I-20. The university will not act upon your application until they have received all required documents, including any required test scores, which must be sent from the testing agency. Be sur e to apply to more than one university. Applying to schools with rolling admissions may help you get a quicker answer but you will still have to wait until your application is complete before it is acted upon.

"How do I obtain a student visa?"

To apply for an F-1 student visa, you will need documentation that shows your family and economic ties to your country of residency; documentation that shows personal and family status in your country of residence; your passport, photograph, and I-20 form ; and a statement guaranteeing sufficient financial support for your studies. These materials do not automatically guarantee receipt of a visa. The consul weighs student intent to return home after completion of studies before a visa is issued.

"QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: U.S. STUDY FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS" was produced by the staff of "The Advising Quarterly," a publication for professionals in international education worldwide published by AMIDEAST. It was compiled from question-and-answer hand outs prepared by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and by AMIDEAST offices in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Egypt.

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