With some 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., prospective international students have many options to choose from when pursuing undergraduate or graduate studies. So selecting the right fit for your academic needs requires time and research. A good place to begin is by reaching out to a prospective school’s international student office.
Most colleges and universities have international student offices, which are there to support international students. Prospective students can call or email the office directly, and some schools offer chat or virtual meeting options with admission representatives, recruiters and student ambassadors.
Before reaching out, prospective students may want to check out the school’s international admissions pages and social media. When you’re ready to chat, here are a few questions to start off with:
What is class availability like at this college?
One of the benefits of attending a U.S. university can be the sheer variety of classes offered by a school. But sometimes popular courses fill up fast and have long waitlists.
“One very important reason that an international student might want to ask about class availability is that maintaining a valid F-1 student visa status depends on it,” says Danielle McMartin, director of global education at California State University–San Marcos. “International students must maintain their full-time student status and if they struggle getting into their required classes, this could cause problems for their immigration status.”
Also, some classes are offered regularly and some less frequently, which is something students should know, according to Linda Melville, director of international student and scholar services at the University of New Mexico.
“A lack of class offerings can not only affect a student’s education in a specific discipline it can also affect time to degree completion,” Melville wrote in an email. “Especially when courses required for graduation are not offered on a routine basis.”
Does the college offer any scholarships for international students?
Cost is a big factor when deciding to study in the U.S. International student offices can provide information about scholarships and financial aid.
“Many institutions have scholarships available to international students, particularly first-year freshmen, that are based on a range of criteria, such as GPA, test scores, essays, letter of recommendation,” says Celeste Yaluk, assistant director for international admissions at the University of Kansas. “It’s important that students inquire about eligibility for international student scholarships.”
Universities often have different financial aid policies and scholarship deadlines, typically in January or early February, says Orlina Boteva, director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Maine.
“International students should apply as early in the application timeline as possible to maximize their opportunity for scholarship consideration,” Boteva says. “Some universities stop awarding scholarships after a set and published deadline, while others offering rolling admission may continue to award scholarships.”
There are also many organizations, businesses and professional associations that fund scholarships to bring talented students into their fields and to help the next generation succeed, Bryan Lam, international student specialist at Grossmont College in California, wrote in an email. He suggests checking with a school’s financial aid office and online.
What are the housing options for international students?
Experts suggest thoroughly researching housing options available to international students.
“Students should ask about housing options early in the process of being admitted to a university. These communities will fill up quickly,” says Melissa Armstrong, director of international education at Northern Arizona University.
She says some universities have housing communities that mix international and domestic students to help students develop intercultural friendships.
“Each school will have their own policies and processes with regard to international student housing options and choices,” McMartin says.
Some schools may require first-semester or first-year international students to live on campus or in a homestay, where students live with a local family for a semester or more.
“It is also very important for international students to seek out the details of the housing application process including the deadlines for applications and payments,” says McMartin.
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Are there any student representatives I can talk to?
“While university admissions staff can answer questions about the university, academics, student life and other topics, the best and most accurate information will be shared by an international student,” Boteva says.
Current students have first-hand experience of taking classes and living on campus or in the community, she says. Some schools even have designated student ambassadors and mentors.
“Student ambassadors or mentors are wonderful liaisons for prospective students to connect with,” says Yaluk. “These are actual students on campus who have gone through the process to study in the U.S. and they are excellent resources and can help guide and answer questions for new students.”
While not all schools have ambassadors or mentors, Armstrong says an international office “will always be able to connect students to one another.”
Current international students can also provide more information on what to look out for or avoid at an institution, says Melville, and make new students aware of helpful resources. She says for certain individuals, “a fellow student’s word is trusted more than that of an administrator.”
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4 Questions to Ask the International Student Office originally appeared on usnews.com