The United States stands out for being the world superpower, and, with well over 5000 universities and counting, they have the best educational system in the world.
This on top of the fact that some of the best funding opportunities, especially in the field of research, come from the US makes it one of the most popular destinations for studies abroad despite the high tuition cost charged by most American universities. This cost is so high that many American families can't afford it themselves, pushing students to live and study on loans. It is also very important to point out, however, that with 5000 universities and counting, diversity is high at all levels,
including the cost of studies. Even though the cost of study for some schools like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford is through the roof, there are universities in the United States that cost less than what you will spend for studies in Germany for instance. It's all about looking for the right school.
Admission to an American University
The first crucial piece of advice is to start your application very early, especially if you are not going through the whole procedure using a study abroad agency.
The process can take up to a full year, so if you are targeting Fall 2023, for instance, start working on your application the preceding fall (Fall 2022). Being organized is important.
The very first step is, of course, selecting the program that you will be studying. As mentioned throughout this platform, go about this process judiciously, targeting only those fields that YOUR RESEARCH/ACTUAL FACTS clearly show will be in demand the year of your graduation
The next step is selecting the university that you will be applying to. The right approach is to target several universities and make sure that you have checked that you satisfy all admission requirements (ALL OF THEM) for each of them. Contrary to other nations, the biggest advantage of the American system is that there is a place for everyone. There are countries like Canada, for instance, where a student getting admitted with a 10 over 20 type of grade is unheard of, especially in master’s degree programs. In the US, by contrast, admission on those terms isn’t rare at all. There are enough universities (5000+) for everyone to find a shoe that fits. The US has myriad institutions, including widely diverse universities, from topnotch ones like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford that only admit students with a 20 over 20 type score (or close to this), to universities that will gladly accept students with 10 over 20 type grades. So spend this second step looking for the university that is perfect for you.
After selecting universities, visit their website under admission or future/prospective students to figure out what the deadlines are. You also need to figure out what their requirements are in terms of documents that you need to provide as part of your application.
On average, these include documents like the following:
- Proof that you have mastery of English. Important note for French-speaking students: you can be admitted to an American university even if your English level is close to zero. This is called conditional admission. This is done generally through language schools that are the first to admit you and are typically the ones to contact one of their university partners and secure admission for you—provided of course that you meet all the other requirements, such as having sufficient grades and funds. In the case of conditional admission, you travel to the US prior to your school start date to learn English and only move to the university once you have sufficiently mastered English. So going through a language school is the right approach for francophones.
- The alternate road for francophones is to stay in your home country to learn and master English, then pass the TOEFL test, making sure that you achieve at least the minimum score imposed by the school before applying to the university.
- Here is a good question. Which one of these options is the best? If you really want to succeed in the United States, go for the first option. Do not consider the cost of taking language courses in the US instead, because the difference will ultimately be negligible. Instead simply see it as your having started your studies earlier. Here is why this option is the best. Let’s start with content. (1) The accent is different, and it is vital for you to be able to effectively hear at the outset what your teachers will later be saying at the university. (2) Language schools in your country or in the US might all teach grammar and vocabulary, but language schools in the US go beyond this. In fact, American language school programs go well beyond teaching mere grammar and vocabulary to foreign students. They speed your integration into American culture before the beginning of your university experience. Many help you find a place to stay, help you create your first bank account, along with numerous other measures that will maximize your chances for success in your new life. Another big advantage is the fact that your first class in the US will not be your mathematics, biology, or philosophy class, in a room full of American students and an instructor speaking at the speed of light, knowing nothing about your limitations. No, your first class will be a small class taught by an instructor who is aware that he or she is dealing with a non-American native having trouble understanding the words that come out of his or her mouth, and whose job is to change that. On average it is even advisable for anglophones to attend these schools, even if it is just for a couple of weeks. As you can imagine, the consequence of not going for this option is a rough start at the university that translates into poor grades—not because you are a poorly performing student but because you are having trouble settling and can’t effectively understand the words coming out of the mouth of your professors. It takes time for your ears to get used to the American language, especially in a stressful environment like the classroom where you are expected to perform well.
- Important note for English-speaking students: in general, this requirement is waived for you because English is not only your first language but the language you were educated in. Be careful though—be sure to check with the university because many universities across the world force African anglophones to still present TOEFL/IELTS scores. As mentioned above, you have all to gain by attending a language school for at least a couple of weeks.
- Another important document is the proof that you have enough money to support yourself during your studies in the United States. This can be personal funds or those of a family member like your parents, siblings, or an extended family member like your uncle/aunt. By the latter I mean the actual brother/sister of mother or father, not someone you can present as your uncle or aunt. It is important that there be a VERIFIABLE LINK between you and the person that will sponsor your study in the US. You need to know that there are high numbers of people carrying out fraudulent activities in foreign countries—for instance, not having a penny to their name and yet showing bank accounts that make it seem as if they do. Many present strangers as family members or borrow money and add it to their bank account with the intent of giving it back to the person once they land in the US. Embassy officials are aware of this, and that’s why the scrutiny levels have increased. As a result, you need to make sure that your documents are in perfect order, or you could be accused of fraud. A complete stranger could be your sponsor, but you would need to be able to DOCUMENT why a perfect stranger would be ready to spend millions on someone he or she doesn’t even know. One such reason could be the fact that he or she has been the one paying for your study for years.
