In-Depth of Studying in the US (Cost, Exams, Pathway)

Last Updated on June 28, 2022 by David Shaw

Requirements to Study in the US (Cost, Exams, Pathways, Preparations)

Are you planning to further your higher study in the US as an international student and want to learn more about the process and requirements? the USA is undoubtedly one of the best countries you can receive a world-class education and career opportunities.

Surely the US attracts a lot of aspiring young individuals from all over the world who want to achieve the American dream, but there are many ways to achieve it starting from education. If you can be informed and updated with the latest requirements and cost of studying in the US, the American Dream is just one application away.

The information and recommendations you get from your local educational services often have ulterior intentions in the form of commission leads, therefore puppeting you into enrolling in expensive institutions that offer the same degree. In this article, we will share and talk about the requirements to study in higher-level education in the US by looking at few important points anyone who wishes to study in the US should know.

Understanding the US Education System

Particularly in the US, the words college and university are often used interchangeably and practically have the same meaning. To understand the higher education system in the US, let’s first look at the higher learning program studies as well as the academic degrees they offer.

Associate’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree are classified as undergraduate degrees, and undergraduates typically refer to a student at a university or college who has not obtained their first degree before. As for graduate studies, they include Master’s and Doctorate study programs like every other country which you can only pursue after obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree.

Despite seeing the major similarities with the UK university systems, people usually are unfamiliar with the term Associate’s Degree and the different degree program durations in the US.

Academic Calender

In the US, the school calendar usually begins between August and September (Fall Semester) and continues through May or June (Spring Semester). You will find that universities in the US follow either the semester system or quarter system, which might take some time to get used to if you’re new to this academic calendar system.

Universities following the semester system typically have classes that last for approximately 15 weeks, twice a year. As for the quarter system, 3 quarters are offered each year according to the climatic season. The academic calendar does include Summer classes, as it is optional for students to take classes during this season.

What is Associate’s Degree?

Unlike many other countries, the US educational system offers an Associate’s Degree, a 2-year degree typically offered by colleges or smaller universities. Compared to the UK educational system, an Associate’s Degree is equivalent to a Diploma degree as they take a similar amount of time, which is around 2 years.

Although the qualifications are similar to other countries, one notable difference is the duration of the degree programs. A Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in the US typically is an additional year longer or more to complete if you compare it to other countries following the UK university system.

US degree typesDurationInstitution offering them (Public and Private)
Associate’s Degree1-2 yearsCommunity Colleges
Bachelor’s Degree4 years4-Year universities
Master’s Degree1-3 yearsGraduate Universities
Doctorate Degree4-6 yearsGraduate Universities

To learn how can you strategically graduate with an Associate’s Degree within 2 years or less, check out this post for tips and guides.

Academic Test Score Requirements

exam score

When it comes to the standardized test requirements for US universities, international students are usually unsure if they should only submit their national high school diploma for the university application, or whether should they also take the SAT. You might read from the internet or academic websites that you might need SAT, ACT, or Advanced Placement (AP) scores to enroll in a US university.

As to which method should you choose, the short answer is that either one works. If you’re applying to a university where admission is not competitive, you probably won’t need to provide SAT scores for admission. As for more elite and famous universities, you’ll likely need to submit both your high school diploma and SAT scores to increase your chances of admission.

More Universities Are Making SAT Score Reports Optional

Since SAT is the most widely accepted college entrance exam among US universities, recent development and changes to the academic industry and gives rise to questions as to whether if students need to take the SAT for their college application.

Due to the pandemic and progress in academic development, many elite universities like Cornell University, Columbia University, Stanford, MIT no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores for freshmen or transfer admission for the 2021-22 application cycle.

With that said, since US education greatly values holistic education, you can be considered for admission even if your national high school diploma is not in the top percentile score. As long as you have a rich extracurricular background and have evidence to show that you have a passion for a subject, you still have a good chance for admission amongst the large pool of applicants.

Although universities still state that they value SAT and ACT scores to some capacity in the application reviewing process, you can still apply to most universities in the US with only your national high school diploma if you scored exceptionally well on it.

English Language Test Requirements

Since university classes across the US will be conducted in the English language, you will need to show proof of your English proficiency through taking several standardized English tests if you did not attend a US high school.

As an international student who wishes to study in the US, you will very likely need to sit for the IELTS or TOEFL to fulfill the English proficiency test requirement. Although IELTS and TOEFL have been the common choices among international students, the Duolingo English Test is also getting more popular and widely accepted by many US universities. Not only is Duolingo English Test cheaper, but it is also more convenient to take through online.

To find out and learn whether should you take Duolingo’s English Test over IELTS or TOEFL, check out this article on why Duolingo’s English Test is better.

Costs of Studying in the US

us dollar bills

The cost of studying plays a huge factor in determining whether will you study in the US, so it is crucial to understand and get a good approximate of the range of tuition fees among US universities. The average cost of studying in the US typically starts from as low as $20,000 to $80,000 per year depending on the type of university you wish to attend. This estimate includes tuition, accommodation, food, and miscellaneous costs you will be responsible for.

– Different Tiers of University Have Different Tuition Fees

Top-tier universities in the USA are typically classified into regional, state, and national-level universities. If a university’s rank and recognition are high, their tuition fees tend to be higher as well.

To name a few, famous state-level universities in the US include UC Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Michigan State University. As for national-level universities, they are typically famous universities with similar recognition to Ivy League schools which are Stanford, MIT, Caltech, New York University, and many more.

