Last Updated on July 14, 2021 by David Shaw
If you plan to study in the US or is a soon-to-be a candidate, first of all, congratulations on your decision or admission offer! If studying in the US or even entering it is your very first time, there are certain things you can research and understand to prepare ahead of time before the first day of class.
Students from overseas studying in the United States are generally referred to as ‘International Students’. As an International Student in the US, there are general customs and tips you should know beforehand to better adapt and thrive in this land of opportunities.
As an alumnus who once studied in the United States, there are many things I wished I knew earlier to help facilitate a better university experience. In this article, I will share all about the helpful tips for international students studying in the US.
Familiarize Yourself With Campus Resources
When it comes to the extent of resources a campus can offer, it can often be more than what you bargained for. By keeping yourself informed of the available campus resources, you will know where to find things like professional help, information, or resources that you will likely need throughout your academic journey.
Although the variety of services, resource departments, or even recreational facilities may vary across different campuses in the US, you can expect to find these basic services in all campuses that includes:
1. Tutoring Centers – If you are having trouble keeping up with certain class materials, campus tutoring centers often provide free help with your homework. As STEM and English writing subjects are the general range of subjects students usually have the most trouble with, there is a good chance you can find help with subjects like Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, and more at the tutoring centers provided by your campus. Certain campuses even go as far as to provide tutors for certain Liberal Arts and Science subjects if there is a high demand for them.
2. Financial Aid Office – Although international students are not eligible for FAFSA, the financial aid department is where you can be directed to private student loan organizations. Other than that, you get to learn about other ways to finance your college expenses through financial plans or scholarships.
3. Counseling and Advising Center – Student counseling and advising centers provides you with a range of assistance related to classes, academic transcript, or immigration questions. Certain universities and colleges even offer specialized departments to only assist International Students, so always get yourself the best resources for advising and academic counselor when provided.
4. Health and Clinic Services – Before International Students begin their first day of class in the US, they are required to fulfill the campus immunization requirements. These resource departments typically offer a wide range of immunization shots that includes TB skin tests, MMR tests, and more. Other than that, campus health departments offer pharmacists, free medicine or first-aid supplies, or even free flu shots occasionally.
5. Food Drive/Pantry – If you plan to cut down on food expenses, many colleges or universities have great food drive programs monthly to provide students with food or vouchers to purchase groceries. As studying in the US can be financially demanding, many campuses throughout the US organize such programs or campaigns to make sure students don’t starve while in college. Check your college’s website to see if they have one.
As you navigate yourself through these services, you are more likely to meet more people thus letting you chance upon great resources like professional seminar events, company or campus tours, event gatherings and many other fun activities. If you can stay up to date and informed of these events and resources, you can be sure certain of them are hard to come by, so don’t make the mistake of missing out on these opportunities!
Stick With A Few Reliable Counselors
Finding and establishing a good relationship with academic and immigration counselors is crucial to your college or university journey. Our advice is to start scouting for academic and immigration counselors early and stick with them if you find their assistance helpful.
Although this might sound contradicting, college students in the US commonly have negative experiences with their provided campus counselors or advisors as they commonly confuse matters or convey the wrong information. Hence, it is absolutely crucial that you find the right counselors to ensure you get informed or assisted with the correct academic, immigration, or itinerary questions or issues you will face in college.
If you feel that you are not benefiting from the advice of counselors or advisors, switch them out as it might cost you to delay your graduation or mess up your academic plans!
As you begin to establish a good relationship with counselors, don’t be afraid to ask questions so they can better tailor their expertise to suit and accommodate your needs.
To get yourself started, here are good examples of questions you can ask your academic counselors or immigration advisors:
- How to navigate through the student portal website.
- What are the useful campus resources for students?
- What are the upcoming helpful student workshops?
- What should you know about the insurance plans? – what injuries are covered, precautions to be aware of, etc.
- Ask about recommendation of classes, how to choose classes, or create academic plans.
- Immigration, working opportunities, and tax filing questions.
- How to transfer credits to other schools, and transfer related questions?
- How to request going under-units or over-units for the semester?
As the general processes and procedures in a university can often get complicated, relying completely on the information provided by counselors and advisors can sometimes still be insufficient. To be extra careful, it is a good practice to also check with other students to make sure you’re getting the right information and assistance.
Join Campus Clubs Early To Build Connection
Joining a campus club is easily one of the best ways to help you adapt to new college life as you get to know more peers sharing common interests or cultural backgrounds. If you are studying in the US without any companion, joining school clubs is the perfect place to find friends and feel the sense of belonging.
