Paraguay national Yamily Villalba Paredes says she never felt dissuaded from applying to U.S. colleges and universities based on anything she had heard. When she arrived in the U.S. as an international student during the Trump administration, her views slightly changed. Paredes says former President Trump “created an atmosphere that international communities were not welcome.” However, Parades, a junior majoring in sociology and women’s studies at the University of New Mexico, did not see that reflected on campus, adding that “institutions of higher learning welcome the diversity.”
While not feeling welcome in the U.S. may be an initial concern for some international students, Eric Welsh, an immigration attorney and partner at Reeves Immigration Law Group, says “schools continue to seek and openly welcome foreign students.”
Still, many prospective international students may have other concerns that keep them from applying to U.S. colleges. Here are some commonly believed myths, debunked by the experts.
— You need to be wealthy to attend American schools.
— It is nearly impossible to get a student visa.
— U.S. colleges are located in big, unsafe cities.
— American colleges have a lot of students who party.
Myth 1: You Need to Be Wealthy to Attend American Schools
U.S. colleges range in costs, and some can be affordable for prospective international students, experts say.
“Tuition in the U.S. varies greatly,” says Pamela Rambo, founder of the education-focused Rambo Research and Consulting firm in Virginia. “College tuition and fees at median-priced colleges run from approximately $24,000 to $35,000 per year. Colleges with the highest-priced tuition run from approximately $55,000 to $80,000 per year.”
But she says tuition costs can be reduced through scholarships for high-achieving students, and some U.S. colleges will automatically consider international students for scholarship funds without requiring a separate application or demonstration of financial need.
“Both international and domestic students in the U.S. have access to loan programs for international study, and there is scholarship assistance that can help reduce costs,” Rambo says.
The University of New Mexico, for example, offers scholarships for international students, including at the undergraduate level.
“Our most sought-after scholarship is the Amigo, which grants international recipients in-state tuition rates,” says Nicole Tami, executive director of Global Education Initiatives at UNM. “Any student seeking to study in the U.S. should start the process early to allow time to explore scholarship opportunities and compare educational and local living costs at various institutions.”
Rambo says the cost of living can be as low as $10,000 or as high as $18,000 per year for international students studying in the U.S. She recommends international families shop for the best value and says there are high-quality college bargains for cost-conscious families, such as Florida State University, the University of Missouri, Virginia Tech and the University of California campuses in Davis, Irvine, Berkeley and Santa Barbara.
Robin Matross Helms, assistant vice president for programs and global initiatives at the American Council on Education, says ACE’s report, International Student Funding: Tuition, Fees, and Financial Aid, can help prospective international students understand what expenses they will incur and the sources of aid available to them.
Myth 2: It Is Nearly Impossible to Get a Student Visa
The coronavirus pandemic and embassy and consulate closures have slowed the process of applying for a student visa, but experts say it is not difficult to obtain a visa once accepted for admission to a school.
“Many colleges and universities have international student offices that only serve the purpose of assisting foreign students from the moment they are accepted for admission,” Welsh says. “The process for applying for a student visa is relatively straightforward, and setting aside pandemic-related travel restrictions, most foreign students are able to assemble the documents that they need and schedule an interview within a few days.”
He says the Biden administration is actively reviewing and revising U.S. Department of Homeland Security policies to remove obstacles put in place by the former Trump administration, and is better managing the backlog from last year’s massive slowdowns.
“Foreign students bring diverse experiences and perspectives to our schools, enriching the experience for all students and improving the quality of life for all Americans,” Welsh says.
Welsh says international students may want to seek help from a qualified immigration lawyer to assist with the process, “and should do so if there is any history of visa denial or reason to believe that they may not be eligible or admissible.”
Myth 3: U.S. Colleges Are Located in Big, Unsafe Cities
With nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., prospective international students can find the perfect fit when it comes to both academics and safety, experts say.
“U.S. colleges vary greatly by type of location, from rural areas near small towns to large metropolitan areas as well as the safety of the areas on and around campus,” Rambo says.
To determine how safe a college campus and surrounding area are in terms of reported crime, families can visit the Campus Safety and Security website maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. Rambo says parents can also educate students about safety precautions to take and campus safety programs as well as situations to avoid.
“At UNM we work closely with campus police and local law enforcement to mitigate common crimes, such as theft,” Tami says. “Security is a priority, and we work with student advocates and campus leaders to address our most pressing safety concerns.”
She says that while the school does not try to minimize campus safety issues, “we empower students with resources that allow them to make informed decisions.”
Myth 4: American Colleges Have a Lot of Students Who Party
Hollywood movies have popularized the notion of nonstop college partying, but that is not necessarily the case at most U.S. college campuses.
“The stereotype of the U.S. party culture is vastly over-dramatized by popular film and television depictions of college life,” Tami says. “Some students do choose to party, which is why colleges have student conduct policies related to underage drinking and/or recreational drug use — but the vast majority of students come to college to learn, grow and take advantage of the many cocurricular opportunities available at U.S. campuses.”
Tami says there are unique university-sponsored events that are fun, safe and innovative, and notes that any college experience should be well-rounded and include time for recreational activities and socializing.
“There are legal and safe ways to party, and many of our students learn to strike the right balance,” Tami says.
Campus culture and the types of students who attend vary by school, Rambo notes. When it comes to choosing a college, she encourages families to focus primarily on the quality of academic programs and opportunities, student outcomes, cost and the overall best fit for the student.
“The important thing for families is to educate students about the reason they are in college, how much time they need to study to be successful and the best activities to join to get the best employment at graduation,” Rambo says.
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.
More from U.S. News
4 Common Myths International Students Have About U.S. Colleges originally appeared on usnews.com