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A = Entrance Tests
B = Application Calendar
C = Tuition and Living costs
US colleges and universities require that all their applicants take one or more standardized tests. These tests include the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), ACT test, GRE (Graduate Record Examination), and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Additionally, applicants who are not Americans are required to also take the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language).
International students applying for an undergraduate program (bachelor’s degree) will be required to take the TOEFL and the SAT I tests. Some schools will also require the SAT II. There are also many schools that will accept the ACT in place of the SAT I.
Graduate students applying to an arts or science program will be required to take the TOEFL and, usually, the GRE. Graduate students applying to a business program will be required to take the TOEFL and, usually, the GMAT. Find out directly from the schools to which you would like to apply what tests are required. A brief description of each of these standardized tests is given below.
A = Entrance Tests
In most parts of the world, the TOEFL is a computer-based test. In some areas, paper-based testing is also available. Paper-based tests are administered on predetermined dates; computer-based tests can be taken on an appointment basis. The test consists of mostly multiple-choice questions. An essay question is also required. The computer-based test contains four sections:
Listening; This section is designed to test your understanding of English as it is spoken inAmerica. You will listen to dialogues, conversations and speeches using headphones. Then you will answer multiple-choice questions about the material.
Structure; This section is designed to test your ability to understand written English. It covers formal English, rather than casual, or conversational English. The questions are multiple-choice.
Reading; This section is designed to test your understanding of written passages similar to what you will have to read in an American school. The questions cover reading comprehension as well as vocabulary. Again, these questions are multiple-choice.
Writing; This section asks you to write an essay in English. This section is designed to test your ability to write in English, as well as to develop, organize and support your arguments effectively.
To find out more about the TOEFL test, including how to register, where to take the test, and how to obtain preparation materials, visit www.toefl.org.
There are two versions of the SAT test. The SAT I is the called the Reasoning Test and is designed to evaluate your mathematical and verbal skills. It consists mostly of multiple-choice questions. The questions in the math sections cover arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, as well as logical reasoning, probability and counting. The questions in the verbal sections fall into the following categories:
Analogies ‘ These questions test your knowledge of the meanings of words and your ability to see relationships in pairs of words.
Sentence completions ‘ These questions test your knowledge of the meanings of words and your ability to understand how different elements in a sentence fit together logically.
Critical reading’ These questions measure your ability to read a passage and think about it.
The SAT II, on the other hand, contains 22 separate tests called Subject Tests. Each subject test covers a specific area such as world history, Spanish, or chemistry. These tests are designed to determine your level of knowledge in each area and your ability to apply that knowledge to answer questions. If the school you are applying to requires the SAT II, you will generally be able to choose which subject test(s) you would like to take. You can take up to three subject tests in one day. However, you cannot take the SAT I and the SAT II on the same day. For more information on the SAT tests, including registration and preparation information, visit www.collegeboard.com.
The GRE General Test is similar to the SAT I in that it evaluates your mathematical and verbal abilities. It is designed to measure your reasoning skills, rather than your knowledge of any specific subject matter. Subject matter testing is done with the GRE Subject Tests. These tests should be taken by students who have a bachelor’s degree (or very extensive training) in that subject. They cover eight different subject areas: (1) biochemistry, cell and molecular biology; (2) biology; (3) chemistry; (4) computer science; (5) literature in English; (6) mathematics; (7) physics; (8) psychology. To find out more about the GRE tests, including how to register, where to take the tests, and how to obtain preparation materials, visit www.gre.org.
The GMAT is designed to assess your mathematical, verbal and analytical writing skills. Again, it measures your ability to apply knowledge, rather than the amount of knowledge you have. It is a computer-based test and contains both multiple-choice and essay questions. For more information on the GMAT, including how to register and prepare for the test, visit www.mba.com.
B = Application Calendar
The following information will help you plan for the college application process by giving you dates by which each of the necessary steps should be completed. Following a schedule will help you make sure that everything is done on time and that no items or steps are forgotten.
