Top Jobs for International Students in the US

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By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on September 15, 2023

With the US being home to so many different industries, it is likely that a job here will kick-start your career. Want to know how to choose the right one? Read on!

A female international student sits next to her career counselor at a US university and reviews her resume

The US has consistently remained one of the top destinations for business, and is home to more than 20,000 large businesses across many different industries. This business-friendly environment creates a diverse job market, with multiple opportunities for international students in the USA, allowing students like you the chance to get a head start on your career by working with world-renowned companies.

If you are a student on a F-1 or J-1 visa hoping to find jobs for international students in the USA, keep reading! This guide goes over popular jobs for students while studying, training options as part of your program, on-campus and off-campus opportunities, tips for job hunting, and more.

Types of Jobs for International Students

Before you start applying to jobs for international students in the USA, it is important to think about the types of jobs you want to work in and your professional goals. There are many international students who are applying for the same opportunities as you, so being able to stand out to employers with your unique skills or passion for the role improves your chances of securing a job.

So, when picking a job to apply to, think about your personal skills and interests: Is there something you enjoy doing or areas where you are skilled? Searching for jobs that are a good match for your skillset shows that you are qualified, allows you to perform well immediately, and can give you a good foundation to build on your current strengths and develop them even further. Over time, your experience and qualifications can help you access even more advanced jobs in the field.

If you do not have previous working experience, it can be challenging to apply for certain jobs. Fortunately, universities and colleges in the US offer many opportunities for introductory jobs and/or entry-level roles where you can gain valuable work experience and transfer to other jobs as you improve your skills.

These include roles such as:

  1. Campus Ambassador

  2. Teaching Assistant

  3. Library Assistant

  4. Research Study Assistant

  5. Peer Mentor

Let us take a closer look at each of these roles and the duties they involve — one of these might be the job for you! 

Campus Ambassador

As a campus ambassador, you are responsible for promoting your university or college campus to new students or students who are interested in enrolling. Being a campus ambassador is a great choice for students who enjoy meeting new people or students who like supportive roles, as there will be many new students and parents with questions you need to answer. Campus ambassadors share their university experience with new students while also improving their conversational skills, working together with other campus ambassadors, and attending special events.

The average pay for a campus ambassador is $10.94 (USD) per hour. As this job requires you to be familiar with your campus, you may only be able to apply for this role in your second semester. Campus ambassador jobs are usually available when classes are in session, so  interested students and their parents can visit the university, tour the campus, and get a sense of university life. 

Teaching Assistant 

A teaching assistant role allows you to work with the professors at your university or college by supporting their classroom activities and assisting students. Teaching assistants are usually responsible for answering student questions (if the question is not too advanced) or if assistance is needed outside a professor’s office hours. This role is ideal for students who are passionate or skilled at a specific subject and want to share their knowledge with other students, or for students who enjoy teaching.

The average pay for a teaching assistant role is $11.85 (USD) per hour. To perform well at this type of job, you need to have a strong understanding of the classroom material and have good observational skills to help you identify students who need extra support. This role can have a lot of work depending on the class, so be sure to consider whether you are able to balance your own studies with your teaching assistant responsibilities. Gaining experience as a teaching assistant is also very valuable if you plan to enter into teaching or a training-related career in the future.

Library Assistant 

Library assistants in the US usually work at their university or college library as support staff. Main tasks involve shelving books and keeping them organized, helping your fellow students find the books they are looking for, and making book recommendations. Library assistant roles can be ideal for students who enjoy reading and quiet work without large responsibilities, and can allow you to study while you work if there are days where you are not busy.

The average pay for library assistants is $13.24 (USD) per hour. As this role does not usually have many prerequisites, it can be a good option for your first job, and its flexibility offers work experience while you also manage your study load and get used to life in the US. 

