Study in the USA: Introduction
Why Study In The USA?
There are a great number of reasons that students choose to study in the United States. Among them are quality, choice, and value.
The United States has some of the world’s finest colleges and universities. Worldwide, they are reputed for quality programs, faculty, facility, and resources. U.S. higher education accreditation systems are in place to ensure quality standards.
The U.S. higher education system offers the world’s largest choice in types of institutions, academic and social environments, entry requirements, degrees, and fields of study. Currently, there are more than 4,000 institutions of higher education in the United States.
Considering a U.S. degree as an investment in your future, it offers great value for the money. There is a wide range of college costs, as well as some excellent scholarships available from colleges and universities.
In the 2016-17 academic year, there were 1,078,882 international students studying in the United States. With 11,607 students from Nepal, a 20.1% increase from the previous year, Nepal ranks as the 13th largest country of origin of international students in the United States (Source: Open Doors 2017 Report on International Educational Exchange. New York: Institute of International Education, New York).
Prerequisites: Is U.S. Higher Education Appropriate For You?
Studying in the United States is a big decision, and you must consider whether it is an appropriate one. Evaluate if you are a suitable candidate by considering the following factors which we call pre-requisites for studying in the USA.
Studying in the U.S. is expensive. Colleges and universities in the U.S. cost between $12,000 and $65,000 per year. A bachelor’s program is typically a four year course of study, a master’s program is usually two years, and a PhD program is generally four to eight years. If you do not have this amount of money available, you will need to apply for a scholarship.
Strong academic background
If you have a strong academic record, your chances of admission and scholarship at U.S. colleges and universities increase.
English language skills
In order to succeed as a student in the U.S., it is integral to have a strong command over English.
Most U.S. colleges and universities require TOEFL. Some undergraduate institutions additionally require SAT or ACT. Some graduate programs require GRE or GMAT.
You’ll need this to travel to the U.S. Attend USEF’s ‘Student Visa Info Session’ to learn more about student visas and tips on visa interview success.
U.S. Educational System & Where You Fit In
There are some similarities and a lot of differences between the education systems in Nepal and the U.S. For instance, we have 3-year as well as 4-year bachelor’s programs in Nepal. In the U.S., however, bachelor’s programs are no shorter than four years. Therefore, it is important to understand the education system in the U.S. and to know where you fit in.
In Nepal, our education system uses ‘board exams,’ where students take the same set of exams administered by an educational or university board. In Nepal, we have the SLC board exam which is taken at the end of grade ten. Known as the ‘iron gate’, a lot of importance is given to the SLC. After SLC, students typically join a Plus Two, A-Levels, PCL or Intermediate Level program.
By contrast, high school in the U.S. is grades nine through twelve. Furthermore, each school is autonomous and students do not take board exams in the U.S. In general, a student who has successfully completed Plus Two, A-Levels, PCL, Intermediate Level, or a similar program, can be compared with a high school graduate from the U.S. system.
We used to have a 2-year bachelor’s program in Nepal. We now have many 3-year bachelor’s programs, 4-year bachelor’s programs, and some programs which are even longer in duration. In contrast, bachelor’s programs in the U.S. are no shorter than four years and are one form of ‘Undergraduate’ programs. Students who have completed twelve years of education are eligible to join undergraduate programs in the U.S. There is a name given to each of the four years of bachelor’s study – namely freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.
There exists another form of undergraduate education in the U.S., which is the associate’s degree. An associate’s degree is a 2-year degree earned at a community college. Community colleges usually serve a small community around them. Per year college tuition is usually much less expensive than per year tuition at a 4-year college. Students who opt for an associate’s degree may choose upon completion to transfer to a 4-year college/university in the U.S. to continue studies for a bachelor’s degree.
Hence, students seeking bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. have two options. They can either directly join a 4-year bachelor’s program, or study at a community college and then transfer to a 4-year bachelor’s program. Students should carefully evaluate these two options. You may find that studying at a community college is less expensive, but then it is generally difficult to obtain scholarship when you transfer to the 4-year institution. Furthermore, community colleges may not have housing and students might have to live off campus.
We have M.Phil and Post Graduate degrees in Nepal that do not exist in the U.S. Both master’s and PhD level studies are referred to as ‘Graduate’ studies in the U.S. A master’s degree is usually earned after two years of study beyond a 4-year bachelor’s program and a PhD degree takes somewhere between four to eight years.
What to do if you have a 3-year bachelor’s ?
Since no bachelor’s program in the U.S. is shorter than four years, a student intending to join a graduate program in the U.S. should have at least sixteen years of education in the relevant field. Students who have 2 or 3-year bachelor’s degrees or who are currently enrolled in a bachelor’s program have three options to choose from:
Complete a master’s degree in the relevant field and then apply for graduate study in the U.S. In some cases, students will apply for the master’s program again and in some cases, depending upon the institution, students can directly apply for the PhD program. Contact institutions directly to know which program you are eligible for.
