USA

USA

The United States of America entered the 21st century as the world’s sole superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union in late 1991. The U.S. is a large federal republic located in North America between Canada to the north and Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea to the south. Federalism is a critical feature of American government and politics. There are 50 states and one federal district, the District of Columbia or Washington, D.C., home of the nation’s capital. Two states to be admitted to the Union are separated geographically from the others: Alaska shares a border with Canada and surrounded by the Pacific and Arctic Oceans; and the state of Hawaii is composed of a group of islands in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The remaining 48 states, all contiguous, are often collectively called the Continental United States.

Additionally, the U.S. has several overseas territories, all located in the Caribbean Sea and the South Pacific Ocean. There are five main inhabited territories;

  1. Puerto Rico
  2. The U.S. Virgin Islands,
  3. Guam,
  4. The Northern Mariana Islands, and
  5. American Samoa

The official status of each territory and its relationship with the U.S. varies. In general, however, locals are U.S. citizens, with the exception of American Samoa (America Samoa remains the only place in the United States where U.S. citizenship is not granted at birth)– and may freely travel to and within the U.S. However, they do not vote in general presidential elections (unless they move to one of the states or Washington, D.C.) and have only nonvoting representation in Congress. All territories have their own territorial governments and exercise a certain degree of autonomy.

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Why Study in USA

The United States of America (USA) is the number one and largest destination for international students. Every year more and more students choose the USA as the place they wanted to broaden their experience and continue their education. American universities are widely known for the quality of their teaching and research. The education system in USA is the most versatile and flexible according to academic and preferences. About 30 percent of all international students in the world are studying in the USA.

Why do so many international students choose U.S. colleges and universities?

  1. Academic Excellence: The US has one of the world’s finest education systems, with excellent programs across all disciplines. The universities and colleges offer a wide range of degrees and courses in all academic fields. An academic degree from US universities and colleges has a very positive reputation in the international job market. A US education dramatically enhances a student’s long-tern career goals and highly valued by employers worldwide.
  2. Academic Flexibility: The U.S. higher education system offers many course choices within a program and the opportunity to change majors or opt for multiple specializations as per their needs and interests. At the undergraduate level, students can choose different courses before they declare their choice for major at the end of second year. This gives students time and options to explore their interests. If students are undecided about the field of study it is absolutely alright, they can still apply stating that they are undecided about major. Even if, they are decided about major subject, they can still study another subject and complete a “double major”, i.e. a degree in two subjects within the normal four year of study. At the graduate level, i.e. master’s degree, they can customize their course according to coursework to fit academic goals, can make own timetable, and complete course credits at a comfortable pace within the stipulated time frame. Students always have the freedom to include ideas and opinions important to their area of academic interest.
  1. Cutting Edge Technology: US universities are world leaders in terms of technology and scientific techniques, and are committed to providing the same resources to students. Even if fields do not directly involve science or engineering, student will have opportunities to become skilled in using the latest technology to conduct research, as well as obtain and process information.
  2. Opportunity for Research, Teaching and Training: In the US, at the graduate level students gains valuable experience in research and teaching through various assistant-ship programs. These assistant-ship also help students finance their higher education in USA. These practical experience gained is extremely useful for future careers in teaching and research.
  3. Support Services for International Students:S. universities have support systems to help international students transition to the new environment. . Support is offered through the year from organizing orientation programs to assistance with academic writing and building resumes as students get ready to graduate. The mission of the international student office is to assist students, and there is often a wide range of student services that they provide. They can help answer questions student may have regarding their visa status, financial situation, housing, employment possibilities, health concerns and more. If you choose to complete your degree in the United States, this office often provides resume and employment assistance as graduation nears. The international student office will be an invaluable source of information and help for the transition into academic and cultural life in the United States.
  4. Career Opportunities: An international degree opens up a wide range of career prospects and a degree from reputed universities widens the scope even further. Due to the varied insight into different fields of study offered by universities of USA, it broadens the scope of the career path that the student chooses and it is known that international companies look for candidates that offer them with a different take or perspective on their products. They often look to hire employees who not only have multi-cultural language skills, but those who can also help communicate, negotiate and conduct business across different cultures. Your long-term career prospects can be enhanced by your experiences through the development of self-confidence, independence and cross-cultural skills – attributes which are in high demand with employers worldwide.

US EMPLOYMENT RULES FOR STUDENT (F1 VISA)

F1 (Academic Studies) students are allowed to work in the United States, but only under certain conditions and in accordance with guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Student must seek guidance and clearance from International Student Office prior to applying for or accepting any employment and should request their particular interpretation of any ambiguous situation. Student will also need the guidance of school to ensure that you file all appropriate forms with USCIS and receive any necessary USCIS approval.

