UGO – Counselor Resources – Frequently Asked Questions

Studying in the USA

What’s the difference between a college and a university in the United States?

An institution of higher education in the USA 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"). Usually, universities are larger, and offer graduate programs. Colleges and universities can be large or small, and the academic quality and acceptance of your degree will be the same, so do not reject a school because it is not a university. Both colleges and universities can award bachelor degrees. The exceptions to this are community colleges and junior colleges which can only award two year Associate degrees and Certificates.

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What does “academic eligibility” or “minimum academic requirements” mean?

Universities usually indicate the minimum admissions requirements for their academic programs. These requirements may include: 1) minimum grade point average/GPA; 2) minimum standardized test scores (TOEFL/IELTS/GRE/GMAT/MAT); 3) appropriate personal statement; 4) appropriate letters of recommendation; 5) at the graduate level, a resume and personal statement indicating appropriate work/research experience. For example, if a school requires a minimum 3.0 GPA, then students with GPAs significantly lower than this should be advised to apply to another program with a lower minimum GPA requirement. Occasionally, a school will admit a student with a lower GPA, but this is only if the student can provide some other convincing evidence that he/she can be successful in the academic program. This additional evidence might include outstanding letters of recommendation, an excellent art portfolio (for fine art majors), excellent music ability (music majors, highly relevant work/research experience for a particular graduate program, or high standardized test scores. However, most university admissions staff are looking at meeting the minimum GPA requirement as the first criterion for academic eligibility.

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What is the difference between a major, a minor, and a double major?

American universities offer students the opportunity to concentrate their studies in one (sometimes 2) areas of study called a major. Students can also study in another area, but take less hours of classes, to “minor in a subject”. For example, a student may have major in marketing, and minor in a foreign language. A student may also have a “double major”, which is a major in two areas (marketing and foreign language for example), and also minor in mathematics. Students with double majors must take more class hours to meet the requirements of both majors.

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Can a student change his/her mind about their major after already starting their academic studies?

Yes, it is common for undergraduate students to change their majors after the first or second year of study. Sometimes, the student is exposed to a field they were unaware of in the past, and, after having taking a course or two and talking to their professors, they decide to "switch majors". Students should realize that they may have to take additional class hours and extend their studies if they switch majors. A university academic advisor will be able to assist students in understanding this process. Graduate students seldom switch majors since they are specializing in a field based on their past academic achievements and experiences. if a conditional letter of admission has been issued from a department, then a new application and possibly some additional new information might need to be submitted in order to be considered by the new graduate department.

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Can a student applying for a graduate program change their area of study prior to applying?

It is rare that this would happen unless the new area of desired study is closely related to the student’s undergraduate degree. Graduate study is considered to be a deepening of knowledge in a select field of study; therefore, the student’s undergraduate study must be directly related in some way, especially in the sciences, arts and music. However, there are certain graduate programs that offer foundation courses to prepare a student for graduate study. These are usually graduate programs in business, such as an MBA program. Students with good GPAs in their undergraduate major, but who have no business background, can enroll in a pre-MBA foundation program. If they do well in the program, then the student can transfer directly into the school’s MBA program. Please note that foundation programs require additional study time in addition to the desired graduate program. Please feel free to ask your ELS academic advisor for guidance if you have a student interested in changing their area of study.

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Applying for Admission

What does the “letter of conditional admission” really mean?

The Conditional Letter of Admission/CLA may be offered to a student who is academically qualified, but has not shown English proof of English proficiency (TOEFL or IELTS). In addition, students may not have taken other required standardized tests (GRE, GMAT, or MAT, SAT/ACT) prior at the time of application. The conditional letter of admission is provided by the university where the student intends to study after completing their intensive English study at ELS Language Centers. The letter will state that the student is “conditionally admitted” for an academic level (associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate), a specific area of study and a specific entry term. It will list the “conditions” that the student must meet to gain full admission into the university. This will include successful completion of a specific ELS level, as well as any other required documentation and examinations. This letter should also be used during the visa interview to show that the student has an educational plan.

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How can I search for a school that is a good match for what my students need?

The on-line ELS University Directory (www.universityguideonline.org) will help you search our database of 600 ELS University Partners. You can search by academic level, academic programs, location, type of school and many other criteria.

If you need additional assistance, you may contact your ELS admission adviser at upsinfo@els.edu.

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How can I check on the status of my students’ ELS application?

