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Studying abroad: USA

With world famous universities like Harvard and MIT topping university world rankings, it’s no surprise that the USA attracts international students pursuing their own 'American Dream'.

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Studying in America

Unsurprisingly, the United States boasts a huge number of universities and colleges of various sizes, focuses and disciplines – some private, some public – each offering a different lifestyle depending on where it is located on the map. This is obviously great news for you as it means you've quite the selection to choose from.

Public universities tend to be bigger, meaning a more varied syllabus and a more diverse student body. Private universities, on the other hand, tend to offer smaller classes with more access to lecturers, and some offer more specialised and bespoke courses. They tend to be more expensive, but have lots of scholarships and grants available.

American universities snatched 46 spots in the top 100 in Times Higher Education’s university world rankings in 2014/15: California Institute of Technology (1st), Harvard (2nd), Stanford (3rd), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6th), Princeton (7th), University of California Berkeley (8th) and Yale (9th) all dominated the top ten. 

Bachelor's degrees take four years long to complete compared to three years in the UK. This is because the first year consists of a broader study of a cross-section of different subjects, after which you'll choose your major and minor study. The annual academic year is split into three semesters: fall is end of August/start of September to December/January; winter spans January to April; and summer is April/May to July.

Don't be thrown off by the different phrases. 'College' is the more common term used instead of 'university', while 'freshman', 'sophomore', 'junior' and 'senior' refer to first, second, third and fourth years.
 

Applying to university in America

Usually you'll apply to an American university directly, submitting your application and supplemental documents online. There is a centralised application system, similar to Ucas, called the Common Application, though it is limited to around 500 institutions.

Most application processes are very similar, so you can re-use or adapt the majority of your work. There is no limit to the number of applications you can make, but remember that universities each charge an application fee between $50-100.

There are two application deadlines: early and regular. Try to apply early, as it increases your chances of getting in. Early application deadlines are around 1 November, and you'll find out whether you got in by the new year. If you do this, you will know whether you’ve been successful before you even have to submit your Ucas application. If you go for the regular application, you'll have to submit by mid-January, although this varies between universities.

You may have to take either the SAT or ACT test as part of the admissions process. Both are well-known standardised admissions tests which assess the critical thinking and analytical skills required to study at university level in the States. These are offered in the UK at various locations throughout the year.
 

Forms and paperwork

Once you have been accepted by an accredited education provider, you will need to complete a DS-160 form, fill out a SEVIS I-901 form (including paying the relevant fees) and complete an interview at the US embassy in London. You must also demonstrate that you have the funds to pay your fees and to support yourself. Border security and immigration are taken very seriously in America so you must have the correct credentials to be allowed into the country to study for the duration of your course. 

Post-study, you can apply for Optional Practical Training if you studied under an F1 visa (this is the most common student visa for international students in the States). This allows you to remain in the country to work for up to a year after you graduate from your course. STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) graduates can apply to extend their stay as skilled individuals in these fields are in high demand. 
 

Costs of studying in America

Studying in the USA can come with a hefty price tag attached. Without scholarships or grants, students on average pay between $21,000-$27,000 a year in tuition fees. There is no tuition cap, meaning different universities can vary wildly in cost, so don’t assume that all universities are roughly the same.

That said, most American students pay less than half of this, due to a complex system of loans and grants aimed to make universities more accessible. While you can't take out a UK-based student loan for study in the USA, there may be scholarships and other schemes that you can apply for to support yourself financially.

Living costs will vary depending on where you study in America. Big cities like New York or Chicago will cost a lot more to live in than a small town. Consider this when choosing where you want to study: do you really have to study in the heart of a major city?

You might find the perfect institution for you a few miles away from the city; this way you can enjoy a unique university experience, away from all the tourists, and still be able to drive up or catch the train to the city in the evening and on weekends. 
 

Scholarships in America

Because tuition fees in America are so high, scholarships are widely available to ensure university is accessible to as many students as possible – in fact, one in 10 students have a portion of their fees paid for by their university.

You may have heard about sports scholarships - and certainly, college sports are big business in the States, with universities trying to woo top-prospect athletes with scholarships. But you can find financial aid opportunities at your chosen university for all sorts of areas of study. It’s best to enquire directly to your university about what they can offer.

Additionally, look into the Fulbright Programme which promotes educational exchange between the USA and the UK; they offer various scholarship awards to help students achieve their educational dreams across the Atlantic.
 

Life in America

While finding the right course at the right university should be top of your list of priorities, the environment, climate, people and culture around you will have a big impact on your experience studying in America. This will all vary as the country is so large and diverse:

Phoenix, Arizona is known for its beating sun, while Seattle, Washington has more in common with the UK when it comes to regular downpours. 

Boston has a proud Irish-American community, while Chicago has a strong Polish population. The Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing in the country, particularly in the Dallas, California and Florida regions. If you choose to study here, you might find that your Spanish improves!

Los Angeles, California and Portland, Oregon are renowned for being liberal and progressive, while Mississippi and Alabama are known for their more traditional, conservative attitudes.

New York City is obviously a global hub for entertainment and culture, while cities such as New Orleans offer their own distinct music, food, history and good times – the city's moto is 'Laissez les bon temps roulez' ('Let the good times roll'!).

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