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Is an education in the USA for you?

Study in the United States is a serious and expensive undertaking. To decide if it is the best option for you, consider carefully how it will fit into your long-term educational and professional plans. The Indian Student asked NAFSA, the Association of International Educators and the leading association for international education in the USA, for advice on studying in the states.

In order to decide whether the USA is really for you will need to ask yourself a numbers of key questions:

What are your goals?
Do you have academic preparation necessary to achieve those goals?
Do you have adequate English?
Do you have enough money?
Are you prepared to live in another country and culture for the time it takes to earn a degree?

What are your goals?

Studying in the United States is not an end unto itself. Students pursue higher education, in their home country or abroad, because the experience will help them to achieve their professional and personal goals. Those goals may include professional advancement, a higher-paying job, or a greater appreciation and knowledge of the world.

As you define your educational and professional goals, here are some questions to ask:
Am I willing to spend this much time in higher education?
Is there a need for my chosen profession in my home country?
Will I earn enough in this profession to justify the investment?
Will my U.S educational credentials be recognised at home by institutions of higher education, professional licensing boards, and potential employers when I return?
Will spending time abroad cause me to miss important opportunities at home?
Is the knowledge I will gain during my study in the United States readily transferable to situations in my home country?
Will the technological expertise I acquire in the United States be of use at home?
Is the training or education I need available at home?

Are you academically prepared?

If you are applying for undergraduate study at a two or four year U.S University you must have completed at least 12 years of school and obtained the equivalent of a U.S high school diploma. If you are considering graduate study at the master's or doctorate level, you will need academic credentials equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree.

Some U.S universities are very competitive, selecting only students with excellent grades and test scores as well as leadership skills. Many U.S universities are less selective, but almost all require some demonstration that you have succeeded in your previous schooling and that you have the potential to success at a more advanced level. Most graduate schools also require a minimum grade point average of 3.0 from previous study.
Be realistic about your academic record and test scores. Apply to universities whose requirements match your academic background and interests. Be aware that graduate work in the United States involves a great deal of independent work and classroom discussion, forms of learning that may be different from what you have experienced.

U.S. Colleges and universities place a great deal of emphasis on neat, organised and clearly written presentations. Almost nothing is accepted in handwriting; projects and term papers should be typed or produced on a computer. More and more research at campus libraries is conducted using computers to access on-line resources instead of books. Most universities will issue students a personal electronic mail account upon enrolment and expect them to use it for homework assignments.

Do you have adequate English?

Most universities will require undergraduate and graduate students to prove their English Language ability as part of the admissions process by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The level of proficiency required varies from school to school and from department to department, but it is important to remember that the more prepared you are before you begin study, the more confident you will feel as a student in the United States.

It is an advantage to have a good command of written and spoke English from the very beginning of the application process. Some universities will require applicants to submit at least one essay as part of their application; others may request an interview or teleconference with you to hear how you express yourself in English.

Do you have enough money?

When considering the cost of a U.S education, include the cost of tuition, living expenses, books and other items. Tuition varies widely from university to university, but it is usually the largest single cost an international student faces. A community college may have a yearly tuition of $28,000. Sources of financial aid available to international students at the undergraduate level are limited and highly competitive.

Your financial plans should cover your entire program. An undergraduate degree in the United States takes an average of four to five years to complete. Master's programs may last one to three years. Doctoral programs may take anywhere from five to seven years, depending on your field of study and previous education. Non-degree or vocational programs last anywhere from several month to two years.

Be realistic if you plan to bring your family with you during your time in the United States. You will probably need an additional $5,000 per year to bring your spouse with you and an extra $4,000 per year for each child. Health insurance is a necessity for living in the United States; budget for these costs as well. The cost of health insurance varies but generally ranges from $3,500 to $4,000 per year for a family.

Are you prepared to live in another country and culture?

Living in the United States for an extended period of time while pursuing your educational goals is much different from visiting the country for a few weeks or months as a tourist. Give some thought to how living in a new environment and a new culture might change you, and the additional changes you may need to make upon your return home. Consider whether you have the skills to live independently in a new culture. You will likely be separated from family and friends for a long period. If you do bring your family, consider their adjustment as well.

Resourcefulness, creativity and realistic planning are all key factors in determining whether you will succeed in your plan to study in the United States.