Please contact our Central Admission Department at cad@els.edu to apply to ELS or to check on the status of an ELS Language Center application.

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How can I check on the status of my student’s conditional admissions decision from the university?

You can contact the University Admission Services team at uas@els.edu to check the status of a pending university application. Please allow the amount of time noted in the next Fact before contacting the UAS office.

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How long will it take to receive a response from a university?

The usual response time for an undergraduate application is between 4 and 6 weeks after the university has received all the required documents. The response time for completed graduate applications is longer, especially if the academic program is highly competitive. Please allow a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks for a response from a graduate program.

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What additional items are needed to complete the graduate admission process?

If there are additional items required for full admission into a graduate program, they will be listed on the student’s Conditional Letter of Admission. These items might include, but are not limited to: a copy of ELS completion certificate for specified level; official GMAT , GRE, or MAT reports; a writing sample; a personal statement; a current resume an updated verification of financial support; recommendation letters (there may be a specific recommendation form that is supplied by the school, but not always); and an interview. Many times these interviews can be done over the telephone or through email.

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How are admissions decisions made at U.S. universities?

It is important to note that there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States; each has its own admissions criteria and makes its own admissions decisions. There are a few states, such as California, that have a centralized application process for some of its public universities. Sometimes, international student admission is processed through the Office of Admission, while at other schools, international admissions is located in the International Office. Usually, the university’s web site will explain how things are done at the university.

Admission to an undergraduate (associate’s or bachelors) program: For admission to an undergraduate program, the college or university considers the student’s whole application packet, but two of the most important criteria to be considered are: 1) the student’s secondary school academic preparation and performance, as evidenced by their grades/marks and cumulative Grade Point Average, or GPA; and 2) the student’s level of English proficiency. The university tries very hard to admit those students that the university feels will have the best chance of being successful at their institution.

Admission to a graduate (masters or doctoral) program: Graduate programs in the USA are very selective. Therefore, it takes longer for the admissions committees to make a decision and issue a conditional admission than for an undergraduate program. Many graduate programs have specific deadlines, and they are usually not very flexible with this deadline. ELS can occasionally ask for a deadline extension, especially if the school is an ELS host institution. However, there must be strong evidence as to why a deadline should be extended, and the university does not encourage any requests for extensions.

An admission decision (conditional or regular) may be based on many factors, such as: academic preparation and performance, standardized test scores (GRE , GMAT or MAT), personal statement, writing sample, English proficiency, and recommendation letters. These letters should be from professors that know the student and can write, in English, about the student’s qualifications and ability to be successful in the program to which they are trying to be admitted. In addition, if the student is applying for admission into a “research-based” master’s program, a professor at the university must have the same research interest as the student and that faculty member must agree to work with the student in research.

Because of the limited space in some programs and the competitiveness of gaining admission, it is not uncommon that a good student might be denied admission to a particular university. Most American students apply to a minimum of three graduate schools to increase their chances of acceptance.

Verifying the ability to pay for the annual expenses of studying and living at the university is not part of the admissions decision, but it is a required part of the admissions process, as this information is required before an immigration form I-20 can be issued.

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What options do my students have if they cannot obtain admission to a graduate program?

If your student does not obtain admission to the school of his or her choice, or if they cannot afford the University of their choice, they need to continue their search to find other universities that might not be as selective, or that are less expensive. If your student has a low GPA, or if your student does not have the appropriate academic coursework for the chosen master’s program, another option might be for the student to apply for undergraduate admission to take coursework that would enhance their chances of being considered for the master’s program in the future.

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Applying for a Student Visa

What are acceptable forms of financial documentation for an I-20?

Before a school can issue an I-20, they must verify that a student has sufficient financial resources for their entire program of study and not just the first year. They will want to see bank statements that are less than 6 months old and that give an exact amount of the money in the account. Tax records, letters verifying employment, and retirement account statements are not acceptable documentation. The student will have to submit the same documents when he or she applies for his or her visa.

Please be aware that, at some US consulates and embassies, the visa officer may check to see how long the bank account has been open. If it has been open for less than 6 months, the visa officer may be suspicious that the student will actually have the money available for his or her study in the United States.

Also, your student should not plan on working in the United States to supplement their money while they are a student. It is very difficult to get an on-campus job and students are limited to working 20 hours per week. Unapproved off-campus employment is not permitted.

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What type of visa will my students need?