There are several categories of employment during the term of your stay as an F1 student in the United States. On-campus employment is the most freely available, and then there are four categories of off-campus employment:

  1. On-Campus Employment
  2. Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  3. Curricular-Practical Training (CPT)
  4. Economic Hardship
  5. International Institutions
  6. On Campus Employment: On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and it does not require USCIS approval. In the USA, the only work available to international students during their first year of undergraduate studies is working within the university. There are many different jobs offered on campus, from working in the writing center, as a teaching assistant, in the cafeteria, to computer centers. Another on-campus option is working for a students’ union. This is a good opportunity to get involved in current issues and to help other students at the university.

Student can work up to 20 hours per week while school in session and can work full-time during holidays and vacations periods if student intend to register for the next academic semester.

  1. Optional Practical Training (OPT): International students in the U.S. in valid F1 immigration status are permitted to work off-campus in optional practical training (OPT) status both during and after completion of their degree. Rules established by the USCIS govern the implementation of OPT, and all OPT employment requires prior authorization from USCIS and school’s International Student Office. Many schools in the US offer work and study programs that coordinate immediate employment through CPT programs.

Student can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but cannot begin employment until they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and they have been enrolled for at least a year. Student do not need to have a job offer to apply for your OPT EAD, and their OPT employment can occur anywhere in the US. USCIS takes up to 90 days to process the application and they make sure that student will work closely with school’s International Student Office.

General OPT Requirements:

  1. Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
  2. Student must maintain lawful F1 status
  3. Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
  4. Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
  5. OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total – part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months)

OPT before completing a degree:

  • Students must be enrolled in school full-time
  • Students may only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
  • Students may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as the student will return to school after the break)
  • Student may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree

OPT after completing a degree:

  • After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
  • All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
  • Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of the degree.
  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CPTis an off-campus employment option for F1 students when the practical training is an integral part of the established curriculum or academic program. CPT employment is defined as “alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” Many schools in the US offer work and study programs that coordinate immediate employment through CPT programs.

To qualify, the work experience must be required for your degree, or academic credit must award. And yes, you can get paid for CPT employment. Prior authorization by your school’s International Student Office and notification to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is required.

Once student receive CPT authorization, they can only work for the specific employer and for the specific dates authorized. CPT authorization will also specify whether student are approved for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) CPT employment. While in school, student can only be approved for part-time CPT. Regardless of whether the approval for full or part-time on CPT, there is no limit to how long student can work. However, if they work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, they are not eligible for OPT. If they work part-time on CPT, or full-time on CPT for less than 12 months, they are still eligible for all of your allowable OPT.

To be eligible for CPT employment:

  1. Student must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)
  2. The CPT employment must be an integral part of the degree program or requirement for a course for which academic credit will be received.
  3. Student must have a job offer before submitting CPT authorization request
  4. Job offer must be compatible with major or field of study

d. Severe Economic Hardship: Any F1 student suffering “severe economic hardship” as defined by USCIS is eligible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and full-time during breaks.

Student must apply for an “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD) with the help and guidance of International Student Office. Student do not need a job offer before apply for the EAD, but several forms and documents are required, together with fees and photos, etc., and processing can take up to 12 weeks or longer and cannot start work until student receive the EAD. Once student receive the EAD, they may work for an employer at any job, anywhere in the United States. Employment authorization is automatically terminated when a student fails to maintain valid F1 status.

To be eligible under “severe economic hardship”, a student must:
  1. Be in valid F1 status for at least one academic year (9 months)
  2. Be in good academic standing
  3. Provide evidence of economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control
  4. Show that on-campus employment is neither available nor sufficient
  5. Make a good faith effort to locate employment on campus before applying

The rule gives examples of the types of things that could be considered “severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.” These circumstances may include:

  • loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student
  • substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate
  • inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs
  • unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support
  • Medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses.

e. Employment with an International Organization: The final category of employment for international students in the U.S. on F1 visas is employment with a “recognized international organization.” To qualify, an organization must be on the official State Department list, and listed organizations include the Red Cross, African and Asian Development Banks, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and many other similar organizations.

Because it does not have the universal application of OPT or CPT, this category of employment is often overlooked. Only students with a job offer and sponsorship from one of the listed organizations are eligible. However, for those lucky students who do have such sponsorship, there are clear benefits of this employment category.