– Public Universities Are Much Cheaper Than Private Universities

Public universities, including community colleges, are significantly cheaper in tuition fees because they are funded with taxpayer’s money from the state. Junior colleges, otherwise known as community colleges that offer 2-year Associate’s Degrees also have cheaper tuition fees compared to 4-year universities due to their smaller size and faculty.

While their tuition fees are cheaper compared to other private universities, it doesn’t necessarily mean they offer lower-quality degrees. For instance, public universities and colleges like the University of California in Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, Davis, and Santa Monica College are among the world and country’s top-ranking schools.

Paths You Can Take To Reduce Tuition Fees in USA

Surely the cost of studying in the US can be expensive when compared to many other countries, but there are certain ways and methods you can take to reduce the cost of studying in the US or lighten the financial burden.

  • Start in a community college, and transfer to 4-year universities

This method is commonly practiced amongst Americans but is very new to foreign students. Instead of starting as freshmen in a 4-year university, students enroll in community colleges to complete their 2-year degree and transfer to 4-year universities to obtain their Bachelor’s Degree. This is one of the best ways to save tuition dollars, and you also get to experience 2 different university environments, meet more people, while having a higher chance of admission into a top university compared to direct freshmen admission.

  • Pursue master’s degree in the US

If you’re simply tight on budget, pursuing a Master’s Degree in the US with a Bachelor’s Degree obtained in your home country can be a great way to save on tuition dollars. Not only does a Master’s Degree typically have lower tuition fees, but it also has a shorter program of around 2 years. So if you put the numbers into consideration, getting a Master’s Degree after obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in your home country could be significantly cheaper.

  • Apply for student loan

Most locals in the US apply for student loans through the FAFSA application. As an international student in the US, you can’t simply apply for FAFSA unless you have a local guarantor or co-signer. However, many private student loan companies might charge higher interest rates that you can reach out to in case you ever need one.

To read more about whether is studying the UK or the US cheaper, check out this article for the comparison.

Take Pathway Programs to Study in the US Easily

Another way you can easily study in the US without taking the IELTS or TOEFL is through pathway programs. The main purpose of pathway programs is to accommodate international students who wish to study in the US by offering “English as a second language (ESL)” courses while also giving them the option to take major-related courses that will count toward their degree.

While you’re studying under a pathway program, you will either be learning higher-level English for a few semesters or as long as you need, and can even take other major-related classes to work your way towards a Bachelor’s Degree. Aside from being a convenient way to skip the barrier or TOEFL or IELTS examination, some pathway programs even provide housing accommodation for students who are new to the US culture and environment, as well as a dedicated team of advisors to help them through the university process.

Another alternative to pathway programs offered at universities is to look for community colleges in the US that offer English as a Second Language (ESL). To enroll in these community colleges, you only need to present your national high school diploma to easily get admitted. I personally recommend this way as it is more convenient and offers more value for your money.

However, we recommend choosing pathway programs as the last resort if you face difficulties with the English language requirements as pathway programs are expensive.

Documentation and Departure Preparations

US airport customs

When it comes to the final step to start your tertiary academic journey in the US, there are things and procedures you should keep in mind to comply with the US Custom and Border while maintaining your legal status and stay in the US as a student.

1. Prepare for the US student Visa

You can only apply for a student visa when you are offered admission into a US university. Your designated university will issue you an I-20(link this), which will be required to apply for an F or J-Visa. To complete this process, you will have to visit your local US embassy in your country in order to have it completed.

2. Entering the USA

To enter the US, you will need to provide and present your I-20 and F/J-Visa to the border custom at the airport. Keeping the I-20 documentation with you at all times during entry and leaving the US is crucial to ensure you are not violating immigration laws in the US. It is helpful to know that the US allows you to stay in the US after your F/J is expired, but not if your I-20 is expired. So anytime you’re still present in the US, you can never allow your I-20 to expire, which you simply request for renewal from your school faculty.

3. Making a bank account

You will surely need money in the US to finance your tuition and living expenses whether if you’re receiving financial support from your parents or government grants. Thankfully, making a bank account in the US is a very easy process. You just need to present your passport, I-20 and you’ll be able to open as many bank accounts at different banks as your desire. From there, your parents or any financial source from your home country can wire international cheque transfers or any way that is more convenient to finance you.

4. Expired visas or passport

Many students might not know this, while you can continue to stay in the US with an expired F/J student visa, you cannot stay overseas from your home country on an expired visa! This is the reason why even some airline companies won’t allow you to buy a flight ticket if your national passport is expiring within the next 6 months.

With an expired student visa, you can also renew it the next time you’re back visiting your home country from a semester break. Make sure to also check your passport’s expiration date, and make sure it will be valid throughout your next stay in the US. For further questions related to your national passport and visa, you are highly encouraged to contact your local US or local embassy representatives.

Final Thoughts

Studying in the US can be a great choice to obtain world-class education as well as secure a high-paying and impactful career in the future. Given that the US is home to the world’s leading technological hubs, and the economic powerhouse in the 21st century, pursuing higher education in the US can supplement you with the latest knowledge and skills.

To make sure you will be ready before the next semester intake every year around August, be sure to check if you need to take an English proficiency, SAT, or any other standardized test. We recommend preparing yourself with the appropriate information and documents 3 months ahead of the application deadline of the universities you wish to apply for. If you are unsure about any information or the application process about a university, be sure to contact their admissions team through their email, and they will be more than happy to assist you.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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