Your students will need an F-1 (student) visa. The foreign student advisor at the school in the United States will help your student understand all the rules and regulations for F-1 visa holders after they arrive. Your student SHOULD NOT apply for a B-1/B-2 (tourist) visa as he/she can only study in the US on an F-1 Visa. If your student does obtain a B-1/B-2(tourist) visa, it will be very challenging, if not impossible, to change the status of the visa to an F-1 once in the United States.

Some schools require an M-1 (vocational student) visa. The foreign student advisor at the school in the United States will help you understand all the rules and regulations for M-1 visa holders after you arrive. DO NOT apply for a B-1/B-2 (tourist) visa. Your student SHOULD NOT apply for a B-1/B-2 (tourist) visa. Your student cannot study in the United States if he or she uses a B-1/B-2 visa to enter the United States. Plus, it is almost impossible to change to M-1 visa status from B-1/B-2 (tourist) visa status after the student has entered the United States.

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Where do my students apply for an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa?

http://www.usembassy.gov/ to find the United States embassy or consulate closest to your student.

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What should my student bring to the visa interview?

Bring the following documents:

 

  • His or her passport – make sure it hasn’t expired!
  • His or her Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status)
  • The letter of admission issued by your school in the United States
  • Original bank and financial statements the student submitted to your school to support his or her Form I-20
  • Academic Documentation

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How should students be advised to prepare for the visa interview?

The visa interview usually only lasts about 5 minutes and takes place standing, with the consular official on one side of a glass window and the student on the other. The more your student knows about what to expect at the interview, the less worried he/she will be.

Basic English ability: The consular official will be trying to assess if the student has a basic understanding of English during the interview. The official will not expect the students to speak with a high level of fluency or with perfect English. The official just wants to know that the student is interested enough in studying at an American university that he/she has already begun learning basic English.

No rehearsed speeches! Please advise your students to not go to the interview with a rehearsed or prepared speech! The consular official wants the student to be him/herself during the interview and respond honestly and in their own words. Students should not be coached as to what to say in the interview. For example, when asked why a student wants to study for an MBA at California Lutheran University, it’s ok for the student to say, "It is a good school for this degree, and also it’s located in a beautiful beach location, so I’m very happy about that because I like the sun."

Honesty: Advise your students to be very honest during the interview and not try to avoid any topics brought up by the consular official. If a consular official feels that a student is not telling the truth, his/her visa will be denied.

Intention to immigrate to the United States: Consular officials are looking for evidence that the student will return to his/her home country. The student should make it clear that he or she is seeking an education in the USA so that they can go back home and work in the family business, help his/her country develop, or has extended family at home. These are all evidence the student will return.

Necessity of legitimate documents: Consular officers are trained to identify fraudulent documents. Students including any fraudulent documents in their application package risk being denied a student visa for study at the university now or anytime in the future. Advise your students to be absolutely certain that the banking and academic documents are authentic.

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Immigration Regulations

How soon can my student enter the United States?

The earliest your student can enter the United States is 30 days before the start date listed on his or her I-20.

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How long can my student stay in the United States?

Your student can stay in the United States as long as he or she is a full-time student and as long as the I-20 and 1-94 (arrival/departure) card remain valid. After your student has completed his or her program of study, he or she can remain in the United States for 60 days.

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How will my student get from the airport to his or her school?

The international student adviser at your student’s school will give you options for getting from the airport to your schools. If the school is close to the airport, your student will be able to use a taxi. Many schools arrange for your student to be picked up at the airport and driven to the school.

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Can my student work in the United States?

While a student at ELS, your student cannot work. Once your student becomes a full-time student at a college or university in the United States, your student can work on-campus for 20 hours per week. After 9 months, your student will be eligible to work off-campus under certain conditions. Your student cannot work off-campus without the written permission of his or her foreign student advisor AND the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

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Can my student bring his or her family with him or her to the United States?

If your student is married, he or she can bring his or her wife or husband and their children to the United States on an F-2 visa. Currently, only the immediate family (husband or wife and children) of a student are eligible for an F-2 visa.

To apply for F-2 visas, your student must provide documentation to the United States embassy or consulate that they have enough financial resources to support their family while they are in the United States with them. Your student’s 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 student’s family remain in their home country during their first year of studies in the United States. After one year, your student will be more comfortable and settled in the United States which will make it easier for his or her family to adjust to life here. Your student should talk with the foreign student adviser at his or her school for advice on bringing his or her family to the United States.

