What to Think About Before Departing to Study in the US

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What to Think About Before Departing to Study in the US

The United States is a common choice for students who are interested in studying in another country. Not only does the US have some of the most well-known and respected universities in the world, but it is also a great place to experience a wide variety of cultures first hand. However, it is important to understand the process and the system and to know what to expect. In other words, you need to plan ahead, and not just for books and classes, but also for everyday life in this part of the world. What should you pack? How will you get there? How do you set up a bank account? These are all key parts of the international experience, so here is some useful information as you begin to plan your future.

  • 1. Flight Tickets

    Unless you are arriving in the US from Canada or Mexico, flying is almost always the most cost-effective and efficient way to travel. If you are trying to save money, you need to do some research. Most airlines around the world have implemented some form of what is known as revenue management. This means that the price of each ticket is dictated by a number of factors, including time of the day, day of the week, season, holidays, and where the particular seat is in the cabin. In fact, the person sitting next to you probably paid a different price than you did to fly in the same plane to the same destination. Additionally, airlines typically offer discounts for booking in advance, for including a return leg and even for staying in your destination over the weekend versus during the week. These rules are known as revenue management “fences,” and they are meant to encourage non-business travelers to book in advance. As a prospective student, you will definitely want to plan ahead. Will you stay in the US for the entire school year, or do you plan to visit your family during the holidays? Once you’ve been accepted into a university, be sure to download a copy of your school’s academic calendar. This will tell the exact days that class will be in session. If you plan to visit your family during the holiday and summer breaks, for example, you can save money by purchasing two round-trip tickets – one departing in August and returning in December, and the other departing in January and returning in May when the school year wraps up. Again, it’s all about planning. Do some research on some travel sites to get an idea of pricing and seasonality. Another consideration is where in the US you plan to study. You’ll find dozens of flight options into big cities like New York or Chicago. However, many universities in America are in small towns that do not have airports. In this case, you will need to book your flight into the nearest large city and then book a separate form of transportation. Keep in mind that outside of major cities, people in the United States are very dependent upon cars. Trains are not as common in the US as they are in Europe, so traveling into small towns will likely require a bus, taxi or shuttle. Your school can help arrange this for you.

  • 2. Packing

    Packing for year is different than packing for a weekend, but it is important to consider what is available in the United States. In other words, you don’t need to bring everything. In fact, airlines charge high fees for overweight and excess baggage, so it is can be cheaper in the long run to purchase some items after you arrive at school. Unless you have specific personal needs or preferences, avoid packing heavy, disposable items like large shampoo bottles and laundry detergent. Similarly, unless you have specific health requirements, don’t pack any food beyond what you need for the journey. Food in the US is readily available in grocery stores and restaurants. For students studying in large cities, there are dozens of specialty markets and restaurants that source food items from countries all over the world. So, what does this mean for your suitcase? At the very least, be sure to bring your passport, visa documentation, clothing and any required medications. It is also a good idea to pack a set of bedding for your new dorm or apartment. Another consideration is the location of your school. Florida, for example, has warm weather all year round, whereas Chicago has long, cold winters. Plan accordingly.

  • 3. Insurance

    Your well-being as a student is a key priority. This includes both your physical and mental health. In fact, many colleges and universities in the United States require their students to hold some type of health insurance plan. For many students, this may seem like a complicated topic, particularly if you are coming from a country with some form of universal health care. It doesn’t have to be, however. Insurance is simply a way to avoid having to pay a large amount of money for an unexpected accident or medical condition. Most student health insurance plans in the United States work much like regular plans, in that you (the insured) pay a company (the insurer) a fixed monthly payment. In exchange, the insurance company will pay for your medical expenses as they come up. However, be sure to understand the restrictions of your specific policy. For example, if you already have an existing health condition, it may not be covered under a new insurance agreement. If your current health plan covers your care overseas, you may not need to purchase a policy in the United States, unless it is required by your school. Similarly, many students choose to rely on travel insurance. Just be sure to verify the time period as well as the list of what is and is not covered.

  • 4. Banking

    Setting up a bank account in the United States can save you a lot of money and trouble. Although many local merchants and ATMs accept international credit and debit cards, this becomes difficult for long-term visitors, especially students. After all, you don’t want to pay a fee every time you need to withdraw some cash or make a purchase. Think about your financial aid awards, assistantship stipends or private loans. You may find yourself with a paper check in your hand, in which case, you won’t be able to cash it without a local bank account. You may also need a bank account to set up and manage your daily living expenses. For example, it is very uncommon for utility companies and landlords in the US to accept credit card payments of any kind. Most Americans pay their housing expenses directly through their bank accounts. When it comes to personal banking, there are two common types of accounts: Checking account – commonly used to pay monthly bills and everyday expenses. For most internationally students, this is all that is needed. A checking account is typically tied to a debit card, and it allows you to easily deposit and withdraw cash on a regular basis. Savings account – used to deposit money for long-term purposes. Depending on the bank you choose, your savings account may pay you a small amount of interest based on your balance. However, as an international student, a savings account is not as important as a checking account. Fortunately, many universities in the United States have international centers with helpful information about local banks. In fact, bank representatives often visit schools during the first week of the semester, and many banks offer cash reward programs specifically for students who choose to open a new checking account. Just be sure to review all terms and fees. Many checking accounts, for example, require a minimum balance. If your balance falls below a certain level, you could be charged a fee. Similarly, if you withdraw more money that what is available in your account, you will likely be charged what is called an overdraft fee. If you plan on receiving wire transfers from home, it is a good idea to ask how long those typically take to clear. This varies between banks and can take anywhere from one day to over a week. Finally, plan on opening your bank account in person, rather than over the phone. Here’s what you will need to provide: Your nameA local address and phone numberYour school’s address and phone numberYour passportYour I-94Enrollment verification (e.g. an acceptance letter) Your I-20, I-797 or DS-2019 It is also wise to bring another form of identification, such as your student ID or a state driver’s license if you have one. Also, do not forget to bring your first cash deposit. The required amount will vary between each bank, but you will need to supply at least some initial funds in order to officially open your account. Studying in the United States is an exciting endeavor, and it is a great way to jumpstart your career development. Visit SchoolApply if you have additional questions. We have detailed information on dozens of schools in the United States, as well as great tips for specific cities of interest.

Levels Explained

  • Bachelor's

    A bachelor's degree (also called a first degree or undergraduate degree) is attained after receiving a post-secondary (high school) education and generally spans four years. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as bachelor or undergraduate students. A bachelor's degree is usually offered at an institution of higher education, such as a university.

  • Master's

    A master’s degree (or postgraduate or graduate education) involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees. This degree is preceded by a bachelor’s degree and generally takes two years to complete. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as master's, or grad students.

  • Pathway

    Bachelor’s and master’s pathway programs are designed for international students who need additional English language and academic preparation before continuing to a degree program at a university. The purpose of these programs are to give students the confidence and skills needed to succeed in college.