Frequently Asked Questions: Study In The United States

Any one who has:

  • A consistently good academic record
  • Sufficient financial support
  • Proficiency in English

To be eligible for undergraduate study (Bachelors degree), you must have completed 12 years of formal education. For admission into graduate study (Masters / Doctorate degrees) you must have completed 16 years of formal education.

Most bachelors programs in Pakistan (with the exception of programs such as engineering, architecture etc.) are of two or three year’s duration. The students who hold degrees from these programs have two options:

  • They can complete a Pakistani master’s degree before applying for the US master’s degree, or
  • They can apply into a US undergraduate program and anticipate two years of study in the US in order to earn that degree before going on for the master’s degree.

There are over 3,100 universities and colleges in the United States. over 2,000 award Bachelor’s degrees, while over 1,000 award both undergraduate (Bachelor’s) and graduate (Mater’s or Doctoral) degrees.) Choosing the “right” one for you requires considering many factors:

  • Look for an institution that best suits your needs.
  • Make sure the institutions are either nationally or regionally accredited.
  • Consider the cost, reputation, location, size, admission requirements and programs offered.

Contact the nearest Education USA Advising Center for more information on programs offered by various colleges and universities.

The two words (college and university) are used interchangeably in American English. Americans very often use the word ‘school’ to describe any place where people learn, from a nursery school up through a college or a university.

Every university and college has its own admissions requirements. In general, U.S. universities will require you to submit the following items when you apply for admission:

  • Institutional application form: Most application forms are similar and require you to provide information about your academic and personal background. You may come across many unfamiliar terms while filling out the application form. If so, visit an EducationUSA Advising Center to seek clarification.
  • Application fee: Almost all colleges and universities will require you to pay an application fee. Fees range from US$ 20-US$ 100 and are non-refundable, even if you are not accepted.
  • Transcripts: Americans refer to marksheets as “transcripts.” Attested photocopies of all your academic credentials such as mark sheets and certificates must be submitted with your application.
  • Financial documents: U.S. universities and colleges require proof that you have adequate funds to pay for your entire education in the U.S. Generally, institutions require a financial guarantee signed by whoever is funding your education and a copy of their bank statement.
  • Standardized test scores: Depending on your level and field of study, you will be required to submit scores from one or more of the following tests: TOEFL (everyone must take), SAT I, SAT II (to be taken by applicants into programs teaching toward a bachelor degree), ACT, GRE, GMAT, TSE, and GRE Subject tests (to be taken by those applying into master’s level study in all subjects except business or any kind of administration). The institution into which you are applying will specify what tests they require.
  • Application essay (undergraduate applicants) or Statement of Purpose (applicants into master’s or PhD level study) : Many colleges require you to write an essay that describes your academic and personal background, abilities, goals, special talents, future plans, and reason for wanting to study in the U.S. Some colleges require more than one essay. Essays are usually mandatory for scholarship applicants and graduate students.
  • Letters of recommendation: Almost all graduate programs and many undergraduate colleges require you to submit 2-3 letters written by teachers or professors who have taught you recently. In the case of graduate applicants, usually one letter of recommendation from a recent employer is required along with two others from professors.
  • Other supporting materials: You may submit documented evidence of any significant awards, prizes, honors, and work experience. Samples of creative work may even be required for those applying for admission to programs in the visual or performing arts. However, unless specifically asked, it is advisable not to send the originals, as those items may be logistically difficult for the admissions committees to return to you.

Since the application and admissions review process take almost one year, you should start the process at least 12 months in advance and earlier if you are looking for financial aid.

Yes, it does. By the time a student has sent in applications, received admissions and secured a student visa, the student would have spent anywhere between Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 60,000. This includes test fees, application processing fees, postal expenses and visa processing and issuance fees.

Financing Your Studies

You will need a minimum of US$10,000 to $15,000 per year to cover the costs of tuition, room and board, books, and personal expenses. Some universities cost well over US$30,000 per year. Very few awards are more than $5,000. The cost of studying in the United States varies widely among universities, and the cost of living varies from location to location. The chart below shows the range of costs that students can expect to find at various universities:

  • Cost for One Year (2000-2001 estimates)
  • Tuition Fee ($3,500 – $25,000)
  • Room and Board ($4,000 – $12,000)
  • Books and Supplies ($500 – $1,000)
  • Health Insurance ($400 – $600)
  • Personal Expenses ($1,200 – $3,000)

Tuition fees at private universities will usually be double the cost of state universities. Tuition at two-year colleges will generally be substantially less than a state university.

Some financial aid is available to international students. Keep in mind, however, that about 30% of international students in the US receive major financial aid from the US college or university. Of the remainder, the majority of students are self-financed, while a small percentage are recipients of awards or assistance from their home country or other external sources.

A scholarship is a financial award based on merit: excellent academic performance, or perhaps community service or leadership. Financial aid is a grant based on the student’s financial need, as documented by, family income, assets and other factors. There are also sports scholarships, awarded for recognized athletic ability. All types of scholarships and financial aid are extremely competitive and require outstanding academic records.

