Attending College in the US as an International Student

By Joanna Nesbit

In 2022, nearly a million students from another country came to the U.S. for college. That is about 5% of higher education students, according to the Institute of International Education. In the past, many foreign students were graduate students. But in recent years, the number of undergraduates has grown. 

Most colleges have international student offices to help with arrangements to study in the U.S. The process can be complex and detailed. If you are just starting out, explore the resources listed at the end of this article.

Here are some other things to help international students adjust to life in the U.S.


For many international students, the cost of attending a U.S. college is often high, but college costs will vary by type (private, public, two-year community college). Getting a scholarship from a particular college may reduce costs quite a bit. Your final cost will depend on where you apply and how much, if any, financial aid or scholarship money you receive. 

According to the Institute of International Education’s 2022 Open Doors report, 55% of college funding came from personal or family resources, whereas only 20% came from colleges (most went to graduate students). Besides tuition costs, consider the added costs for housing, food, clothing, textbooks, health insurance, and other basic living needs. 

It is usually difficult to work in the U.S. as an international undergraduate student, but if you have an F-1 visa (most typical for undergraduates), most colleges offer part-time jobs on campus. A campus job can be a way to make extra income for personal costs and help you feel like part of the school. 

Graduate students who come on a J-1 visa follow different employment rules. Your campus’s international student office should be able to explain your work options to you.


Most colleges that accept international students have residence halls. And many require first-year students to live on campus. Living in a college residence hall is a great way to meet new people, learn about college life, and adapt to the culture of college and the U.S. It is also a good way to connect with other students from your country or another country.

Support Services

Your school may have an office or staff member to provide legal support and other guidance. Many of these offices offer programs with tips for adapting to life in the U.S. They may also sponsor events where international students can meet up. 

Some college counseling centers or health services centers also have clinicians who speak your first language. You might want to look at the diversity of staff members in your school’s counseling and health centers. 

Learn more about college campus services

Meeting People

Most colleges sponsor different kinds of clubs, including international clubs, multicultural clubs, and clubs aligned to specific interests, like chess, gaming, or the student newspaper. Getting involved with a club or joining an intramural sports team is a great way to connect with students who share your interests. 

Your campus’s international students office (ISO) may sponsor events for international students to get to know one another, participate in cultural events together, and take school-sponsored trips together to nearby cities and other attractions. The ISO may also know about a sizable group of people from your country or region residing in the surrounding community if you are interested in connecting for cultural events or local organizations involving your faith, ethnicity, or cultural traditions.

Find more tips on making friends and connections on campus

Insurance and Health Care

Although most colleges provide basic levels of medical and mental health care through their student health center or counseling center, this care is generally limited. Health care in the U.S. works differently from many other countries with universal health care and can be a little complicated and confusing. Start by asking your college about insurance policies they may offer to international students. 

If you need to see a doctor for a more complex problem, visit an emergency room, or get surgery, you will need to have health insurance for the costs of off-campus medical care. Most schools have an insurance plan you can buy, and some have plans specifically for international students. Start by finding out what your college offers. 

If you have prescriptions for physical or mental health conditions, figure out U.S. access with your health care providers back home and the college health or counseling center.

Best Websites to Get Started

Going to college in the U.S. requires learning about a new education system, visa requirements, and cultural differences, but it is also exciting. Do not let the details get in your way. Here are some resources to help you.

Understanding the visa process: Study in the States

College search and programs of study: International Student

General information, country-specific advising centers, plus scholarships and funding: Education USA

General information and scholarships: Institute of International Education 

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