The embassy at the school does not request a mere statement from the bank saying that you or your sponsor have sufficient funds in an account: actual bank statements are needed. They ought to be less than 6 months old and detail all recent transactions on the account.
Another important financial document is a signed and notarized statement from the sponsor saying: I, a such-and-such (father/uncle/brother/sister/aunt) of the student named such-and -such hereby attest that I will be taking care of the cost of the study of this student. This is often referred to as an affidavit of support.
- Another important set of documents includes your academic records, diploma, and transcripts. Note that they ought to be translated into English. All of them. When sending in your application, you also need to add the original version in French. Make sure to use a certified agency for translation.
How do you choose your target schools.
Go initially for about 10 schools.
In a search engine, such as Google, type “your chosen field of study” + “program in the USA.” Instead of the term USA, you can also use the term United States. The search engine should pull up a list. The next step is to visit each website and under ADMISSION look for admission requirements, focusing first on the minimum grade for admission. After this is done, and providing you meet the conditions, you can go back to the search engine and type the following: “name of that university” + “international student tuition.” You can follow the same process to find out about the total educational costs, including the living expenses, or simply stay on the admission page and continue reading. You should find a link somewhere leading to the financial aid page where these kinds of information are often listed. On that same page, you can also read what kind of support the university has available to help those who are paying for their studies out-of-pocket—opportunities for aid like scholarships, loans, etc. Note that loans are rare for international students, as you would need someone with a stable financial status, usually an American, to sign off on your loan. Speaking of money, and, most importantly, living expenses, note that there are a variety of tricks for bringing your costs down. Honolulu, for instance, is one of the most expensive cities in the US, and yet, even there, with a little know-how you can survive on the same budget as you would in the cheapest of US towns. The trick? Knowing how to spend your money—knowing where to shop for your groceries and clothes and the type of apartment you will rent. These two are your biggest sources of spending. As in every other country, avoid living within large cities, as the tuition and living costs are on average higher there. If you can afford it, however, definitely go for these larger cities because, more often than not, what they offer in terms of opportunities far outpaces what you find in smaller cities. The latter is typically minimal in terms of resources and facilities. They often are made of no more than a university, plus a couple of churches and supermarkets—not big business centers or industrial areas.
What can you study in the United States?
The US is the best destination for education—end of the story. There probably isn’t any field you can’t find there. Go for the best universities that your grades and pocketbook allow. How do you find out what programs are offered by a university? On the website of American universities, you will typically find in the menu section an entry for programs or something like schools/departments. You will find the listing of programs offered under that tab. You also have the option of searching for the information on Google or other search engines by entering keywords like “name of your chosen university” + “programs.”
Entering the United States – Visa
The United States is one of the most regulated countries in the world due to the abiding threat of terrorism. There is no guaranteed way to get a US visa. A US ambassador once said that nobody, not even him, can guarantee you a visa to the US for a simple reason: no one knows exactly what’s going on in the mind and life of another person. Imagine that someone’s uncle knows the US ambassador and, instead of using the normal route to help the prospective student obtain a visa, forces his way through the relationship with the ambassador. What will happen to that poor ambassador if that student once in the US gets involved in all sorts of mischief? When a foreigner runs afoul of the law, there follows an investigation into the past of the person and how they got into the US in the first place. If it is revealed that they obtained entry through a legally questionable process, everyone involved pays a heavy price. That’s why I tell people who complain of scams that it is their responsibility if they get scammed. When someone guarantees you that he or she will deliver the Eiffel Tower to your doorstep, use your reason! Even if you were able to use an illegal scheme effectively, consider the moral and spiritual costs. Some go to the extent of changing their name, usurping that of a deceased person, all in the name of travel and money. Is that the legacy you want to leave for your descendants? Is that the character you want to present before God? I am not suggesting that using integrity will ensure a bright and easy path. But accept the path as it is marked out for you, so that you can achieve true success and, ultimately, salvation.
Another point concerning US visas: make sure that your financial documents are all original and authentic because if you are suspected of fraud, the result is “game over”—not to mention the fact that you might be prohibited from applying for a US visa in the future. On the off chance that your visa is rejected for a technical issue, you will be told what went wrong in the process and have the option to reapply. We have had several students get their visas on the second attempt.
All they needed was a bank statement and an affidavit of support stating that enough funds were available. In that vein, note that it is important to prove that you have substantial sums available if needed. Provide the required bank statement to the school, but when dealing with embassy officials do not hesitate to present other evidence like proof that you or the family own fields, companies, etc.
There is also an application form called DS160. Make sure to reply to all questions accurately. Do not lie on your application, for US embassy officials can get whatever information they want on you. They even have access to all your social media accounts and even your bank officials. Furthermore, as part of your application, remember that you provided the embassy with the names of two persons that they can contact at will. If they detect a lie, game over.
You must also be in good health and pay all required fees: first, the SEVIS fees to be paid to the US federal government, which amount to $350 on top of the embassy processing fee of $160.