An institution of higher education in the US may be called a college or a university. Generally, a college is smaller and usually does not offer graduate programs. A college can also be a division of a University ("College of Arts and Sciences"). Both colleges and universities can award bachelor degrees. The exception to this, are community colleges and junior colleges which can only award two year Associate degrees and Certificates.
You will be assigned an academic adviser at your university. Your adviser will help you select classes and make sure that you are following the correct curriculum for your undergraduate major or graduate program of study.
It is common for students in American colleges and universities to change their undergraduate major. If you decide to change your major, discuss this with your academic adviser to determine if it is a good decision and if it is possible. You must also alert your international advisor of this change, as your immigration form I-20 must reflect the correct academic information.
The international student adviser at your university will give you options for getting from the airport to your university. If your university is close to the airport, you will be able to use a taxi. Many universities arrange for you to be picked up at the airport and driven to the university.
Where you live will depend on which university you will be attending. Most undergraduate students live in residence halls (dormitories) owned by the university. Each residence hall will have laundry facilities, and many have game rooms, TV rooms and quiet rooms where you can study.
Graduate students may live in apartments or houses off-campus which are not owned by the university. You may be responsible for finding an apartment or house. Most universities have apartment listings for you to use. Contact your international student advisor for housing advice and suggestions.
Having your own room or sharing a room will vary from university to university. Many universities have 2 types of residence halls: halls with suites, and halls with rooms. Suites are a group of rooms that share one bathroom. Each room in the suite will have 1, 2 or 3 students. Residence halls with rooms will have one 1 or more students in each room. Usually, the individual room will have its own bathroom, but some have a large common single-sex bathroom shared by a number of rooms.
Typically, your residence hall will normally be a mixture of American and international students.
Most universities will assign you a roommate. Before you arrive, your university will send you contact information about your roommate so that you can get to know each other. Your roommate will probably be an American student.
On-campus housing varies from university to university. Some universities have residence halls just for women, but at most universities a number of the residence halls may be co-educational. The halls may be arranged where men and women are on different floors, or at least in different suites.
Most universities close their residence halls during vacation periods between semesters. Some will keep a hall or a floor open for students who are unable to go home during these periods. Your international student adviser will help you with living options when your residence hall is closed.
If you live in a residence hall, you may be required to purchase a "meal plan" in the university’s cafeteria. The meal plan allows you to eat a certain number of meals per week in the dining hall.
If you live in an apartment or a house, you will be responsible for buying and cooking your own food.
Cafeterias at US colleges and universities offer many types of food, including salads, sandwiches, pizza, breakfast foods, and hot food. If you have a special diet (for example, vegetarian, kosher, no beef), you will not have a problem finding food at the cafeteria. It is important to note, however, that due to dietary differences, students from other countries sometimes have problems adjusting to the food in the cafeterias.
You can drive for one year in the United States if you have an International Driver’s License, which you must obtain in your home country. We suggest that you apply for a US driver’s license only if you will be in the United States for more than one year. Each state has different regulations for driver’s licenses, so ask the international student adviser at your university for information on applying for a driver’s license.
Owning a car in the United States is not recommended, especially in your first year. You must purchase auto insurance which can be very expensive, as well as a parking permit, potential maintenance, and fuel for your vehicle. Many universities in the United States do not permit freshman (first year) students to have a car. We suggest that you wait for a few months before deciding if you need a car. You will probably find that you really don’t need one.
Every university has many clubs, sports and other organizations for you to join, which normally includes an International Student Organization. This is a great way to meet new people. You can also form your own club or organization if you want. Most universities have an international week or day where you can introduce the university to your country and customs.
Bring the following documents:
- Your passport – make sure it hasn’t expired!
- Your SEVIS payment receipt showing that you have paid your visa application fee
- Your Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status)
- The letter of admission issued to you by your university in the United States
- Copies of the bank and financial statements you submitted to your university for your Form I-20
Also, be prepared to answer this question: “Why do you want to study in the United States?” The visa officer will want to know that you have a clear plan of study and will want to know what you plan to do after you graduate. If you say that you want to live in the United States forever after you complete your program of study and graduate, your visa will be denied. The visa officer wants to be sure that you intend to return to your home country after you graduate.
You can stay in the United States as long as you are a full-time student, and have a valid I-20. Full time status is defined as maintaining a specific number of credits at your institution. Generally, students must maintain 12 credits for undergraduate study and 9 credits for graduate study per term. If students are enrolled for both fall and winter terms, they generally do not need to be enrolled for a summer term. After you complete your program of study, you can remain in the United States for 60 days.
While you are a student at ELS, you cannot work. Once you become a full-time student at a college or university in the United States, you can work on-campus for 20 hours per week while classes are in session and up to 40 hours per week on-campus during vacation times. After 9 months, you may be eligible to work off-campus under certain conditions. You cannot work off-campus without the written permission of your international student advisor AND the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If you are married, you can apply for F-2 visa status for your wife or husband to be able to also come to the United States. Currently, only the immediate family (husband or wife and children) of a student are eligible to be considered for an F-2 visa.
To apply for F-2 visas, you must provide documentation to the United States embassy or consulate that you have enough financial resources to support your family while they are in the United States with you. Your wife or husband and children are NOT permitted to work in the United States.
Although it will be difficult to be away from them, we suggest that, if possible, your family remain in your home country during your first year of studies in the United States. After one year, you will be more comfortable and settled in the United States which will make it easier for your family to adjust to life here. Talk with the international student adviser at your university for advice on bringing your family to the United States.