Your five steps to study in the USA
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
That is probably the first thing you thought when you finished your SPM and truthfully, it was the first word that popped into my mind when I completed the last paper during my own SPM few years back.
Stepping out of the exam hall after sitting for that last paper was like breathing in fresh air after having my head underwater for what seemed like an eternity.
At the time I revelled in the thought that the end of SPM meant the end of long frustrating nights of repetitive revision and endless study sessions of that one particular subject involving numbers which I loathed the most.
The sweet honeymoon phase all Form 5 students experience after the exam will slowly evaporate and before you know it, you will have to face one of the most important life-making decisions in your life: Now what?
After SPM, some of you might want to continue your Form 6, take your STPM, some of you might decide to take a foundation course or a diploma. Others still might consider taking matriculation courses.
But, I bet some are thinking of pursuing your education overseas.
For those who are considering studying overseas, Doreen John, the coordinator from Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Examination gave some useful tips on “Your Five Steps to Study in the USA” during the Borneo Post International Educational Fair 2014 on March 22nd.
Just follow these useful and practical tips for a systematic planning before pursuing your study overseas:
Step 1: Research your options.
The first and probably the most important step is to know what you want to study and why. Ask yourself this vital question: What interests you the most? Arts, sciences, politics, economics, or music?
In addition to this, there are several things that need to be taken into account:
• When you want to start your studies
• What sort of job or employment you are seeking after returning to your country?
• How will you pay for your studies in the United States and where to get financial aid
• Would you prefer studying at a public or private institution?
• Which region of the US would you prefer?
• Would you prefer on-campus or off-campus housing?
If you do have a long list of institutions you want to attend, narrow it down and weigh your options to which suits your needs and situation better. Bear in mind you can only attend one institution at a time. It is also advisable to prepare for any standardised tests to determine your test score in order to compare students from the United States and international students from different education systems.
Step 2: Complete your application.
The application form from most universities could be up to 20 sheets of paper and they may also vary from one university to another. So, for those who decide to enter a university, it is advisable to read and analyse the forms a year ahead to better understand the rules and their requirements.
Reading through the forms can be tiring and honestly most of us would just give up upon reading halfway because no one would be able to absorb that much information in just one day and it would take a long period of time to completely have the preparation ready before departure.
And so, in this step, do plan your application timeline by completing the following:
• Look up any sorts of financial aid application and forms
• Request for transcripts and academic certificates from your old school or institution
• Request for letter of recommendation
• Plan when to submit the complete application form
• Plan out when to take any standardised tests required and when to send the results to the institution of choice
• Confirm that the transcripts and references have been sent and received
• Confirm that the application forms are complete and the deadlines met
• Mark the calendar when you should receive the letter of acceptance and when to notify that you will be accepting their offer and also prepare to send letters to universities or colleges which decline
• Make sure you are financially ready and show proof the funds you received for your first year so that the international student office’s designated school official (DSO) can prepare your immigration form
• Housing arrangements and medical insurance should also be prepared
• Received required immigration forms from college or universities of choice
• Travel arrangements
• Contact the international student office at your college or university with details of your arrival plans and student’s orientation.
Step 3: Finance your study
Ask any student and they would probably say money is the main obstacle why they cannot afford to study abroad. But, with the right planning and also research, you can find your way out of this particular problem.
When planning, find out the exact cost of the program you are attending and also how much your family can afford for your education each year for the next three to four years. Financial aid can only be given after knowing the difference between the college or university cost and what your family can afford.
But, there are some ways you can reduce the amount of educational cost:
• Look for colleges or universities which offer high quality education but at minimal cost located in areas that have low cost of living
• Complete your Bachelor’s degree ahead of time by taking accelerated programmes
• Work part-time on campus
• Work hard for tuition waiver by earning a superior academic record.
On the other hand, each institution should have advisers to help you plan your expenses because not only do they have access to resources that can help you find out more about scholarships but they also give out unbiased information about financial aid opportunities.
So, do your research and plan ahead. Keep in mind that the cost involves tuition, fees and living cost.
Step 4: Apply for your visa.
To apply for one, identify the one which is right for you:
• F-1 Student Visa: the most common type of visa used by students who wish to study in accredited US colleges or universities.
• J-1 Exchange Visa: for those involved in exchange programmes
• M-1 Student Visa: for those who are involved in non-academic or vocational study or training.
After deciding, you should:
• Receive your certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status of either Form I-20 (F or M visa) or Form DS-2019 ( J visa)
• Pay for SEVIS fee and fill out visa application forms before going to your visa interview
• Schedule and interview and apply for your visa
Step 5: Prepare for your departure
Before leaving the country, make sure to double-check that you have packed all the important documents you will need. The last thing that you need is to realise that you forgot to pack your passport upon arrival at the airport. Among those important are:
• Passport and non-immigrant visa: (I-20 or DS-2019), and the Arrival-Departure Record (I-94 form). Part of the I-94 will be stapled into your passport.
• Certificate of eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019 issued by the school or program you will be attending)
• Contact information of your international student adviser on campus
• Birth certificate
• Medical documents
• Academic transcripts
• College or university acceptance letter
Prior to arrival, make sure you know how to get to campus and do confirm with your international student adviser when you are expected to arrive on campus.
Once you’ve arrived, don’t skip the orientation programme as this is a chance for you to meet new friends, receive information about immigration regulations, learn about your institution’s expectations, get to know the campus and community, speak with professors and academic advisers, and register for courses.