Requirements to work for an international organization:
  1. The student must have an internship/employment with a “recognized international organization.”
  2. The employment must be within the scope of the organization’s sponsorship, and within the student’s field of study.
  3. The student must have been in valid F1 status for at least one full academic year.
  4. The student must be in good academic standing.

If student meet these requirements, they can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). And, can start to work only after receiving the EAD, which can take up to 3 months.

 Advantages of this type of employment when compared to CPT or OPT:

  • Employment does not have to be for-credit nor required for degree program.
  • Regardless of how much or how long student work, this type of employment will not take away from 12-month post-completion OPT.

Higher Education

Higher education in the U.S. is termed a post secondary education, but post secondary refers to all formal education beyond secondary school, whether higher education defined as degree-granting education. Post secondary education is broadly divided into two different sectors:

  • Post secondary vocational education and training, which is non-degree but can produce some transferable credits under certain circumstances; and
  • Higher education, which includes studies undertaken in degree-granting institutions for academic credit.

Post secondary studies are classified into 2 levels;

  1. Non University Level: Non- university level technical/vocational post-secondary studies would include all technical and occupational programs that lead to a degree, diploma or certificate below the Bachelor’s degree.
  2. University Level Studies: University Level Studies are categorized into three stages;
Stages Level Duration  
First Stage Associate Degree 2 Years
Bachelor Degree 4/5 Years  First Year: ‘Freshman Year’

Second Year:’ Sophomore Year’

Third Year: ‘Junior Year’

Fourth Year: ‘Senior Year’

Advanced Certificates
Advanced Certificate requires a year or less of study (following and sometime accompanying completion of a Bachelor’s) are sometimes awarded to signify a concentration in a sub-specialization or completion of a related set of competences.
First Professional Degree
Students are only admitted to first professional degree programs after completing most, or all, of a Bachelor’s degree program in another subject. Thus, first professional degrees are considered graduate-level degrees for purposes of admissions and student financial assistance. The study content of the first professional degree programs are undergraduate in nature and the degrees are prerequisites for entry-level access to certain regulate professions. Several first professional degrees use the term ‘doctor’ in the title even though they are not advanced research degrees. First professional degrees are awarded in Medicine (MD), Dentistry (DDS/DDM), Veterinary Medicine (DVM), Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Paediatry (DPM), Chiropractic (DC), Pharmacy (D. Pharm), Divinity (M. Div), Rabbinics (MHL/Rav) and Law (JD).
Second Stage Master’s Degree 2 Years
US Master’s degrees may be taught (without thesis) or research (with thesis) and may be awarded in academic or professional fields. Research based Master’s degrees generally require completion of a series of advanced courses, seminar requirements, comprehensive examinations, and an independent thesis. Non-research Master’s degrees generally require completion of a special project as well as coursework and examinations.
Post-Master’s Degree/ Certificate
Diploma/Certificate
Diploma of Education Specialist
Third Stage Research Doctorate/

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

4-5 Years of full time study and research after the completion Bachelor’s degree or at least 2 to 3 years following a Master’s degree.

Regulation of Higher Education

The federal government has no jurisdiction or authority over the recognition of educational institutions, members of the academic professions, programs or curricula, or degrees or other qualifications. Nearly all U.S. post secondary institutions are licensed, or chartered, by a state or municipal government to operate under the ownership of either a government (if public) or a private corporation (if independent), and may be for-profit or not-profit enterprises. Religious institutions are considered independent, or private. Quality assurance is achieved via the system of voluntary accreditation by specific accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and meet the standards for membership in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Accreditation is a self-regulating process of quality control engaged in by the U.S. post secondary education community to ensure minimum standards of academic capability, administrative competence, and to promote mutual recognition of qualifications within the system. Six (6) regional accreditation associations set minimum standards for institutions chartered in the states of their respective jurisdictions. In addition, there are recognized accrediting agencies for specialized institutions and programs. While all recognized and accredited institutions are licensed or chartered by state governments, states vary greatly in the degree of supervision and quality control that they exercise, and there is relatively limited reciprocity of recognition across state borders. Accreditation by recognized agencies, therefore, remains the primary means of ensuring academic and institutional quality and the mutual acceptance of credits and qualifications across and outside the United States.

Scholarship

The United States is one of the prime destinations for students. To help those aspiring students the US government and US universities offer various merit based scholarship programs and funding opportunities to support their studies and cost of living. They offer hundreds of scholarship, bursaries and additional financial supports to students from several countries. US government run two highly recognized and honored scholarship programs namely Fulbright Scholarship, Humphrey Fellowship Program.

