Tuesday, April 16, 2024

15 College-Ready Tips for International Students in the US

Prep for an amazing international student journey!

International students can wholeheartedly agree on one thing: pursuing a college degree while learning how to adapt and settle into a different country is tough. 🧳 

Navigating the world of higher education is already hard on its own, but imagine having to deal with visa applications, unfamiliar weather, homesickness, and massive culture shock (among other challenges). 🤔  

But fear not! These timely tips for international students in the US can help you thrive academically, socially, and culturally.  

1. Accept That Culture Shock Is Normal 👍

No matter how much you feel that quickly adjusting is what you need, getting settled on your own time is important for international students.

Culture shock is a natural reaction when big changes suddenly happen in your life. And while you have to be open-minded and independent to survive, forcing yourself to adapt immediately can be detrimental in many ways. 😰

International female college students wearing hijab studying in the field
Culture shock is a normal and temporary phase, and many international students eventually adjust and find ways to thrive in their new environment. Photo: Dmyrto_Z/Depositphotos 

So, how do we deal with all that? First, you must recognize that you’re not exempted from the experience and accept that you have to deal with it

Then, try immersing yourself in how locals live and go about their day, like common verbal expressions and practices. By embracing new experiences and being open to different cultures, you can feel more at ease and confident. 🙆

2. Set up a US Checking and Savings Account 💰

We’re coming through with one of the most practical tips for international students: open a US checking and savings account to manage your allowance (if you’re supported by parents back home) or part-time income. 🧾

A US-based account allows you to deposit, withdraw cash, and make purchases without incurring international transaction fees. It doesn’t hurt that having a local account simplifies tuition, bills, and rent payment (as well as other necessary expenses). 🏧 

male international student using a calculator pen and laptop on a desk to prepare a budget for studying college in the US
A US checking and savings account provides international students with better financial management and easier access to money. Photo: pichsakul/Depositphotos 

Look for banks that have student accounts with low fees or no minimum balance. Also, take advantage of online banking and mobile apps so that you can make transactions whenever, wherever. 

TIP: Research banks that offer special accounts for students where maintenance and ATM fees are reduced. You’ll need your passport, student visa, and proof of address before you go to the bank.

3. Familiarize Yourself With Visa Requirements 🛂

International students planning to study in US colleges need an F-1 visa which allows them to stay in the country and apply for internships. ✈️

To apply, you must provide your passport, a completed visa application form, a certificate of eligibility from your university, and proof of financial support. 📋

It’s crucial to research the visa requirements early, ensure that your information is accurate, and apply for your visa well in advance of your scheduled trip to avoid delays or complications in the application process. 

4. Apply for Financial Aid 💸

Some can say that the biggest hurdle for international students is the hefty tuition that comes with studying in the US. Not to mention the expensive textbooks, dorms, and meals you also have to provide.

Luckily, there’s an endless list of financial aid available to foreign students. An obvious choice would be to find the perfect scholarship, grant, or fellowship that takes care of your demonstrated need. 🔎

READ MORE: How to Apply for Scholarships and Grants: All You Need to Know

a mobile phone on a wooden desk features a screenshot of the online FAFSA application form
Review the eligibility requirements for scholarships, grants, and loans of your specific program to find what works for your study plan. Photo: Piter2121/Depositphotos 

If you’re not sure where to find one, your first stop should be federal and state government websites. Then, move on to your desired college or university’s website to see what financial aid they offer (and what terms are included).

And don’t forget about loans! While they may require repayment, student loans are a valuable tool for financing your education. 💲

READ MORE: 11 Things to Know About Student Loans Before Going Into Debt

TIP: Carefully review the eligibility requirements and application deadlines for each scholarship or loan. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the financial aid office of the university for assistance.

5. Take Up Extracurricular Activities 🧗

College is about more than just hitting the books — it’s about self-discovery, lifelong connections, and having fun along the way. Diving into extracurricular activities makes all this possible!