18 months before beginning your studies in the US:
Begin your search of possible US colleges or universities that you would like to attend. Read through college reference guides and visit college websites. Also talk with your relatives and friends who have studied in the US. Request information from 10 to 20 different schools so that you can make a good decision on where to apply.
Register and start preparing for the TOEFL and other entrance tests (such as the SAT or GRE).
Continue to work hard at your subjects at school. Good grades in the courses you are taking now will count heavily in the admissions decisions.
15 months before:
Take the TOEFL and other entrance tests. Most universities require you to take the test before December, so taking it now gives you an opportunity to take it again in November and improve your score.
12 months before:
Send letters to colleges you have selected requesting applications and information, or obtain this information and necessary forms from their websites. You should choose: (a) one or two schools that you really like, but may be too difficult to get into; (b) two or three that you also like and which you think will accept you; (c) one or two which may not be your favorites, but you are quite sure will accept you.
Identify two or three teachers or other people whom know you well and ask them to write recommendation letters for you.
For undergraduate applicants the best references are teachers and your school principal. Family friends, religious counselors, and others should be used only if they know you very well and can speak specifically about your academic goals and potential.
Graduate students should obtain letters from their teachers or professionals in their field whom they have worked with and who can speak specifically about their academic potential and relevant accomplishments.
Ask the schools you have attended to start preparing your transcripts. These are official school documents that show the courses you have studied and the grades you have received in those courses.
If your previous TOEFL, SAT, or GRE scores were not satisfactory, register for the test again.
11 months before:
If you have not yet received the application forms you requested from the schools you wrote to, send another letter repeating your request. Study the applications you have received. Note carefully the deadlines on each of them. Remember to allow time for delays in the mail.
Ask your schools to send certified copies of your academic transcripts to each of the schools where you are applying. Ask your teachers to write their letters of recommendation for you. Give them the forms provided by the schools and a stamped, addressed envelope for each letter they will be mailing.
Undergraduate students should write their application essay. This essay is an important part of the application. It should reflect who you are and what you feel is important. Try not to repeat information you have provided in other parts of the application, but instead work to make the essay unique and personal. Get comments on it from an English teacher. For more information on writing your essay, refer to Personal essay. Graduate students should write their statement of purpose if the schools have indicated that they require one. This is an important part of the application. You should show in your statement how your education so far has created a foundation for your goals, and how your proposed coursework in the US will help you achieve those goals. You should be as specific as possible about your research interests and past accomplishments.
Make photocopies of the applications and begin to fill in the required information on the copies. You will later transfer the information to the originals. If any questions confuse you, seek help from your teachers, or from someone who has studied in the US.
10 months before:
Complete your essays and application forms, including the financial aid application forms, using the originals (not the copies). Type or write by hand very neatly and carefully. The finished applications will be your introduction to the schools, so you want to make them look good. Keep a copy of the completed applications for your records. Mail the originals by airmail in time to meet the deadlines.
Take the TOEFL and other exams again, if you need to improve your scores.
Check with your teachers and your school to make sure your recommendations and transcripts have been mailed in time to meet the deadlines.
9 months before:
It is not unusual for schools to request more information or resubmission of something you have already sent. Respond promptly to any requests you receive.
4-5 months before:
You will start hearing decisions from the schools. Contact the admissions office at any school that you do not hear from.
Accept only one school's offer, and let the other schools know of your decision. Ask the school you have chosen to attend to send you the I-20 form. Make housing arrangements.
Apply for a passport if you do not already have one.
3 months before:
Get a visa application form from the US embassy or consulate nearest you. For a complete description of the visa application process, go to Immigration.
Make travel arrangements. Schedule your trip so you arrive at least 15 days prior to your school’s orientation.
C = Tuition and Living Costs
Note that the yearly costs given below are rough estimates. Costs such as tuition and fees will vary between different schools. Costs such as travel and room and board will vary between different cities in the US. Also, you should assume about a 5% increase per year for each cost. This is due to inflation.
