Studying in the US is an opportunity for international students to learn and grow academically, professionally, and personally – but it may take some time to get used to your new home. By preparing early, you can make the transition process easier. Learn what to expect once you arrive in the US, how to deal with culture shock as you adjust to the American way of life, fitting in to life in America, and more.
Life in America
When you first arrive in America, you may find there are many parts of the culture that are new to you and ways of living that are different from what you are used to. To familiarize yourself with the American way of life, let’s take a look at some of the factors that contribute to making American life so unique and how you can successfully adapt to your life as a university student in the US.
What State Should I Live and Study In?
The US is made up of 50 different states, each with its own state government and respective state laws (alongside nationwide federal laws). When looking to study in America, it is helpful to acquaint yourself with how each state is different, considering the following factors:
Cost of living — Your cost of living depends on the state, city, and neighborhood where you choose to live in America. Having an idea of how expensive or affordable your home region will be helps you plan out your budget for the duration of your degree. Estimate how much you could potentially spend on housing, groceries, transportation, health insurance, entertainment, etc., so you can choose a region that best aligns with your budget (and make your life in America easier). As a general rule, living and studying in a more urban location will be more expensive than living in the suburbs or countryside.
Personal fit — Every state offers a different American way of life and local culture based on its history, location, development, and climate. For example, if you do not like cold weather, it would be better to avoid states known for harsh and/or long winters. If you prefer peace and quiet, a rural area or small town may be a better choice for you.
Accommodations — If you opt for off-campus housing, you will find different accommodations options available for students, such as apartments, homestays, and even houses to rent out. The availability and affordability of accommodations that meet your requirements can differ from every state. When choosing your accommodations, it is important to check its exact location, how far your commute would be, and whether facilities such as a laundromat, grocery stores, and pharmacies are nearby.
Education — Each state in the US is home to universities and colleges offering different programs, facilities, and financial aid opportunities. These universities may be specialized or renowned in certain fields of study, or may offer unique educational experiences not available at other institutions.
Researching which universities to apply to by considering areas of specialization, research and career opportunities available, and how students can benefit from their degrees can help you make the best choice for your academic career.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the 10 best states for higher education are:
While any US state is a great choice, remember to evaluate each university’s programs, including their opportunities for further education and career support. To make sure you can get accurate and first-hand information, speak with your Shorelight advisor and university representatives.
Studying in the US is going to be a new experience for you, especially as the higher education system may be different from the one you attended growing up. Having an idea of how students are taught from day one can familiarize you with what to expect in your classes.
United States Education System
The educational system in the US includes public institutions, which are funded by federal, state, and local governments, along with charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling options. While private schools enjoy greater curriculum independence and get their funding from private sources, public schools are required to teach the state curriculum and administer regulated testing.
Americans are raised to be independent, and their education system is based on those core values. You may be used to an environment where teachers are hands-on with their students, but American teachers expect their students to be self-sufficient and take responsibility for their studies. Extracurricular activities at US schools are also highly valued, in some areas at the same level of academics — many universities offer athletics scholarships and have programs focused around building sports or athlete management career skills.
Let’s take a closer look at the stages of education in the US:
When American children are around five years old, they begin elementary school in kindergarten. Elementary school typically continues from kindergarten until grades five or six (and children are usually age 10 or 11). After elementary school, American children progress to middle school which goes up to grade eight (and students are 14 or 15). During elementary school and middle school, curriculum focuses on developing functional skills and learning English, math, sciences, and social studies.
High school is for students between ages 14 and 18. The first year, freshman year, is also called grade nine. Following are sophomores (grade 10), juniors (grade 11), and seniors (grade 12). In high school, students begin to explore more advanced topics in depth to find their specialization, studying subjects such as classic literature, calculus, chemistry, world history, and more. Some students can take advanced placement (AP) classes to earn preliminary college credit and/or prepare for work. Once students complete their degree and have earned enough credits to graduate, they receive high school diplomas. After graduation, students attend university and/or enter the workforce.
Students enroll in a university or college to pursue higher education. The US has many universities and colleges offering specialized programs depending on the field of study. Most undergraduate programs take around four years to complete. There are many types of colleges and universities, and some students may choose to go to trade schools if they want to specialize in careers that require focused technical skills.
After completing an undergraduate degree, students can pursue postgraduate studies including a master’s degree, MBA, or PhD. It is important to note that a bachelor’s degree is usually a prerequisite for a postgraduate degree.
Now that you have an overview of the education system in America, you may be wondering about what your USA life – socially – might be like outside of the classroom.
Living in America helps grow your social and professional circles in a variety of ways. Orientation day is a great starting point, as you can meet other new students and get acquainted with one another and key support staff. Typically, they take place just before the start of your academic year and cover everything related to campus life, policies, and what is expected of you. You can sign up for student activities, including different types of clubs and societies where you can make friends (and even learn slang in America).
With the many diverse cultures in America, you can interact with people from all over the world and experience a range of rich cultures and traditions. The social life you build here will broaden your worldview and may even provide opportunities to expand your professional network.
Living in America is also a great opportunity to sightsee and experience everything the nation has to offer. From Broadway to sports, global cuisine to world-famous parks and landmarks, there is something for everyone. With many places to visit and sights to see, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and make friends on campus and off.
As you enjoy life in America, you need to travel to campus, as well as around your new hometown, on a regular basis, either to meet friends, get groceries, and more. Let’s discuss the ways to get around.
Transportation in the US depends on the state where you live in America, as some feature more extensive public transit options than others. As a general rule, expect that cities will have some or multiple forms of public transit, such as buses, subways, or trams. As a day in the life in America can involve a large amount of travel, it is important to choose a state with appropriate transportation services for your daily needs.
Cabs are another option, especially in cities, but keep in mind that fares are sometimes higher than other modes of transportation. Using ride-hailing services may be more convenient and affordable, depending on where you live in America.
Additionally, many US cities now offer bike-sharing services and/or scooter-share options. With these programs, members pay a subscription fee and can then use available bikes or scooters at multiple docks in and around the city.
If you aim to own or rent your own car in the US, work on getting your international driver’s license to make transportation easier for you. If you need to travel to another state, you can choose to drive there, but depending on the region, the journey may likely be long (however, it may make for a great road trip adventure with friends).
Along with transport for your academic and social needs, you may also need to consider transport and logistics if you plan to work in America while you study.
Working in America
As an international student, you have two instances when you may work in the US: during your degree and after completion. Depending on your visa, you may have the chance to work on campus or in specified training programs. Working while studying is one way students can earn an income. Many universities encourage students to explore options for employment both on campus and off, and it is important to choose these opportunities carefully to make sure they meet the work restrictions on your student visa.
After you finish your degree, you may also want to stay and work in the US. Again, it is important that you know the limitations of your visa, as most only allow international students to remain in the US for 60 days after graduation. During this period, if you are able to secure yourself a job, you will be eligible to apply for a work visa instead.
Additionally, if you are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) during your studies, you may be able to extend your time in the US after graduation, especially if you earned a STEM degree.
Learn more about OPT for international students >
In the US, some states may have more job opportunities than others and fewer restrictions for international students. Get a sense of employment opportunities by region by looking at labor statistics.
Tips for Living in America
If you need more information on American life, check out these tips to help you adjust to USA life as an international student. You can learn how to improve your language skills, how to enroll in a health insurance plan, and more.
No matter what you study or which school you attend, your life in America is going to be an exciting journey. With so much to experience and new things to try, every day can be a new adventure. There are endless opportunities available to you as an international student. With help from your Shorelight advisor, you will be supported from day one so you can begin your new journey in the US with confidence!