Not only do these out-of-the-classroom activities give you a chance to pursue your passions, but they also help your resume stand out to future employers. 🖌️

a female international college student wall climbing in the college's recreation area during her free time
Joining clubs and groups on campus is a great way to meet new people and be active during your college years. Photo: ArturVerkhovetskiy/Depositphotos 

Join a foreign language club or a sports team to have time for new hobbies and meet new friends. You can also find time to volunteer in non-profits with causes that speak to you. These experiences can help get your serotonin levels up in a land that’s so unfamiliar. 🤽

6. Connect With Other International Students 🤗

Seeking the company of those who are or have been in the same boat will be a lifesaver in the long run. Why? Because they are the best support system. 💑

Make friends with people in your university who are also from different parts of the world. This will open up your social life and give you access to resources and wisdom to help you settle in a new country. 

a diverse group of male and female international college students having a fun time while looking at a tablet
From food festivals to language exchanges and study groups, there are plenty of ways to make the most of your international student experience. Photo: javiindy/Depositphotos

And who knows what you’ll discover? You might uncover some amazing new cultures and perspectives you never would have encountered otherwise! 🤩

7. Prepare for the Weather 🤧

The weather seems like a trivial concern until you’re actually there! The four seasons can be wild if you’re not used to them, and forgetting winter clothes in some of the states here in the US can be the worst mistake.  

Speaking of clothes, you need to make a checklist and then pack accordingly to the state where you’ll study. 📦

a female international college student wearing pink winter gloves and puff jacket covering her ears in the middle of snow-covered street
Keep an eye on the forecast, sign up for alerts on your phone, and pay attention to any warnings issued by local officials. Photo: alenthien/Depositphotos 

If you’re headed somewhere chilly, bring along heavy-duty boots and cozy coats, and layer up with socks and scarves to stay warm. ❄️

For sunny climates, lightweight clothing and lots of sunscreens are a must. And if you’re venturing into areas with the potential for wild weather, like tornadoes or hurricanes, make sure you’re well-stocked with emergency supplies.

8. Study the Healthcare System 🩺

You’re about to be in a new place for four or more years, and knowing how the medical scene in the US works can be a matter of life or death.

One of the tips for international students in the US is to learn how the US medical system works so you’re prepared for routine check-ups or emergency room visits. 🏥

Several US colleges and universities offer basic medical care services for their students at a lower cost than private hospitals. 

a male international college student consulting with a doctor about his plan coverage
Know your healthcare options as an international student and plan for emergencies during your stay in the United States. Photo: Syda_Productions/Depositphotos

For instance, the University of California system and the University of Minnesota offer health insurance that covers a student’s basic medical and mental health needs. 

Good to know: Before choosing a health insurance plan, research the different types available and figure out what works best for you. Aside from that, you’ll also want to find a doctor that you trust and understand the process of making appointments and getting referrals. 

9. Learn Local Laws 🚨

We’re not asking you to suddenly become an attorney and memorize every law in the land. But, it’s important to understand the basic rules and regulations in the US

Each state and city can have different legislations, so put in the effort to look up those that are relevant to college students (like traffic laws, alcohol regulations, and international student rights). 🚦

a female international college student=nt doing a breathalyzer test by a local enforcer wearing gloves and reflector neon vest
Stay updated on US laws and regulations that may affect you as an international student. Photo: photographee.eu/Depositphotos

Remember that violating the law may impact your legal standing in the US; and, ultimately, your college education. ⚠️

One of the helpful tips for international students studying in US colleges is to utilize online tools to get familiar with US laws

There are a variety of resources available that can help students understand their rights and responsibilities, such as the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State‘s website. 

10. Enhance Your English Language Proficiency 🗣️

Learning and improving your English is a non-negotiable for international students.

Honing this skill can give you the confidence to explore and interact in the city, and most of all, you’re able to communicate with professors and classmates to improve your academic performance.

a group of diverse male and female international college students practicing their English skills inside a library
Learning English is not only crucial for academic success but it can also be a gateway to exciting cultural experiences. Photo: Freeograph/Depositphotos

If you have a bit of time on your hands, enroll in English language classes offered by the college. You can read English books and articles, attend language practice groups, and use language learning apps to hone your language skills in your free time. 📱

These are casual and doable steps to improve your language proficiency while gaining insights into American culture. 

11. Look After Your Mental Wellness 🧘

There are so many unrelenting anxieties, fears, and doubts that come with studying in another country, so it’s important to take care of your mental health. 😰

Whether it’s homesickness, academic pressure, or the language barrier that’s draining you mentally, there’s no shame in reaching out for help from your school’s counseling center or looking for community-based mental health services. 🧑‍⚕️

male international college student sitting with his counselor discussing about his mental health
Looking after your mental health can help you stay resilient and adaptive to challenges as an international student. Photo: PantherMediaSeller/Depositphotos

Try to establish healthy habits in your daily routine. Make sure you take regular breaks, get enough sleep, exercise frequently, and carve out some time for relaxation and self-care. 💤

Remember, taking care of your physical health can do wonders for your mental well-being; it’s also essential for your academic success! 