Scholarships, grants and prizes are occasionally available. Often colleges and universities are searching not only for bright students, but also for interesting and original candidates. If you have any special talent, in fields such as music, sports, arts, student politics or others, make sure to mention it in your application.

Each university or college makes its own decision about whether or not to grant financial aid. In general, there are very few financial aid opportunities available to foreign students, especially at the undergraduate level. Students with outstanding academic records and high SAT and/or ACT scores can be considered for financial aid at the undergraduate level. About 300 undergraduate institutions award significant (but usually partial) financial aid to international students. Through research at your educational advising center, you may develop a plan that maximizes your chances of admission with aid.

Universities and colleges in the US may offer financial assistance to graduate students in the form of research or teaching assistantships. Funding may come as a tuition waiver or a monthly stipend for board and lodging, or both. Assistantships do not cover airfare to and from the U.S. The student should therefore look for additional funding to supplement his/her assistantship. To be competitive for assistantships, you must have a high score in the GRE or GMAT, excellent grades, strong recommendations and a clear, precise and interesting statement of purpose.

Consult your local Educational Advising Center for access to publications such as The College Board’s International Student Handbook or Peterson’s Applying to Colleges and Universities in the United States and other publications. Write to the admissions office of universities that interest you, and find out specific details of their financial aid programs such as amount of aid awarded to international students and any special requirements.

Financial aid usually does not cover the full cost, so you should be prepared and also apply to other sources of assistance. First year students are less likely to receive assistance, and a few universities may restrict their funding to US citizens and residents. There are three main forms of university financial aid available:

  • Teaching assistantships: For 20 hours a week a graduate student may help a professor with lectures, lead class discussions, grade exam papers or teach freshmen (first-year) undergraduates. Take both the TOEFL and the TSE (Test of Spoken English) to demonstrate your English proficiency and write an extra application essay describing your teaching interests and experiences.
  • Research Assistantships: RAs are hired by professors who have been awarded grants to conduct research. They are most common in the sciences are often available in the social sciences, and are rarely available in professional fields such as business or health professions. The number of positions available depends on the professors’ ability to get research grants and are therefore more common at the leading research universities. The RA’s workload varies widely but usually includes a tuition waiver and a stipend. The advantage of a research assistantship is that it can be related to the student’s thesis or long-term academic interests. RA’s are chosen for their demonstrated research and interpersonal skills; computer ability, writing skills, and teamwork are three essential qualifications. To get an RA, study the curriculum of each university to which you are applying, and identify the professors whose research interests most closely parallel your own. Write an intelligent letter to any professor who could serve as your advisor, describe your previous research experience and interests, and tell him or her why you would be a productive member of the research team. A superior academic record and GPE scores are also essential to a successful RA application.
  • Fellowships: Fellowships are normally awarded to students admitted in a Ph.D. program. They entail no work responsibilities and may cover the cost of tuition and fees plus a stipend. Full fellowship support for the duration of a program is rare and will generally be combined with an assistantship. All aid is awarded on a year-by-year basis but should be forthcoming if the minimum GPA is maintained.

It is not easy to get a job as a foreign student in the USA, especially at the undergraduate level. You cannot rely on employment to pay for your education in the U.S. Working off-campus is illegal and can lead to deportation from the U.S. On-campus employment for international students is limited to 20 hours per week, usually at minimum wage. You can expect to earn between $1000 and $2000 a year in an administrative position, which is enough to pay for books, clothing, and personal expenses. This will not be enough to pay for your tuition, fees or living expenses while in the USA. Jobs are offered on university campuses through the International Students’ Office, Housing Services, the catering services, the Library, etc.

It is difficult, and most of the time impossible, for a foreign student to get a loan from an American bank or organization. However, some foreign students have been successful in getting loans through the help of family members or ethnic organizations in the U.S. If you are looking for a loan, it is recommended you do this in your home country, not in the USA. Before taking a loan, make certain you know how you are going to repay, it, and how a loan will affect your plans for graduate study and returning home.

In general, financial aid for international students at the undergraduate level is less available than assistance for students at the graduate level and beyond.

Visa Information

The first thing you need in order to apply for a student visa is the Form I-20 (Student Visa Eligibility Form). This form will be issued to you by the college or university that accepts you for admission. You will not be eligible for a visa unless you have the completed I-20 form filled out by the university you will attend. Receiving an I-20 form does not guarantee that you will receive a student visa. After you have received the Form I-20, you must take it to the Consular Section at the American Embassy, along with the following items:

  • valid passport
  • proof of financial support
  • standardized test scores and marksheets
  • a completed, non-immigrant visa application form and photo
  • a student questionnaire form

Applicants must also demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Embassy/Consulate that they intend to return home after completing their studies in the U.S.

It is very simple if you possess all the necessary documents, meet the requirements stated above, and are able to convince the consular officer that you have well laid out career plans upon your return to Pakistan.