Tuition will be the largest component of your education cost. It will vary widely between different schools, so it is best for you to refer to the schools where you are planning to apply to get a realistic amount. As a very rough guideline, the cost for tuition can range from $5,000 to $25,000 per year. Public institutions will typically charge lower tuition than private institutions, and community colleges usually have the lowest tuition costs of all public institutions. For an explanation of the differences between public and private institutions, refer to Bachelor’s Degree .
Room and board
This is normally the second largest component of your education cost. The cost for room and board can also vary widely between schools, so you should check with the schools where you are planning to apply to get the right estimate. A rough guideline is between $3,000 and $8,000.
In addition to tuition, most colleges and universities will also charge fees, such as student activity fees. These help to support student clubs and organizations on campus. They are usually relatively small, only a few hundred dollars per year.
Books and supplies
Students must pay for all their text books, as well as, supplies, such as, notebooks, paper, pens, etc. You can sometimes lower this cost by buying used books from the school’s bookstore. A good estimate for this cost is between $500 and $1,500.
Because the cost of healthcare in the US is very high, many schools require international students to purchase medical insurance. It is a very good idea to buy insurance even if your school does not require it to protect yourself from extremely high medical bills should you become ill or have an accident. A comprehensive insurance policy (which covers doctor’s visits, medication, hospitalization, and surgery) will cost between $500 and $1,000 for one person.
You should calculate how much it will cost you to travel between your school and your home country. You will need to determine how many times during the length of your education you will go home and multiply that by the cost of airplane fare between the two locations.
These expenses include clothing, entertainment, and telephone bills. This will vary depending on where you will live and on your personal lifestyle; therefore, it is difficult to provide an estimate.
The first decision that you need to make regarding housing is whether you will be living on campus or off campus. Some small schools and some schools in large cities do not offer any on-campus housing. These are usually referred to as ‘commuter schools’ because all students need to commute to school everyday. Both living on campus and off campus have benefits. Read the information below to determine which is best for you.
One major benefit of living on campus is you will have easy access to everything the school has to offer. You can go to the libraries, the sporting facilities, and computer centers at your convenience. All will be within walking (or at least cycling) distance. Another convenience is the school cafeteria. Most schools offer affordable meal plans to students who live on campus, since on-campus residences do not have kitchen facilities. On-campus housing can also be cheaper, depending on where the school is situated. If a school is located in a suburban area, it may be difficult to find apartments close by. And if the school is located in a large city, you will find that it can be competitive and expensive to find any apartments at all.
Another benefit of on-campus housing is safety. College campuses are patrolled 24 hours a day by the schools’ own security forces. Living alone in an area with which you are not familiar may not always be the safest choice. A final benefit is the relationships you will develop by living closely with your fellow students. Not only will you most likely have a roommate, but you will also be surrounded by hundreds of other students. You will never be lonely, making the transition to a new country much easier.
Most university housing consists of dormitories, also called ‘residence halls.’ Typically two students will share a room. There will be one or more bathroom and shower facilities on each floor that will be shared by all students living on that floor. Some universities offer residence halls that cater to specific interests, such as an ‘international house’ for students who want to learn more about other cultures. Often there are also halls for first year students only, for graduate students only, and for women only.
Some colleges and universities do not provide on-campus housing. Still others do provide housing, but it is not sufficient (and therefore not guaranteed) for all their students. Often there will be an off-campus housing office to assist students in finding an appropriate place to live. The office will help students find a compatible roommate to share expenses and will also provide information about the local neighborhoods, including what restaurants, shops, and public transportation are accessible.
Many international students, particularly graduate students, prefer the independence of living off campus. They feel that it also creates fewer distractions and gives them more privacy. Sometimes living off campus can be more affordable, particularly if you rent a house and find several roommates to share it with. You will also find that food costs may be lower, since you will be doing your own cooking. (Having access to a kitchen is an added benefit for students who miss their local dishes.) Don’t forget to calculate what you will need to pay for transportation and utilities, such as electricity and local telephone service, when figuring the cost of living off campus.