In US universities that attract International Students from all around the world, you can expect to find cultural or ethnic-specific clubs dedicated to the Asian, Hispanic, Middle East races. Some campuses even have country-specific clubs dedicated to students from countries like Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, and more.
If your university or college has a relatively large volume of International Students, there’s a fairly good chance you can even find clubs specifically dedicated to International Students! Best of all, campus clubs are always collaborating with one another to host larger events or create fundraising events, which can be a good opportunity to network with even more peers of different cultural backgrounds.
Additionally, it is helpful to know that you will be welcomed to join any campus clubs regardless of your cultural background as the US is a country that embraces diversity. So make use of this platform, put yourself out there to meet many awesome and aspiring individuals.
Work On-Campus For Side Income
You will find that International Students in the US are commonly on ‘F’, ‘M’, or ‘J’ visas, and if you are expecting to work while studying to earn a side income, the reality might fall short of your expectations.
Within the first year of your studies in the US, F-1 student visa holders are only allowed to work on-campus for a maximum of 20 hours.
The average minimum wage in the US is around $7, but you can expect wages to be higher from $13 in more States surrounding the West and East coasts.
Off-Campus Jobs Are Limited
By off-campus jobs, it includes all types of jobs offered outside of your campus. In order to work off-campus, you need to be granted work authorization for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) from your institution before getting employed by a company offering an internship.
Once a CPT is granted, it will be valid for one year, although only one CPT employment opportunity is allowed at a time.
So before you get too excited for work while studying in the US, you should know that job opportunities are only more favorable for F-1 visa holders. The reason behind this is that the US Department of Homeland Security wants to make sure international students who are working do not impede their status as full-time students.
Filing Taxes Once You Start Working
If you have successfully secured an on-campus job, you will be further assisted to file for an SSN (Social Security Number) and would have to file taxes yearly with The International Revenue Service (IRS). For any other tax exemption questions related to aliens on student visa, read from this website for more information.
Choose A Reliable Cell Phone Plan
While you’re studying overseas away from home, it is definitely important to invest in a good cell phone carrier plan to make sure you stay connected with your family and friends at all times.
Quick facts about the US telecommunications industry:
- USA ranks 2nd with the most 5G coverage in 279 cities after China on the list
- USA has an average cost of USD 3.33 per 1GB of data.
- Nationwide calls and messages are free
- Both American telecommunications company AT&T, Verizon ranks top 2 globally by total revenue.
- Average data usage of students in the US are from 5GB per month and upwards.
You will find that AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are usually the big players in the US telecommunications industry. So when it comes to choosing a carrier service, what you should be looking for in a mobile carrier plan is:
- Affordable pricing
- Reliable customer service
- Numbers protected from scam or fraud calls
- Wide range of service coverage
- Extra services perks
Here are some carrier plans you can look into which offers reliable and budget-friendly prices:
Mint Mobile – Acquired by Ryan Reynolds in 2019, its services offer one of the cheapest prepaid mobile plan you can find in the US. Plan prices start from $15-$30 per month.
Verizon – Verizon’s Play More Unlimited postpaid plan is a steal if you sign up for 4 lines at $45 per month that offers unlimited data, talk and text, along with free streaming accounts Disney+, Hulu, ESPN, Apple Arcade, Google play, and Apple music for free.
T-Mobile – They offer cheaper postpaid options compared to Verizon and AT&T when you sign up for 3 lines, with the 3rd line for free from $40 per month as a limited offer. The perks they offer are an additional 30% monthly bill savings, and free SD Netflix Basic
Find Affordable Housing Early
Student housing and dormitory in the US is expensive. In states like California, Texas, New York, and Massachusetts that attract the most International Students, expensive housing prices are mainly due to high demand.
Considering certain states have a median housing or dormitory rent of $1200, it is helpful to know that cheaper housing options are also available from as low as $500 if you look for them diligently. Other than cutting back on your monthly food and miscellaneous expenses, finding cheaper housing options can help you save the most money out of your overall expenses while studying in the United States.
As a start, the best resources and platform to find student housing is university Facebook groups, sub-Reddits, Craigslist, or housing websites widely used in the region. Other than that, tips to find cheaper housing includes:
- Find a roommate, this is among the easiest way to save on housing expenses. When you rent a room or unit together with a roommate, you can potentially reduce rent expenses by half that easily.
- Collectively rent a whole unit with friends. It is often cheaper to rent a while unit and split the costs among a few people as supposed to renting a single room or studio unit.
- Rent further away from campus. Students always prefer housing nearer to their campuses for convenience, therefore they are always in high demand resulting in higher prices.