Transfer to an undergraduate program in the U.S. With this option, you can earn an undergraduate degree from the U.S. However, this option could be costly for some students as it might take between one to three years to complete the undergraduate degree. It can take up to three years because different colleges have different graduation requirements and you may not earn transfer credit for some of the coursework you have completed in Nepal.
Students are encouraged to weigh Option 1 and Option 2 and opt for the one that is best for them.
A third option is available for students applying for an MBA in the U.S. You could apply for a bridge program (sometimes referred to as a pre-MBA) in the U.S. Very few colleges provide such bridge programs and you have to contact the college directly to find out the requirements for admission. A bridge program generally runs for one to one and a half years and you generally will need to complete your MBA at the same school.
Applying to U.S. Colleges and Universities
The terms “college,” “university,” and “school” are used interchangeably when we refer to degree-granting institutions offering higher education in the United States. For simplicity, we’ll use the term “college.”
To apply to colleges in the United States, you should start 12-18 months in advance of when you plan to begin your studies. If you are an undergraduate applicant (applying for a bachelor’s degree), starting you application process by the beginning of Class 12 will help ensure that you do not have a gap year between Class 12 and the beginning of your undergraduate program in the U.S. Similarly, graduate applicants, those applying for a master’s or a PhD, should also start their application process 12-18 months in advance.
Why does it take so long to apply to American colleges? In addition to having to carefully research and choose colleges, prepare for and take the standardized exams, you will need to meet each college’s application deadline date. Some deadlines – especially for colleges that are competitive and colleges that offer good scholarships – are eight or nine months in advance of the start of class.
There are two semesters for which you can apply for admission, the fall semester (classes start in August or September) and the spring semester (classes start in January). All colleges offer admission in fall, as it is the beginning of the academic year. Not all colleges offer admissions in spring. If you are searching for a scholarship, the best semester to apply for is fall (generally, not much scholarship is available in spring). The application deadline date depends on which semester you apply for, and which college you are choosing.
To apply to U.S. colleges, here’s what you should do:
Attend a Group Advising session at USEF. These intensive two-hour sessions, usually held on Friday mornings, teach you about the entire application process. Register on Mondays to attend the free Group Advising session.
Choose between 5 and 10 colleges to apply to. Use USEF’s library resources and Internet resources to make your decisions. You must find colleges that are the best fit for you. Carefully research criteria such as your field of study, cost, scholarship opportunities, location, competitiveness, and admissions requirements. Applying to 5-10 well chosen colleges will give you a higher chance of admission than just applying to one or two. Certainly, you can choose to apply to more than 10 colleges if you like, but do ensure you are sending quality applications to all!
Access the colleges’ application forms on their websites. It’s free and easy to access application forms and eligibility and application requirements.
Register for and take the standardized exams. All students must take at least the TOEFL (some colleges also accept IELTS), which is a test that measures your English language skills.
USEF highly recommends that all undergraduate applicants also take the SAT (Reasoning Test) or ACT. Both exams measure your English and Math skills; ACT additionally measures your Science skills. USEF also highly recommends taking the SAT Subject Tests, which are subject-specific tests that demonstrate to a U.S. college that you have skills in a certain subject. Good scores on the SAT / ACT and SAT Subject Tests will be very important especially if you are applying to competitive colleges and for scholarships. Furthermore, for many American colleges, submission of a SAT/ ACT score is required in order to apply for admission. Therefore, it is in your best interest to take not only TOEFL, but also SAT / ACT and SAT Subject Tests.
USEF recommends graduate applicants take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) in addition to the TOEFL. Student who are applying for an MBA or similar degree usually take the GMAT, while all other graduate applicants take the GRE. Like the SAT for undergraduates, the GRE/ GMAT may not be required by all colleges, but having good scores will certainly boost your chances of admission and scholarships. See our Standardized Tests section for additional details on the tests.
To obtain information about a standardized test such as TOEFL, SAT, ACT, GRE, or GMAT, refer to the test’s official website (www.ets.org/toefl for TOEFL, www.collegeboard.com for SAT, www.actstudent.org for ACT, www.ets.org/gre for GRE, and www.mba.com for GMAT). It is recommended that you register at least two months before your preferred test date. Many students spend a lot of time preparing for these exams: make sure you allocate enough time for preparation.
Send your applications to the colleges. Colleges must receive your complete application by the deadline date.
If you are accepted, you will receive an I-20 from the college. An I-20 contains information about you, the college, and the amount you are expected to pay each year. An I-20 is required to apply for a student visa to the U.S..
Choose the best I-20 and apply for a student visa.
You will need to identify one I-20 to use when you apply for a student visa at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu.
Remember that USEF is here to advise and guide you at all steps of this application process. Don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions and concerns.