Tips for International Graduate Students

If you’re looking to study in the U.S. as an international student, the experience can feel overwhelming. There are plenty of online resources, but it can be difficult to determine which provide pertinent, accurate information to your unique situation. Below, Amanda G. Verkest, a former international graduate student and College of Professional Studies Student Ambassador, shares tips and information based on her experiences to help other international students navigate the process. 

Critical information for international students

To begin, I recommend that anyone interested in becoming an international student in the U.S. read the book Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know. 

Then, as you continue your research, beware of the many websites that do not provide accurate information for international students looking to study in the U.S. Study in the States, a site by the Department of Homeland Security, is one of the best places to find all of the most up-to-date, factual information you will need. In general, U.S. government (.gov) and school (.edu) websites are the most trusted sources.

It may also be beneficial to review and understand the various cultural dimensions ingrained in societies around the world. A helpful tool for this, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, was developed by Geert Hofstede in 1980 to better understand the differences between cultures. (You may read a short description of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions on this website and compare dimensions here.)

For example, one of the seven dimensions is individualism vs. collectivism. The U.S. has a loosely knit social framework, so it scores highly in individualism; China has a tightly knit framework or collectivist culture, so it has a lower score in individualism. Understanding these cultural dimensions will prove invaluable while you traverse becoming and being an international student in the U.S.

Applying for graduate school as an international student

After you’ve completed the necessary research and found the program fit for your needs and finances, the next step to becoming an international student is the application process. There are numerous steps and various parts of this process which will vary depending on the level of study you’re applying for (undergraduate, graduate, or PhD). For graduate programs, one of the most important components is the statement of purpose. (Check out this blog on How to Write a Statement of Purpose to ensure you excel on this part of your application.) 

Regardless of the level of study, all international students are required to provide proof of English language proficiency and a Declaration and Certification of Finances (DCF) to ensure they’re a good candidate for the university. You can find more information on international applications for the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University on their website. And while scholarships for international students are limited at Northeastern, there are some opportunities that you can learn more about here.

Obtaining a visa is one of the most essential parts of becoming an international student and is typically what many prospective students fear. However, you can rest assured knowing the majority of student visa applicants enjoy a smooth experience. This process begins by applying to Northeastern, a school approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). If you’re accepted, you will need to pay enrollment fees and follow the other steps explained on your individual school or college’s website.

Then, the university will create your file on the SEVIS website and send you a form that will be your ticket to obtaining a visa interview at your local U.S. embassy. The results of this interview will determine whether or not you will be eligible for a visa and what type of visa you will obtain. The most common visa type for international students is the F-1 visa, but some students qualify for a J-1 visa. 

Some lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain. Check out the Study in the States website to view the most recent COVID-19 information for international students.

5 steps to becoming an international student

To break it down clearly, there are five steps to becoming an international student in the U.S.:

  1. Research your options.
  2. Finance your studies.
  3. Complete your application.
  4. Apply for your student visa.
  5. Prepare for your departure.

International study at Northeastern University

Once you’ve arrived at Northeastern, you will join over 17,000 international students. Moreover, there will be many resources available to you. The Office of Global Services (OGS) will be the key resource for all of your questions or concerns. OGS offers academic skills advising, where topics such as cultural adjustment are covered.

International students can also get involved with the Global Student Mentor program through OGS—a resource that can be immensely helpful for new students. There are also various help centers and services available to all students on campus, including international students. These services include the Writing Center, Snell Library, CPS Tutoring Services, and countless clubs and organizations. In addition, the Global Student Success center is an internationally focused resource that offers English language tutoring and other globally minded services.

Learn More: 5 Benefits of Studying in the U.S. for International Students

Some international students find value in working during their studies as well as after graduation. However, obtaining employment as an international student requires following specific guidelines set out by the U.S. government. The importance of understanding these guidelines cannot be understated. (You can learn more about employment as a Northeastern international student here.)

In general, international students are only eligible to work part time at an approved location on campus for a total of up to 20 hours per week while studying. International students are only authorized to work off campus during their studies under specific circumstances, through a program called curricular practical training (CPT), which is described on Northeastern’s international student employment website.

After graduation, international students are eligible for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT) for one year. If OPT is completed before graduation, known as Pre-Completion (Pre-OPT), the total time will be subtracted from this one-year allotment. However, if studying a STEM-approved subject, international students can file for a two-year STEM OPT extension to work for a longer period after graduating. More information on working in the U.S. as an international student can be found on the USCIS and ICE websites.

Additional resources for international students

In addition to the links above, you might find the following websites to be helpful resources:

I wish you the best of luck in pursuing your educational goals.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2021 and has since been updated for relevance and accuracy.