- Avoid renting campus dormitory. Some universities require mandatory on-campus housing for the first 2 years, it is best to move out of campus dormitories as soon as you can as most are unreasonably overpriced.
Although it’s true that the process of house hunting can be tedious, the effort invested into finding cheaper and good accommodation will definitely reward you in the long run.
Regulate An Updated Academic Plan
In order to make sure you graduate with an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree program within the expected timeframe, it is important to keep an updated academic plan which you can refer to every semester when it’s time to sign up for classes.
In some cases, students also keep track of several versions of academic plans as a strategic backup plan in case things don’t go as planned, or if they ever decide to switch majors in the future.
As an International Student studying in the US, you should know that the longer you take to graduate, the more money you will have to spend on tuition fees. International Students are charged higher tuition fees compared to in-state US citizens, thus keeping an updated academic plan at all times not only ensures you graduate according to schedule but also saves you money by not taking classes you wouldn’t need.
Get The ‘.edu’ Email For Perks
Setting up a separate professional email for school use is important and good practice as you study in the US. You typically always receive news from your campus in the form of emails. Additionally, communication with your professors, counselors, or basically all school-related faculties is also expected to be done through emails.
Make sure you are communicating and getting updated on the latest campus or class notices, so check with your campus if they offer ‘.edu’ emails so that you can separate personal and school-related notifications.
‘.edu’ Email Offers More Than Communication
International Students are often not told of the student benefits behind a ‘.edu’ email. Many online resources or software you use probably have a free trial or license for students. For instance, Microsoft Office – the most used and powerful tool for word, excel, presentation spreadsheet software is available for students to use for free if you provide your .edu email. Other than that, other places where you can make use of .edu email includes:
1. Amazon Prime – You can sign up for a free 6 months of Amazon Prime trial as long as you have a ‘.edu’ email. With an Amazon Prime account, you get to enjoy unlimited free 2-day delivery, Amazon Movies, Amazon Music, and Amazon shopping, and many more.
2. Unidays – Partnered with over 800 brands including Apple, Nike, and Under Armour, Unidays connects students with the best discount with top leading brands and merchants for both online or in-store purchases. Signing up for Unidays and using it is completely free, where you get to enjoy discounts on products ranging from tech, apparel, services, of big brands in the industry.
3. Entertainment Subscriptions – If you use services like Spotify, Youtube Premium, Apple Music, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, then you now know they have exclusive discounts for students. All you have to do is check with their website, and simply input your student email or proof of documentation that you are a student.
4. Airline tickets – Yes, you heard it right. Many airline companies even provide student privileges or discounts. For instance, Singapore Airlines is known to provide 10% discounts on selected fares, additional checked baggage allowance, and free booking date changes. Check with airline websites to see what student advantages are offered.
In today’s online marketing strategy, most big websites or companies offer very generous perks and discounts for students to gain trust in their products or services. With the power and convenience brought to us through the internet, students deals are all over the place if you know where to look for them.
Be Prepared For Culture Shock
America is known to be a very liberal and open-minded country. Unlike any other country, the US sure has its own zing when it comes to the culture and living practices of the locals. Before you get the chance to fully immerse into their culture, the most notable cultural practices that might appeal to you are:
Calling seniors directly by their first name – In the US, calling seniors or people older than you by their first name is acceptable and more common than you might think. Even college professors tend to allow students to address them by their first name. Unless they explicitly express the need for honorifics, you shouldn’t be worried about disrespecting them by calling their first name.
Americans wear shoes in their homes – Without a doubt, it is common to find most American households wearing shoes indoors. Even in large gatherings, people who wear shoes indoor wouldn’t be considered rude even if certain people prefer to remove their shoes.
Americans uses [Month/Day/Year] instead of [Day/Month/Year] date formats – This format definitely needs time to get used to. I personally know friends who had trouble with the banks to use bank cheques issued from a foreign country due to the different date formats. Make sure this date format does not get in your way while handling documentations or missing any important occasions.
Americans use the Imperial System – Imperial unit measurements are in inches, feet, pounds, and miles. While your home country likely use the Metric System, you will definitely need some time to get used to this custom.
Racial and LGBTQ remarks are sensitive – In recent years, as discrimination against racial and LGBTQ communities tends to grow, it is important not to make or sensitive gender or racist remarks in public. In the US, you should know it has become increasingly controversial to incite discussion or arguments about these topics, so avoid them to stay out of trouble.
The US is home to many immigrants and was collectively founded by forefathers from all over the world. Therefore, it is important to respect everyone and avoid spreading negativity and false assumptions based on social stereotypes towards people of different races.