America draws thousands of foreign students every year. If youre interested, remember the famous American can-do attitude and our saying, Where theres a will, theres a way!
The U.S. has lots of good colleges and universities (which we often just call schools) and an attractive student culture. Some foreign students come as undergraduates, working on their first degree. In the U.S. this is the four-year bachelors degree, either Bachelor of Arts, BA, or Bachelor of Sciences, BS (BSc in the U.K.). Foreigners make up a larger proportion of graduate students in the U.S., who have already earned an initial degree and now want to earn an advanced degree in a specialty, such as an MA (Master of Arts), Ph.D. (a doctorate), MBA (Master of Business Administration) or LLM (Master of Laws).
Foreign students may enroll in an American school in a degree program, staying for several years until they complete their degree. Or they can come for a limited time (a semester, a year or even just summer school). In any case, two hurdles will have to be jumped: getting into the school of your choice (admissions), and paying for it (tuition and other expenses).
Choosing a school to apply to can be bewildering, because we have literally thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S., at all levels of quality (and snob appeal). There is a wealth of private schools, ranging from charming small colleges like Middlebury in Vermont (popular for its language courses, including summer school), up to the big, famous Ivy League universities in the East, like Harvard. (The best private university in the West, by the way, is Stanford in California).
Public universities are usually large and are run by a particular State. Most of the students come from that State. Public universities can be impersonal and bureaucratic, but the best of them (like the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia and the University of Texas) rank next to the Ivy League schools in quality of studies and quality of life.
Every school has its own admissions policy and application, which must be filed with an application fee (average about $40), a transcript of your high school and university grades, and test scores. Application deadlines for the regular school year (August-May) are in the previous winter or spring, depending on the school. The fancier the school, the earlier the deadline. Application deadlines for summer school are not as rigid.
Most foreign students are required to submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). In addition, undergraduates are usually required to take either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the ACT Assessment. Most graduate students are required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for business school. These tests need to be scheduled several weeks in advance, and it is important to practice before taking the test.
Paying for it
Many Europeans are used to the notion that university is free (although this is no longer the case in the U.K.). Not so in America. Tuition now averages about $8,000 per year at public universities and $20,000 at private ones! Food and a place to sleep may cost several thousand dollars more. New students can usually find a place in a school dormitory and eat in the dining hall at preferential rates.
American schools offer financial aid based either on need or merit. Financial aid may take the form of scholarships, student loans or work study (part-time campus jobs like working in the dining hall).
The amount of financial aid available to foreign undergraduates is usually quite small. Its worth looking for specific scholarships sponsored especially for students from a certain country or studying a certain subject. If you have the talent, dont ignore the chance for a scholarship to study the fine arts or music, or an athletic scholarship. (Hint: Americans are lousy soccer players!)
Financial aid is also hard to find for foreign graduate students in professional programs. Its not such a problem in arts and sciences, though. Tuition is often reduced or eliminated, and after the first year students can be paid to work for their professors in the laboratory or as teaching assistants (TAs) in large classes for undergraduates. In math and science especially, foreign students make up the majority of graduate students, and financial aid must be available to keep these programs going.
Many short-term study opportunities are part of exchange programs between specific U.S. and foreign colleges and universities. The procedures for admissions and financial aid for these may be simpler because the details have already been arranged by the schools. Ask your college if it is part of any exchange programs. You should note also that summer programs often have a simpler open admissions policy.
After being admitted to an American college or university, you will need to arrange a visa to study in the U.S. The college provides the student with a Certificate of Eligibility, which the student then submits to the American Embassy or Consulate with his application for the appropriate type of student visa.
The United States has established Overseas Educational Advising Centers in several Polish cities, which are a rich resource for college catalogs and other information about studying in the U.S. The centers are at the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission, Nowy wiat 4, Warsaw, tel. (48-22) 625-6978; U.S. Consulate, Stolarska 9, Cracow, tel. (48-12) 429-6655; American Consular Agency, Paderewskiego 8, Poznań, tel. (48-61) 851-8516; and Wrocław University, Office for International Relations, pl. Uniwersytecki 1, Wrocław, tel. (48-71) 402-248.
Almost every U.S. college or university now has a website, usually with a special section for foreign students with information about applications and financial aid. Head for the top by checking out www.harvard.edu or www.stanford.edu.
The SAT and ACT Assessment tests are given several times a year at the American School in Warsaw, (48-22) 858-9306. The TOEFL, GRE and GMAT tests are also given in Warsaw; registration is through Sylvan Learning System, PO Box 1109, 6801 BC Arnhem, Netherlands, tel. (31-26) 352-1577, fax (31-26) 352-1278. The websites for these tests are a must visit if you plan to take the test: www.act.org, www.sat.org, www.toefl.org, www.gre.org and www.gmac.com (for the GMAT).
Its easy to search on the Internet for scholarships you might be eligible for. Start with the official Scholarship Search page at www.collegeboard.org. Good luck!
by Christopher Smith