Research Study Assistant 

As a research study assistant, you work together with your professor and your university’s department faculty to pursue research in a specific field. While the exact responsibilities of this job depend on the field and department you work in, you will usually help conduct research, organize and analyze data results, keep equipment in working order, and contribute to projects. This is a great job for students who are passionate about a specific field of research and are interested in supporting efforts to discover new breakthroughs.

Research study assistants have an average pay of $15.48 (USD) per hour. If you plan to work in a career in a similar field after graduation, this job is a great opportunity to build relevant experience and skills while you study. These types of roles often require you to have significant understanding of the research topic and can involve a lot of work, which must be balanced with your degree program commitments. 

Peer Mentor 

The main responsibility of peer mentors is to support students who want to improve their skills in areas such as reading, writing, understanding assignments, and learning course content. This is a good choice for students who enjoy teaching others and especially for international students, as you can provide unique perspectives and learning methods to your mentees. As a peer mentor, you usually have specific office hours where students can come in to request help. You may also work together with other student mentors, which can help you discover new ways of learning and teaching.

The average pay for a peer mentor is usually $14.31 (USD) per hour. Tasks can be similar to a teaching assistant role, but peer mentors usually help more students in general, compared to in specific classrooms as a teaching assistant. If you are aiming for a future career in education, this is a great job to begin gaining experience and learn the fundamentals of teaching.

Work-Study Curricular Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a form of work-study which is usually a part of a specific program’s curriculum and is authorized by your Designated School Official (DSO). CPT is designed to allow students to gain practical work experience in a job related to their field of study. As CPT opportunities are a part of specific programs, they are sometimes required to earn your degree. Typically, CPT roles are short term and can only be completed before your graduation.

Usually, many CPT jobs are training roles — this can be a good option for students with little or no previous working experience. With a CPT job, you work with a specific employer for the duration of the training and can only work with one employer at any given time. Depending on your program, you might be able to work in multiple CPT jobs over the course of your program. 

Whether you are aiming for a program with CPT or want to find a job yourself, there are certain work restrictions listed on your student visa which you must follow to maintain your status as an international student. These restrictions highlight your permissions to work on campus vs off campus and the amount of hours you are able to work.

On-Campus Employment for International Students

Both F-1 and J-1 students are allowed to work on-campus jobs, which are opportunities for work at specific departments or facilities at your university or college. On-campus jobs can be a great way to start gaining work experience in the US, as many have manageable responsibilities and offer flexible working hours around your class schedules. Examples of on-campus jobs include preparing or serving food in the campus cafeteria, maintaining computer labs, working in a fitness center, and more.

On-campus jobs can help you adjust better to your life in the US, as they often require you to interact with fellow students and faculty on a daily basis. This is ideal if you want more time and space to get used to your new life, as many of these jobs also have fewer responsibilities compared to off-campus jobs. (However, this might also mean on-campus jobs usually have a slightly lower pay compared to off-campus jobs.)

Off-Campus Jobs for International Students

Off-campus jobs refer to any job outside the premises of your college or university campus, and involve working with organizations not affiliated with your institution. As these jobs are not always designed with students in mind, it can be a challenge to find roles to apply for if you do not have previous work experience. 

Additionally, some of these roles may not be flexible around your class schedule and can be challenging to balance with your study load. However, off-campus jobs usually make up for their increased responsibilities by providing higher pay and their wide variety of tasks can help you develop new skills, knowledge, and professional qualifications.

Keep in mind that J-1 students cannot work in off-campus jobs and F-1 students can only work off campus after completing one academic year with approval from their DSO. If you experience severe economic hardship as a F-1 student, you may also be permitted to work off campus on a case-by-case basis.

When looking for jobs for international students in the USA, make sure to pay attention to the hours of work as outlined in the job requirements, as these are limited for international students. This also impacts when or if you are able to apply for certain part-time and full-time jobs.

Part-Time Work vs. Full-Time Work

Typically, part-time jobs require around 10 to 20 hours of work per week on a shift or roster basis, depending on the job. These jobs can be easy to apply for if you have limited working experience, and can be a good fit for international students due to their low hours of work. Both J-1 and F-1 students are able to work in part-time jobs while studying.