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Living in the USA

What are the housing options for my student?

Most colleges and universities have residence halls (dormitories) and apartments for students. Community colleges usually do not have residence halls. Many schools will require freshman (first-year undergraduate) students to live in a residence hall. Some universities have residence halls and apartments for graduate students, and some have apartments for students with families. We suggest that your students, especially undergraduates, live in a university residence hall or apartment for at least their first year while they adjust to life as a student in the United States.

International graduate students typically live in houses or apartments not owned by the college or university. If your student is planning to live off-campus, he or she should prepare for this before arriving in the United States. The foreign student adviser or the student’s graduate adviser can give them information about housing options.

Once your student has been admitted to the college or university, they will receive information about housing. The school’s website will also have information about residence halls and apartments.

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What are the housing options for my student?

Most colleges and universities have residence halls (dormitories) and apartments for students. Community colleges usually do not have residence halls. Many schools will require freshman (first-year undergraduate) students to live in a residence hall. Some universities have residence halls and apartments for graduate students, and some have apartments for students with families. We suggest that your students, especially undergraduates, live in a university residence hall or apartment for at least their first year while they adjust to life as a student in the United States.

International graduate students typically live in houses or apartments not owned by the college or university. If your student is planning to live off-campus, he or she should prepare for this before arriving in the United States. The foreign student adviser or the student’s graduate adviser can give them information about housing options.

Once your student has been admitted to the college or university, they will receive information about housing. The school’s website will also have information about residence halls and apartments.

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Will my student have his own room if he lives in a residence hall?

Most schools 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 will have 1, 2 or 3 students. Residence halls with rooms will have one 1 or more students in each room.

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Will I live only with other international students?

No. Your residence hall will have American and international students.

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Can my student choose his roommate?

Most schools will assign a roommate. Before arrival, the school will send contact information about your student’s roommate so that they can get to know each other. Your student’s roommate will probably be an American student.

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My student is female. Will male students be living in the residence hall?

Some schools have residence halls just for women, but most have residence halls where only women live on a floor or in a suite, and where only men live on a floor or in a suite.

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Are residence halls open during vacation periods?

Most schools close their residence halls during vacation periods between semesters. Some will keep open a hall or a floor for students who are unable to go home during these periods. The foreign student adviser will help you with living options when your residence hall is closed.

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Where will my student eat?

If your student lives in a residence hall, he will be required to purchase a "meal plan" in the school’s cafeteria. The meal plan allows the student to eat a certain number of meals per week in the cafeteria.

If the student lives in an apartment or a house, you will be responsible for buying and cooking your own food.

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What kind of food is in the cafeteria?

Cafeterias at US colleges and universities offer many types of food, including salads, sandwiches, pizza, breakfast foods, and hot food. If the student has a special diet (for example, vegetarian, kosher, no beef), your student will not have a problem finding food at the cafeteria. Students from other countries sometimes have problems adjusting to the food in the cafeterias.

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What clothes should my student bring?

This will depend on where the student will be living. If the school is in the northern United States, your students will need clothes for cold weather in the winter, such as a heavy coat, sweaters, gloves, hat, socks and snow boots. We suggest that the student wait until you arrive in the United States to buy these things so that the student can see what American students at the school wear in cold weather. Winter clothes are usually a little less expensive in the United States.

If the school is in a part of the United States that has a mild climate, your student should bring a light jacket, light sweaters and other clothing suitable for mild climates.

Your student will notice that American students wear informal clothing. Most students wear tee shirts and jeans or shorts when the weather is hot.

There may be times when more formal clothing will be required, so we suggest that female students bring a dress and that male students bring a suit or a dress shirt and tie for these occasions. We also suggest that your student bring native dress from your country for international events when your students represent your country.

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Can my student drive in the United States?

Your student can drive for one year in the United States if the student has an International Driver’s License which you must obtain in your home country. We suggest that the student apply for a US driver’s license only if the student will be in the United States for more than one year. Each state has different regulations for driver’s licenses, so ask the foreign student adviser at the school for information on driver’s licenses.

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Can my student have a car in the United States?

Owning a car in the United States is not recommended, especially in during the first year of study. The student must purchase auto insurance which can be very expensive depending on where the student will be living. Many schools in the United States do not permit freshman (first year) students to have a car. We suggest that the student wait for a few months before deciding if a car is necessary. Your student will probably find that he/she doesn’t need a car.

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