Dispelling 10 myths about studying in the US

PHOTO: The Straits Times

The United States has the largest number of international students enrolled in its universities (more than 1,000,000).

Over 5 per cent of the students studying in the US are foreign students. Universities report that the number of international students keeps growing year after year.

Attending college in the US is a goal for many international high school students.

We are dispelling 10 myths about studying abroad in the US as follows.

Myth 1: I need to be rich to attend college in the US

Yes, American universities can be expensive. However, sticker price does not always equal net price.

There are merit-based scholarships available to international students.

Also, the cost of attendance can vary greatly at private and public universities.

It is often less expensive to attend a public university.

Myth 2: I do not qualify for financial aid.

International students do not qualify for federal aid.

However, they can often qualify for merit-based scholarships.

Each university decides how they want to distribute their funds.

If they want to offer international students institutional aid, they can.

Myth 3: I am fluent in English, therefore I do not need to take the TOEFL.

There is no standard application process for US universities.

For this reason, students must check each university's criteria for the TOEFL exam.

Numerous universities require international students from a country where English is not the national language to take the TOEFL exam.

Each university also sets their own TOEFL passing score.

Myth 4: The TOEFL and IELTS are both accepted at US universities.

The TOEFL and IELTS exams have numerous differences.

The TOEFL is more widely used as an entrance exam at universities and, therefore, offers only academic English, while the IELTS offers an academic option in addition to a general test.

TOEFL is more widely accepted at US universities. Almost every US college will accept the TOEFL score.

This is not always the case for the IELTS.

Generally speaking, if you're applying to an American university, go with the TOEFL.

Myth 5: Applying to college in the US is centralized.

Things would be much simpler if this were true.

The college application process varies from college to college. Each college sets their own rules, criteria and deadlines.

There is no one true "universal" application.

Myth 6: Since English is not my first language, colleges will not expect my essay to have perfect grammar.

Nowadays, colleges are more competitive than ever.

In order to study at a top-tier university, students must have a strong grasp of the English language and grammar.

Myth 7: The US does not have very many international students enrolled in its universities.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, the number of international students at US colleges exceeded 1 million, according to a recent report from the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit that works to advance international education.

Myth 8: The steps involved in applying to US colleges are completely different for international and domestic students.

The steps involved in applying to US colleges are largely the same for international and domestic students.

But international students need to undertake a few additional steps to make up for the differences in the school curriculum, grading system and language.

The majority of colleges in the US require international students to obtain a minimum score on language tests, such as the TOEFL.

As an international student, you will also need to supply the university with a certification of finances.

The university wants to ensure you can afford the tuition and living expenses before you obtain a visa and move to the US.

International students applying to US colleges may also be required to have their transcripts and/or other educational credentials assessed by an official organisation.

This is because the grading system used by certain schools is different from the typical 4.0 scale utilized in the US.

International students have to determine the legal requirements associated with staying in the US and apply for a student visa.

Myth 9: It is difficult to obtain a student visa.

Once a student is accepted to a university, the steps are fairly straightforward.

The first step for international students is to ensure that the university they are applying to is accredited by the US government's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Only SEVP-approved institutions can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

After an international student has been accepted, the university will enroll them in the SEVIS system.

SEVIS will provide the students with the necessary documents to apply for a US student visa.

Myth 10: As soon as I graduate, I must leave the US

Upon graduation, many international students hope to stay in the US. These students can apply for twelve months of optional practical training (OPT).

This allows them to work in fields related to their areas of study while building their skill-set.

The difficulty is that not just any job will do. The job must be specific to their field of study.

An additional option is to pursue an advanced degree. This will extend the student visa.

After the advanced degree is obtained, the student can apply for an additional twelve months of OPT.

The process of finding long-term employment and receiving company sponsorship is not always easy.

But it is certainly doable. The more specific and in-demand your major is, the easier the process becomes.

Studying abroad in the US is a lifelong dream for many. That dream can be realised with proper planning and diligence.