Full-time jobs can be intensive, with 32 or more hours of work per week, and require a large commitment of time and effort. As a result, it can be challenging to balance full-time work if you are already a full-time student, especially for more intensive degree programs with a lot of coursework. J-1 and F-1 students can only work full time if they are on break or their semester is not in progress.

When considering part-time work vs full-time work, keep in mind both J-1 and F-1 students can only work for a maximum of 20 hours per week while your semester is in progress. This is a very important condition of your student visa which you must make sure to maintain while studying in the US. 

Once you have evaluated the available jobs for foreign students in the USA, it is time to begin job hunting to find the ideal role to meet your needs!

Tips for Job Hunting as an International Student

As an international student, you might be wondering, how do international students get jobs in the US? Here are some tips to help you get started:

  1. Update your resume and prepare a cover letter — Almost every job in the US requires you to submit your resume for consideration, and some may ask for a cover letter. Make sure your resume is up to date and that your cover letters are tailored for each specific job.

  2. Research each role carefully — Before you apply for any job, carefully and thoroughly read the job description and requirements to make sure you are a good fit. This also helps you understand if the job aligns with your student visa work restrictions.

  3. Speak to your professors or university career services — Your professors and faculty can connect you with ideal opportunities for students or even give you a recommendation if they have a contact at an organization that interests you.

  4. Start your search early — Jobs in the US, especially part-time jobs, can be highly competitive. It is important to start searching and applying for jobs early if you want to begin working as soon as possible.

  5. Apply for jobs that interest you — If you have a personal interest or strength in a certain job, you may perform better and have a much more rewarding experience compared to a job that does not excite you.

  6. Practice for interviews — If employers like your resume, they may call you in for an interview. Preparing for these interviews with advisors or your friends is a great way to practice your responses and make sure you are ready for the actual interview.

  7. Remember to send a thank you note — Sending a thank you note after your interview is a great way to showcase your professionalism and courtesy to the hiring officer who interviewed you.

Finding the right opportunities for international students in the USA requires time and commitment, and working with a Shorelight advisor can give you the support you need to get started. Your advisor provides career counseling for students and can direct you to career development programs, help you find campus jobs for students, learn how to make a career plan, choose between CPT vs OPT, and teach you how to apply for an internship. They can also help you with other exclusive services, such as helping you adjust to life in the US, provide visa assistance services, and much more.

While it is important to stay positive and optimistic when applying for jobs, there are certain challenges you should prepare for as you search for the right job.

Difficulties International Student Face When Job Searching

Some organizations may be uncertain about hiring international students. Understanding the potential obstacles for international students when job searching can help you address concerns during the application and interview processes, and set you up for success.

When it comes to jobs for international students, employers may have concerns about:

  • Culture barriers — Some organizations may feel the mismatch in cultural knowledge might make international students not fit well in their company culture.

  • Language competency — Employers may be concerned about international students’ reading and writing skills with English.

  • Time commitment — Along with basic workplace training, it can also be time consuming to train new international students to get used to working in the US, the responsibilities of their job, and adjusting to daily life.

  • Visa complications — Some businesses may be uncertain about hiring international students because of legal requirements listed in your student visa.

  • Duration of stay — Organizations in the US invest strongly in their employees, and may be concerned that international students might need to leave the country while working.

While you may encounter some of these challenges while searching for a job, remember that there are many employers in the US who actively search for international student employees! Most of these organizations already work with certain universities — including Shorelight universities — so seek out employers that are looking to hire international students like you. With guidance and support, you can successfully pursue roles that allow you to bring your unique skills and ideas to American workplaces — and enable you to gain valuable professional experience.

Work with your Shorelight advisor and university career services, speak to your professors, and learn new skills to help you stand out to employers and work toward your dream job! 

Reach out to a Shorelight advisor today >