The Fulbright Program is full scholarships in USA for international students who want to pursue a Master’s or PhD degree.  The scholarships can also be awarded for non-degree postgraduate studies.  The grant covers tuition fee, textbooks, airfare, a living stipend, and health insurance.

The Humphrey Fellowship Program provides a year of professional enrichment in the United States for experienced professionals from designated countries throughout the world. Fellows are selected based on their potential for leadership and their commitment to public service in either the public or private sector.  The fellowships are full grants covering all related expenses.

Likewise, universities, colleges and other international institutions also offer various scholarship programs for qualified and needy students. Similarly, graduate level students gains valuable experience in research and teaching through various assistantship programs. These assistantships also help students finance their higher education in USA. These practical experience gained is extremely useful for future careers in teaching and research.

Area of Study
  • Art & Humanities
  • Business
  • Computing & Information Technology
  • Engineering
  • Health & Medicine
  • Tourism
Education System in USA

Formal education in the U.S. is divided into a number of distinct stages. Most children enter the public education system around ages five or six. The American school year begins at the end of August or early in September. Children customarily advance together from one grade to the next as a single cohort or “class” upon reaching the end of each school year in late May or early June.

Depending upon circumstances, children may begin school in pre-kindergarten or first grade. Students normally attend 12 grades of study over 12 calendar years of primary/elementary and secondary education before graduating and earning a diploma that makes them eligible for admission to higher education. Education is mandatory until age 16 (18 in some states).

The stage of education is classified as:

Category Level
Preschool Pre-kindergarten
Elementary School Kindergarten to Grade 5
Middle School/ Junior High School Grade 6 to Grade 8
High School/ Senior High School Grade 9/ Freshman
Grade 10/ Sophomore
Grade 11/ Junior
Grade 12/ Senior
Higher Eduction Undergraduate Level
Graduate School
Fees & Living Expenses

The United States higher education system is not subsidized by the federal government which is why tuition fees remain notoriously high in the United States, even for American citizens. Costs of undergraduate and graduate degrees in America vary wildly between institutions and courses. The average tuition fee for undergraduate level ranges from US$5,000.00 per year to US$34,740.00 per year. At some universities, the figure might even soar above $50,000.00 per year. The average tuition fee for post graduate level ranges from US$ 5,000.00 per year to US$40,000.00 per year. And tuition fee for Doctoral degree ranges from US$ 28,000.00 per year to US$ 55,000 per year, but most doctoral degrees are 100% funded through research/teaching assistant ships, research aid and bursaries.

The living expenses generally include accommodation costs, room, and boarding, food, travel, books and supplies, weather appropriate clothing, communication expenses, personal expenses, incidentals and entertainment expenses as well. Considering various expenses and living costs, a single student budget in the US comes between US$ 10,000 and US$ 25,000 per academic year (indicative) depending on the city.

Opportunities After Study

After completion of degree, student can apply Optional Practical Training (OPT) for 12 months, during this period student are allow to work full time. Similarly, student can apply H-1B Visa (Specialty Occupation), on the following conditions;

  • a U.S employer to sponsor the applicant
  • a correlation between the job duties and applicant’s education and work experience.

In addition to the above requirements, it is also necessary to obtain an approval of a Labor Condition Attestation (LCA) from the Department of Labor prior to filing the H-1B petition with the Immigration & Naturalization Service. A LCA is required to ensure that foreign workers are not exploited by U.S. employers and are paid the same salaries and obtain the same benefits as their American counterparts.

The H-1B is granted for an initial period of 3 years and can be extended for an additional 3 years, but cannot be extended beyond 6 years. Spouses and minor children automatically obtain H-4 visas, which entitle them to accompany the applicant to the U.S. and to attend school, but not work, in the U.S.

Rules & Regulations

Student need to stay aware of about obligations as an F1 visa holder. If they do not maintain the valid F1 visa status, they will not be allowed to return to re-enter the US, they will not be eligible for practical training (OPT or CPT) or on-campus employment.

  • Make sure you arrive in the US no more than 30 days prior to the first day of classes.
  • You must remain enrolled full time and maintain grades. If you are having difficulty in your classes, notify your international adviser. If you are unable to complete your program by the date listed on your Form I-20, your international adviser can help you request a program extension
  • Always notify your international adviser or office if you make changes to your address, study plans or visa status.
  • You have 60 days upon completion of your program to leave the United States under your F1 visa. To remain in the US, you will need to re-enroll in a higher program, transfer to another school to receive a new I-20 form, or apply to change your visa status.
  • Obtain U.S. Immigration service approval before changing schools or academic programs
  • Always obtain Employment Authorization before you begin working
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