12. Explore the Local Area 🚶

You may have a stunning campus, but exploring your local area is a fantastic way to heighten your college experience and find out if any of the shops nearby offer awesome student discounts

Take a stroll around your neighborhood and get familiar with the cafes, bookstores, or restaurants nearby — you never know what hidden gems you might discover. 🌆

male and female international college students wearing aprons while painting a vase
Break free from your mundane study routines and inject fun and adventure into your campus life when you step out and explore the city. Photo: FotoArtist/Depositphotos

You can also check your school-organized guided tours or excursions to nearby attractions. If walking around isn’t your cup of tea, sign up for a local cooking class, join a college club, or attend a cultural event — anything to get you out of your comfort zone. 🧑‍🍳

Remember, knowing your locale is a great way to become a part of your new community, and it might even lead you to new friends and interests. 

13. Learn a Recipe From Your Hometown 🍲

Homesickness is a common experience for international students, but there are creative and effective ways to cope.  🏡

It starts with recreating a little piece of home abroad. Learn a recipe from your home country and cook it up in your dorm or apartment. Not only will it satisfy your cravings, but it will also give you a sense of comfort and familiarity.

female international college students wearing hijabs preparing home-cooked meals in the kitchen to deal with homesickness
Overcoming those pangs of homesickness can help you embrace the adventure of exploring a new culture. Photo: odua/Depositphotos

You can also explore your new surroundings and find places that remind you of your home. Plus, seek out cultural events on campus where you can engage in activities that make you feel less isolated and homesick.

Whether it’s a restaurant serving your favorite dish or a park that resembles one back home, these familiar spots can provide a sense of comfort and keep those nostalgic blues at bay. 🏞️

14. Set Realistic Academic Expectations 📑

Understanding course requirements is key to academic and career success — it’s why international students move in the first place! While it’s not the most thrilling, it’s crucial to learn what’s expected of you. 

By grasping the requirements, you can navigate school with ease. After all, you don’t want to be that student who accidentally misses a crucial class or gets caught plagiarizing. 🙀

male and female international college students looking at books in a library that can be a supplemental reading for their course
Avoid any miscommunications with their professors or peers by understanding the course requirements. Photo: Milkos/Depositphotos 

Make sure you’re fully aware of the rules for class participation and attendance. Some professors consider these as big factors when grading you.

Also, familiarize yourself with the grading system and academic integrity standards and ace your studies with confidence. It may take some getting used to, like learning a new language, but with the right resources and preparation, you’ll be a pro in no time! 🗃️

15. Maintain Constant Communication With Family  🤳

Grab your phones and kick homesickness to the curb when you install Viber or Zoom! 

College can be downright stressful, but it’s worse for international students. So, keep your spirits high by scheduling regular video or phone calls with family and friends back home. 🤙 

male international student sitting on a couch setting up a mobile phone on a tripod to call his family and friends back home
Friends and family can provide a sense of familiarity and help international students stay grounded during times of stress or uncertainty. Photo: Milkos/Depositphotos 

Not only will this help alleviate homesickness, but it can also provide you with much-needed emotional support. You can rant or cry about anything that’s been bothering you, or celebrate big or small milestones, with people you love and trust the most. 👪

And why stop there? With everyone online, you can even start a weekly game night or set up a cooking competition with a family recipe. The possibilities are endless!

You can even plan a trip together for when you return home. Remember, distance doesn’t have to mean losing touch. Stay connected and keep those bonds strong! 🥰


The entire process can be daunting, especially for international students, but by following these college admission tips, you can make your transition to studying in the USA as smooth as possible. 

Remember to stay organized, be proactive, and stay positive throughout the process. Good luck! 📣 

15 Tips for International College Students in the US: Frequently Asked Questions

Is it harder for international students to get into a US college compared to domestic students?

Yes. It can be more challenging for international students to be admitted into colleges in the US because their admission process involves additional steps and requirements

There are some colleges that require English language proficiency tests, additional standardized tests, a student visa, and higher grades. 

Additionally, colleges and universities may have limited spots available for international students.

What is the best visa Type for international students in the US?

How much cash can I carry to the US on an F-1 Visa?

What do international students need to enter the US?

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