Coming to the US to Study

As a domestic student it is easy to take for granted the premier higher education available in the United States. I have recently learned more about the challenging and complicated process of coming to the US to study from my international colleagues.

First, a few statistics. In 2017-2018, a total of 1,094,792 international students enrolled in U.S. institutions from the 2018 Open Doors Report. As shown in the figure below, a majority of international students come to the US from China, followed by India and South Korea. Compared to 2016-2017, new international enrollment of undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree students is down by 6.6%. In part, this may be due to political and social factors such as “more restrictive policies on visas coupled with the Trump administration’s rhetoric on immigration”, described further in this Inside Higher Ed article.

higher ed
2018 Open Doors Report

From the American Society for Engineering Education 2017 Engineering by the Numbers, the percentages of foreign residency students in engineering by degree are as follows:

  • Bachelor’s: 10.1%
  • Master’s: 59.2%
  • Doctoral: 55.7%

International enrollment is mostly paid for by personal and family sources of funding followed by U.S. Colleges or Universities and Foreign Government or Universities. The higher percentage of international students in graduate engineering programs, compared to undergraduate, may reflect financial opportunity provided by graduate teaching and research assistantships.

Now, what about the visas? First of all, I learned that, technically speaking, having a visa does not guarantee entry to the US. From the US Department of State, “it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose.”

There are 3 types of student visas:

  1. F Student Visa:  to study at a university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution, including a language training program
  2. M Student Visa: to study at a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program
  3. J Exchange Visitor Visa: to participate in an approved exchange program

Further, there are:

  • F-1 visas: full-time students.
  • F-2 visas: spouses and children of F-1 visa holders – these are technically called “dependents.”
  • F-3 visas: “border commuters” who reside in their country of origin while attending school in the United States

A visa allows a student to enter the US at most 30 days before the start date. I imagine that makes finding housing in a college town quite difficult…And students must leave the US within 60 days after the program end date on the paperwork. Additionally, on the visa, there is a number indicating the number of times students may apply for entry. In some cases, instead of a number there is a “M” which means a student can seek entry into the US multiple times. The expiration date is the last day a student can use the visa to seek entry in to the US. It has nothing to do with how long the student may stay in the US. The significance of this multiple or single entry is that depending on the visa, a student can or can not leave the country to visit family abroad, travel to other countries for conferences, etc. While I do not have personal experience with the struggles of obtaining and maintaining a visa to study in the US, I have a much greater appreciation for the difficulty and complexity my international colleagues face. Your thoughts are welcome…comment below!


One thought on “Coming to the US to Study”

  1. And, as an international students, some will get checked for their visa, which is not a guaranteed thing, and they have to wait for extra 1-3 months to get the visa. This waiting time will slow down some graduate study as well as cause personal life issues, such as family reunion or so… No complains here but we all hope here is a better balance on the international study policy. Thanks!


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