There are many English language schools in the USA, both privately operated and those that are part of a larger college or institution. If a language school is located on a larger university campus, it may well be referred to as an intensive English programme, or IEP. Some on-campus language schools are privately operated. There are two main accrediting bodies in the USA that are able to provide an assurance that programmes with their endorsement have met agreed standards in relation to their education programmes. Accet is a general education standards body with special provisions for English language training, while CEA is an English language programme accreditation body (see below - useful addresses).
Secondary education in the USA
Boarding schools in the USA have a very high academic reputation and aim to fully prepare students for success at university. Many offer English language support for international students, whether through a summer school, a 'bridge' programme where international students spend five or six months receiving intensive English instruction before joining mainstream classes or separate English language classes in conjunction with mainstream classes. International students can opt to stay with host families or in residential accommodation.
Higher education in the USA
The most popular courses chosen by international students who want to study in the USA are business and management, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences. There are over 3,700 colleges and universities in the USA, giving international students plenty of variety to choose from. Classes are generally small, and students are expected to contribute to in-class discussion. Professors meet with students in their offices and even share coffee or meals with them. The academic year runs from September to May or June.
Explaining undergraduate and postgraduate study
Colleges and universities are sometimes referred to as 'school' in the USA. A university is in fact a group of schools, for example, school of law or graduate school. There are two main types of study: undergraduate and postgraduate study. Undergraduate programmes lead to associate degrees and bachelor's degrees. Junior colleges only offer associate degrees, which are two years in length. Students often transfer to a college or university after gaining an associate degree to complete a bachelor's degree, which takes an additional two years.
Community colleges also offer two-year college transfer programmes where students gain a broad base of general knowledge before transferring to university. At a college or university, the first two years of undergraduate study are called freshman and sophomore years. The third and fourth years are called junior and senior years.
In the first two years, students study a variety of subjects, choosing their 'major' field of specialisation when they enter their junior year. In some institutions they also take a 'minor' field, and in most cases students can still take elective subjects if they wish. Some students do not specialise in one field until they reach graduate level. Students gain credits while studying. One course is awarded credits equal to the number of hours studied per week, and there are usually three to five credits for one subject. Four or five courses are expected to be taken by students to make up a full programme per year.
At undergraduate level, students can transfer from one university to another, taking the credits they have earned with them. Credits can also be earned at overseas institutions.
Graduate programmes lead to master's and doctoral degrees. Many master's courses take one year to complete, although the popular Master of Business Administration (MBA) takes two years. Doctoral degrees (PhDs) take three or more years to attain, and can take international students up to six years to finish. PhD students have to conduct first-hand research and write an in-depth thesis on a chosen subject.
There is very little aid available for international students at undergraduate level in the USA. However, a few individual private schools may have funds available for particularly able international students. Enquiries should be addressed to the International Admissions Office at each school to find out if there are funds available. In recent years, US universities have begun offering undergraduate scholarships for international students if the percentage of internationals on their campuses is not high enough. The number of these scholarships change from year to year. There are also athletic scholarships available. For postgraduate students, assistance is offered in the form of teaching or research assistantships. Contact individual universities or visit the international education financial assistance website, www.iefa.com, for more information on funding your studies in the USA.
Assisted university study in the US can be achieved through The Fullbright Program, a university exchange system that has been running for nearly fifty years. Many countries have their own Fullbright Commission, otherwise contact your US Embassy.
Crucial visa info and work rights
Students who wish to take part in short-term part-time courses may do so for up to 18 hours a week on the standard B-2 tourist visa. Students who wish to study either longer term, or more intensively, will require an F-1 visa. Exchange visitors may require a J visa, and people engaging in non-academic or vocational training require an M visa.
Visa applications are dealt with by your nearest US Embassy or consulate, and applications are dealt with differently according to the different requirements of different countries. To apply or an F-1 visa, you must have been sent an appropriate Sevis-generated I-20 form by the institution you will be studying at. The embassy or consulate should provide you with the necessary application forms (DS-156, DS-158, sometimes DS-157), and provide you with information about the compulsory non-refundable administration fee relevant in your area (usually around $100). Once you have applied, most embassies or consulates will organise a face-to-face interview, for which you will need to provide your passport and a passport-sized photo, as well as certificates from previous institutions, your scores from Toefl, SAT or other standardised tests, and evidence of your ability to financially support yourself during your course of study.
June, July and August are the busiest months for visa applications, so it is best to apply early.
Since September 11th 2001, visa policy in the US has been undergoing thorough and continual examination. For the most up-to-date information, visit www.travel.state.gov or www.uscis.gov/graphics/services/tempbenefits/studvisas.htm
Travelling around the USA
Travelling by air can be a cheap and convenient way of getting around the USA, especially when travelling from coast to coast. Most airlines offer special discount fares between popular cities. Most also offer standby fares, which can be less than half the standard fare, but you are not guaranteed a seat. Standby fares are not usually advertised. You can find out about them through an airline's ticket office.
