Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha, 2018.

International Students in the US

Navigating the U.S. as an International Student

Every year, students from across the globe migrate to the U.S., and the last decade has seen a steady increase in numbers. According to the Open Doors report, in the 2013-14 academic year, there were approximately 886 052 international students in America studying in either public or private schools, though that only constitutes for 4% of the U.S. higher education population.

The U.S. has a lot to offer for international students, with better education and greater opportunities after graduation. They hope that, after completing their education, they can remain in the States, work for well-known companies, and establish a successful life: things they might never have had the chance to do in their home country. But the road to graduation is far from easy, with obstacles not many outside of the international community are aware of.

In the U.S., a majority of institutions demand that applicants take standardized tests like the SATs and present their scores. Each school has a score margin they deem acceptable for incoming students, and falling below it can often mean the difference between an acceptance and rejection letter. American students have the advantage of knowing early on that they will need to sit for the general SAT, and even get to take a PSAT test while in high school to measure where they stand.

On the other hand, international students are not always as lucky. Some, of course, may come from a country that has a similar procedure, or have parents who desired them to study in the U.S. many years before they would have to apply. However, there are many others who are totally unprepared and must cram in their test preparation in grade 11 in addition to whatever else might have been going on. Perhaps they will do well, and maybe they have their “diversity” playing a helping hand in their acceptance, but the education the received in the country they’re from may be completely different from what the States have to offer, and preparing for the SAT can become much more hectic than anticipated.

That’s just the beginning. Once the acceptance letter comes, it becomes a blurred race towards the first day of school, filled with visa applications and complications; frustration and resignation on receiving no financial aid; and just plain old confusion when it comes to what they can and cannot do. It’s a long list, and what makes it worse is that it varies for each student. Language barriers and differences in education systems such as curriculum content and options for advanced learning programs can often push students behind domestic students.

Of course, it’s not all thorns and weeds. There are many good things that studying in the U.S. can bring an international student, but a more centralized system for all international students coming to U.S. would be immensely beneficial, if only because it limits the number of problems that arise upon arrival. The education gap between countries is much harder to standardize, and not something that is likely to happen in the near future, particularly because it also exists within each country itself. But in the meantime, because American institutions do desire a large number of international students, it would be nice to have the resources made more accessible in order for all the students, domestic or international, to be at an equal standing.

Cover Image: Emerson College during the 2014/2015 Boston Snowpocalypse. Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha.

This piece was originally published in Affairs Today (August 2015).

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