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What International Students Should Know About U.S. College Winter, Summer Terms

Before prospective international students choose a U.S. college, they may want to start thinking about how they will spend their winter and summer breaks. While students can use that time to travel, they also have the option to take classes.

Apart from the typical fall and spring semesters, many colleges and universities offer classes for credit during the winter and summer. Winter holidays at U.S. universities generally last between three and six weeks while summer vacation is typically about three months, but the length can vary among schools.

Here are some things prospective international students should know when considering using those breaks to take classes.

[Read: U.S. Colleges Host International Students Over Winter Break.]

Classes may be counted toward full-time status. International undergraduates on an F-1 student visa are required to be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours per term during the academic year to meet the full-time enrollment requirement. At some universities, classes taken during winter or summer breaks may be counted toward full-time status during the standard fall or spring semester.

For example, at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, undergraduate international students who take three credit hours in the winter session only need to register for nine credit hours for the rest of the spring semester to maintain full-time status, according to the school’s website.

At the University of Arkansas, the hours taken during an intersession — a 10-day class session offered before the start of the regular full session in the fall, spring and summer terms — will count toward the upcoming regular term for international students, according to university spokesperson Steve Voorhies.

However, not all schools share the same policy. Winter or summer credits do not count toward fall or spring semester credits for full-time status at CUNY–Lehman College in New York, says Phyllis Proctor, director of the school’s International Student and Scholar Office. Similarly, according to the University of Maine‘s website, winter session credits at the school don’t count toward full-time status.

At the University of California–Merced, “Students can enroll in classes during fall and spring semesters and summer session. Per visa regulations, international student full-time status is based on enrollment in the academic year, which, for UC–Merced, is composed of fall and spring semesters,” says Kenneth Mashinchi, senior public information officer.

[Read: What to Know About a Vacation Quarter at U.S. Universities.]

International students may pay the same amount as U.S. students. Depending on the university, international students may pay what U.S. students are charged for winter or summer classes.

“Current international students are charged the same rate for summer and winter classes as domestic students,” says Sarah Mullen, manager of curricular programs in the Office of the Dean of the College at Brown University in Rhode Island.

At the University of Arizona all students pay resident fees during the winter session, which according to the website, “can result in major savings” for international students who usually pay higher out-of-state tuition.

International students are charged the same winter session fee as U.S. students at San Jose State University in California, at $280 per unit, and at Cornell University in New York, where tuition for the 2019 winter session is $1,460 per credit for most classes, per both schools’ websites.

At UC–Merced, “If international students choose to take summer courses, they are charged the same course and campus-based fee rates as all other students, though, in some cases, additional international student service and visa fees may apply,” Mashinchi says.

Since fees can vary among institutions, experts suggest prospective students inquire about total costs for winter and summer terms for enrolled international students at universities they are interested in.

[See: 10 U.S. College Expenses Besides Tuition.]

Students may be able to take classes at another school. Since class offerings are generally limited during winter and summer sessions, international students may have the option of taking classes for credit at another institution.

At Brown, “We typically direct students to our Office of International Student and Scholar Services to ensure that their participation in academic programs outside the regular school year is compliant with the terms of their visas,” Mullen says.

Mashinchi says visa regulations allow students to take summer or winter classes at another university as long as they are considered full time, based on their fall and spring enrollment in the regular academic year, and they intend to be enrolled at their main institution in the upcoming semester.

“There are some instances where the other university might request confirmation that the student is enrolled as a degree-seeking student at the home university, but that is an institutional policy, not a regulatory matter,” Mashinchi says.

Proctor says currently enrolled Lehman College international students can take classes at other schools but “must provide documentation of enrollment and valid F-1 status to their home school and visiting school officials.”

Pacific University in Oregon allows currently enrolled international students who are full time to take classes at another school without a new Form I-20 from that school, says university spokesman Joe Lang. The I-20 details an accepted international student’s academic program and its cost, among other details.

He says if students choose to take classes at another university during a winter or summer term, “we ask them to notify us so we can make a note in their SEVIS record of this enrollment,” referring to the government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

Experts say international students planning to take classes at another university should first consult individual schools on visa policies.

By thinking ahead to how to spend winter and summer breaks, prospective international students can plan for a productive and cost-effective experience at a U.S. university.

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What International Students Should Know About U.S. College Winter, Summer Terms originally appeared on usnews.com