Many of the applicants to our scholarship program have questions about how college or university works in the US. We are attempting to answer some of those questions in this article.
University vs. college
A college is an institution of higher learning that typically offers associate or bachelor’s degrees only; that is, it offers up to four years of education after high school. A university offers a bachelor’s degree and above, typically master’s and doctorate (PhD) degrees.
College eligibility and admission
A student who has finished year 12 of high school becomes eligible to enter college or university for a bachelor’s degree. Like the kankor exam, most American colleges and universities require that students take either the SAT or the ACT test for admission.
For most international students — students who are not American — often the TOEFL or IELTS test is also required. (The Foundation for Afghanistan’s scholarship program only requires the TOEFL or the IELTS — SAT or ACT are not required.) Even if you have a certificate of English language from a good language center, you still need to take the TOEFL test. That is because it is a standard test that everyone from around the world takes; it measures English proficiency better than people taking tests with different levels of difficulty.
Sometimes, if a student’s score on the SAT or ACT is high, or if the student went to high school in the U.S., the student may not be required to have TOEFL
There is no “passing mark” on these tests, so you should try to score as high as possible. And there is usually no absolute required minimum, so not everyone above a certain score is accepted. Admission is very competitive – especially for scholarships – and colleges and universities look at a student’s test scores and high school marks to decide if they want to admit that student.
Students who cannot pay their full college fees will need to have scholarships. Competition is very strong for scholarships because thousands of very qualified students from around the world are looking for scholarships. Typically, a scholarship consists of the following:
- Full scholarship: This typically means that a student does not have to pay tuition fees, room fees, or board fees (food). Sometimes a full scholarship also means the student doesn’t have to pay for health insurance and other fees such as technology, activity, etc.
- Tuition scholarship: This typically means that the student will not pay all or a some of the tuition fee, but will still have to pay for their room and board.
- Room or board: This means the student won’t have to pay for their dorm room (hostel, or lailia) and on-campus food.
Remember that even with a full scholarship, the student will be responsible for some expenses like textbooks, personal expenses, travel and recreation. Check out the scholarships and other opportunities available through the Foundation for Afghanistan.
Studying in a U.S. College
When you become a student in a U.S. college or university, you will have greater freedom and responsibility to choose the classes you take. A field of study is called a “major,” which usually has a few “required courses” that everyone has to take. But students also have the choice to take a set number of other courses, related to the major, that are not required but are “electives.”
In addition, if you are in a liberal arts college, you will have to also take a number of classes outside the major. These are called the “core curriculum” of the college. These courses usually include writing, math, philosophy, science and, sometimes, unusual “subjects” like music or swimming.
Each of these courses — required, elective and core curriculum — is worth a certain number of “credits.” And every student has to get a required number of credits before graduation. A semester is typically four months long, and there are two regular semesters each year: the fall and the spring semester. The summer is off. Students usually do internships, study abroad, work, travel or just rest during the summer.
As you can see, Students have to take an active role in shaping their college education in this system. It can sometimes mean that you will have to plan ahead for a year or more about which classes to take and how to achieve the credits required for graduation. To help students in this process, colleges typically assign at least one “advisor” to each student. The advisor will be important in helping students choose their major, select classes, meet the requirements, plan for their four years, etc.
After you’ve been admitted – the visa process
After you have been admitted to a college or university in the U.S., you will receive a document called the I-20 from your college. In it, the college states that you are an admitted student and have enough financial resources – through scholarships or personal finance – for at least one year of college. Then you take your I-20 to an American embassy and appear for a visa interview.
After you have been approved for a visa, the embassy takes your passport and conducts background checks. If everything works out, you should have your U.S. visa within a few weeks to a couple of months. The time varies, so check with the embassy about your visa.
Preparing for the U.S.
Students are very excited when they get their U.S. student visa, also called the F1 visa. Students with this visa cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the start of their course of study. Obviously, preparation for the U.S. trip includes saying goodbyes to friends and families and purchasing the plane ticket. But the following items are common – and helpful – in bringing with you to the U.S.:
- Traditional Afghan clothes — have at least one pair with you
- Something that reminds you of home – a memento, a gift from your family or friends, pictures, a decoration piece you can put on your desk, etc.
- The Afghan flag
- If you have a host family in the U.S., remember to get them a gift from Afghanistan. Something “Afghan” is recommended.
This was a very general overview of education in the U.S. Admittedly, it is not comprehensive. If you have particular questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below, and we will be sure to answer them for you.