Travelling by coach is another inexpensive way of touring the country. Coach operators, Greyhound and Continental Trailways, both offer low-cost rates for travellers. The Greyhound Discovery Pass for both American citizens and internationals can be ordered on the Internet 21 days in advance. The Discovery Pass costs US$283 for seven days and US$645 for 60 days. You can also buy it directly from a Greyhound station.
Amtrak is the main train operator in the country, and again a special discount rail pass for international travellers is available. This pass is valid for 15 or 30 days and costs from US$499 for 15 days during the main tourist season and US$389 at off-peak times, with cheaper regional passes available. A Student Advantage Card costs US$20 for a year and offers students a 15 per cent discount on Greyhound and Amtrak fares.
The USA is, of course, a great country for road-trips, and most Americans would be lost without a car. Petrol prices are competitive in the USA and hiring a car is a realistic option for many students over the age of 25. You will need an international driver's licence.
Two-week general English course; US$607
Two weeks' homestay accommodation; US$566
Two weeks' residential accommodation; US$508
One-year independent boarding school fees; US$36,238
One-year independent day school fees; US$17,555
One-year undergraduate tuition fees (state institution); US$5,500- US$13,000
One-year undergraduate tuition fees (private institution); US$13,000- US$29,000
One-year postgraduate tuition fees; US$10,000- US$40,000
Language exams available: Toefl, Ielts, Toeic
The application process
Once you have decided which school you would like to attend, you need to contact that institution to enquire about their admission procedures. It is also a good idea to contact other institutions because a place at your first choice of school may not be available. Each school will ask you to provide a completed application form and will usually ask for some or all of the following: certified transcripts of your academic records (including your degree if necessary); proof of funding – on a form provided by the university, which has to be signed by a bank manager or accompanied by bank statements as requested; letters of recommendation from teachers or professors; essays or personal statements; admission test scores; relevant language proficiency test scores (eg Toefl); and an application fee of between US$30 and US$100 which is non-refundable. The universities offer online application forms on their websites, but it is possible to request a paper application form. Most universities provide an extra application form for financial aid. It is advisable to apply to all institutions as early as possible. You should start your search for a suitable school one-and-a-half years before you wish to enrol. Remember that Toefl results can take up to six weeks to be processed and results are valid for two years, so take one as early as possible. You should keep a record of when and where you sent your documents.
A wide range of information on studying at US universities, including information on applications and admission tests, can be found online at http://educationusa.state.gov
Visa free countries
Since October 26th 2004 nationals of the following countries need a machine readable passport to travel visa free:
Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK.
The visa free length of stay is 90 days. Passports issued after October 26, 2006 must have an integrated computer chip (e-passport) to be accepted without a visa in the USA.
What are admissions tests?
Admissions tests are standardised tests that are available worldwide and indicate aptitude and achievement (eg, SAT tests) and are required for entry to some colleges or universities. There are also tests to measure English language proficiency (Toefl/Toeic). These tests are taken at official test centres either in the USA or in your home country and the scores can be mailed directly to the schools that you indicate on your test form.
The US education system
* Kindergarten age 4-6 years
* Primary school age 6-12 school yrs 1-6
* Secondary school: middle school/junior high school age 12-15 years school yrs 7-9
* Senior high school/high school age 16-18 years school yrs 10-12
Private/state college or university
Two-year college/junior college
Institute of technology
Church-related colleges and universities
English language students in the USA by country of origin 2006
Korea, Republic of 26.9%
Saudi Arabia 10.9%
Source: Language Travel Magazine
Many schools, colleges and universities require international students to buy health insurance before they arrive, to protect themselves against the very high cost of medical treatment in the USA.
In addition, most colleges and universities provide free medical examinations and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses. However, health and accident insurance is advised in all cases even if the school does not require it. Most educational institutions offer a comprehensive policy themselves, which generally costs at least US$500 and covers doctor's visits, medicine, hospitalisation, surgery, ambulance care, X-rays and laboratory tests. These policies do not cover dental work or eye examinations and glasses.
International students in higher education in the USA by country of origin 2006/2007
Korea, Republic of 10.7%
Source: IIE Open Doors
American Association of Intensive English Programmes (AAIEP), 229 North 33rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tel: +1 21 58955856 Fax: +1 2158955854
UCIEP Central Office, English Language Institute, George Mason University, MS4C4, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA, 22030-4444
Tel: +1 70 39933660 Fax: +1 7039933664
Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA)
Teresa O'Donnell, 1725 Duke Street, Suite 500, Alexandria, VA, 22314, USA
Tel: +1 7035192070, Fax +1 703 6838099
American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
One Dupont Circle, Suite 410, NW Washington, DC, 20036, USA
Tel: +1 2027280200
Fax: +1 2028332467
Roger Williams, Continuing Education and Training, 1722 N Street N.W, Washington, DC, 20036, USA
Tel: +1 2029551113, Fax: +1 2029551118