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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

5 Essential Steps to Study in the USA

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Every student who wants to study in the USA on an F1 visa has to follow some of the same main steps.

I have written a bunch of blogs about studying in the USA over the past year, and they are all waiting for you to read on the website! There are blogs that explain how universities in the USA work, what to expect in the visa process, admissions materials you’ll likely need, and MUCH more.

I wanted to take a step back and write a blog about the overall study in the USA process. If you’re just getting started, I created a quick and simple discussion sheet you can download by signing up HERE.

Girl reading a book
Check off these 5 Essential Steps to Study in the USA

In general, there are five main steps to study in the USA. These apply for any student searching for an undergraduate or graduate degree. Check it out, and if you want more specifics on any one step, I linked several other blogs at the bottom of this one that you can hop over to check out. Enjoy!

Here are the five main steps to study in the USA:

1. Choose schools to submit your applications

The school search process can be overwhelming and make you want to throw in the towel or hire someone right off the bat. Many students start with a top 100 university list and never branch outside of it. I urge students to explore their options, find the best fit, and stay open-minded throughout the process.

I highly recommend starting with three main points - location, climate, programs - and narrowing down your search from there. For example, I talk to so many students who want to study business and think that will narrow their search down, but realistically, almost every four year university in the USA will offer a business degree. So think about what you want - what type of climate, big city or smaller university town, and then search for schools that have programs that also fit these preferences.

My first webinar in The Ultimate International Student Guide Webinar Series dives deep into the school search process and gives you some great tips and clarity for how to start finding the best fit universities in the USA for you!

University of Mount Union campus picture
My Alma Mater, the University of Mount Union!

2. Research funding sources

There is no way around it - higher education in the USA is world renown, but it is also some of the most expensive education in the world. The USA prides itself on offering a college experience that is difficult to achieve anywhere else in the world. An important and popular question is how to afford university studies if you are not from a wealthy family?

Yes, some universities offer significant financial aid and scholarships, but I always advise students that most universities do not meet full need. This means you often need multiple funding sources to be able to pay for school. Funding sources could be things like scholarships, grants, loans, family funds, or your own personal funds. Typically you need a combination of these to pay for school. This is one of the most important steps in the process to study in the USA. Unfortunately there isn’t a limitless fund for university studies and students often need to be creative, prepared, and committed to the task to make it happen.

The fourth webinar in The Ultimate International Student Guide Webinar Series gives students a bunch of resources and ideas for how to supplement funding for university. I’m always honest and transparent with students about the investment of higher education in the USA. I truly believe it’s a life changing opportunity, but I also believe it has to be the right fit for families.

Stacks of money and a graduation cap
Starting the scholarship search early is a key part of the process!

3. Submit materials and enroll

Once you’ve decided on schools to apply to, the next step is to submit applications, get admitted, and decide which school is the best for you!

Most schools have a similar application process in regards to what materials they require. Most often, schools will ask for all or some of the following:

  • Admissions application

  • Secondary school transcripts

  • Secondary school translation/evaluation of records (this often needs to be completed by an outside company)

  • Letters of Recommendation

  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT/TOEFL)

  • Personal Essay

  • Personal Interview

4. Obtain a student visa

Once you enroll at a school by submitting a signed contract or enrollment agreement and often a monetary deposit, then you’ll have to submit financial documentation to obtain the student visa. You have to submit a bank statement (from you, your parents, or a sponsor) that shows you have funds to cover at least one year of study in the USA. You can subtract any scholarships you received from the university from the total cost of the school. I wrote a great blog about how to calculate out of pocket cost if you want to learn more about this part, and it's linked at the bottom under Financial Aid.

Once you get the I-20 (document for your visa), you can go online and pay the SEVIS fee, schedule an embassy appointment, gather your materials, and then do an interview with an embassy official. In my third webinar in The Ultimate International Student Guide, I give some commonly asked questions and tips on crushing the visa interview.

Girl waiting for interview
It can be scary, but we've got great tips on how to rock the student visa interview!

5. Travel to the USA

Yay! If you get to this step, then you’ve made it farther than most! It’s a huge achievement to get to the point of enrolling at a university abroad and preparing to travel. The school will likely communicate extra steps you need to complete. Many universities offer advisor meetings, packing lists, or orientation schedules to new students to help them prepare before they even arrive.

I’ve created a great list of things to prepare for “Before You Arrive” and put it under Student Resources on the website. Check it out for more things to expect.

So that’s it in a nutshell. These are the five most basic steps to study in the USA. We all know each of these has many steps and processes, which is exactly why I’ve created so many additional resources and an entire webinar series on how to study in the USA. Guys, studying abroad is a HUGE investment. Being prepared is the best thing you can do as a parent or prospective student.

Don't forget to learn more about The Ultimate International Student Guide webinar series HERE.

Blogs that dive deeper into these topics:

School Options

Financial Aid



Until next time!

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