Study Abroad: How to get there USA
So you want to study abroad? Great choice, you’re going to have a fantastic time. Unfortunately, you’re also going to have to do a lot of prep work. But, as you tire of interviews and forms, keep your eyes on the prize because it will be totally worth it.
Studying in the United States is fantastic but it’s a notoriously lengthy and difficult process. Your semester or year abroad is an amazing way to get a taste of American academics and college life, without the hefty price tag; out of state students can pay upward of $9000 per semester whereas British students on an exchange programme can often complete the year paying half the UK tuition fee amount - or even no tuition fees! Some degree programmes, such as American Studies, guarantee you your year abroad but with other subjects you need to delve a little deeper. Talk to your university’s study abroad office and see what your options are.
1. Pick your university
I was interviewed by my head of department and our year abroad co-ordinator in October of my second year (I told you this takes a while) and we discussed my academics, interests, finances, the lot. I gave them reasons as to why I wanted to study in Baltimore, luckily they agreed and my place was confirmed just before Christmas. You might not get your desired place but trust these people’s decision; they’ve been doing this for a long time and they know what people are going to like. Don’t just pick the glamorous choice. California may look appealing but how do you know if it really is for you?
2. Get saving
This year can be financially draining. Talk to your LEA (Local Education Authority) and find out what your entitlement to funding is for the next academic year. Find out if your host university has a financial requirement; it’s to cover their backs as you won’t technically be an American citizen and therefore won’t be covered if you fall into any trouble throughout the year (avoid arrest and you’re generally fine). See if you can find a financial guarantor and plan your budget. Remember you’re going to want to travel; you’ll really kick yourself if you don’t see as much of the States as physically possible. But before you really cack yourself, you can get a chunk of this money back once the year is over, just ask your LEA for a reimbursement form.
Ah paperwork, the true pain in the a**** (note: British spelling) of the year abroad process. Make sure your passport is valid and you have a couple of years validity on it upon your return. Get copies of your medical and dental records and double check you’re up to date with your jabs; some states won’t let you in if you haven’t had a TB vaccination. If you’re on any medication make sure you have a plentiful supply and proof of prescription. Get copies of your financials; the US may need to see this soon-ish so get on it. Photocopy pretty much everything you own. Finally, you need to obtain a copy of your DS2019, which you’ll be able to pick up at the study abroad office once your placement has been given official approval. Under no circumstance lose this form, as you’ll need it to get...
4. Your visa
Once you have your DS2019 you need to get in touch with the US embassy in London or Dublin. Call them as soon as you can so you can set up your appointment. Make sure you have a pen and paper by the phone as they may give you a checklist of stuff to bring along. The embassy really isn’t to be messed with. They’re paid to not have a sense of humour, so any jokes you make about bombs and terrorists won’t be met with laughter, you’ll just get your visa application denied, so you can kiss goodbye to your year abroad. Be on time for your appointment, they don’t settle for lateness. You can’t take your phone or other people into the building, so either leave your phone with your friend/relative, or, if you travelled alone, Gould’s Pharmacy (just a few yards from the embassy) will kindly look after your phone for the day for a small fee (£10). As vile/long- winded/boring/scary the appointment is, it’s a necessary evil, so suck it up. But it is long. Very long. About five hours long so take a book. There’s little contact in the appointment, it’s a lot of waiting around after having handed in your paperwork and asked if you’re a terrorist (I’m being serious), your passport is stamped and should they see you fit, your application is approved. Make sure you bring about £15 in cash, as you need to pay the courier to deliver your passport. It’s a horrible ordeal and there’s something very intimidating about getting a retina scan, but after the appointment, it’s pretty much plain sailing.
5. Flights and Insurance
I would strongly advise against getting these booked until your visa has been confirmed. Chances are you won’t be rejected but if you are, losing a few hundred quid on a flight would be a bit of a kick in the teeth. Ask your host university what airport is closest and don’t just assume! Find out if you need to make your own way to campus; if they have a heart, they’ll come and meet you but you never know.
Health insurance is an absolute must. Again, talk to your host university as they may insist you take out a certain policy (I know mine did). If you wish, you can take out travel insurance as well but be sure to check the small print.
I’m a girl so this was a total joke. Find out your baggage allowance and make sure you’re under it; you’ll avoid fines but also, you’re guaranteed to come back with lovely American goodies. Home comforts are a yes, photos are a lifesaver when you’re feeling blue and your roommates are going to want to put a face to the people you’ll be babbling on about. An extra: Americans don’t get the concept of orange squash, so, if like me, you can’t be without a bottle of Robinson’s, pack a bottle or three. Girls, don’t bother with your straighteners and hairdryer, American voltage affects the performance so just buy a cheap pair out there (they really are cheap).
7. You’re good to go
If you’re not nervous you’re not human. Make sure your laptop has Skype installed and take a phonecard to let the loved ones know you’ve landed, as mobile phone reception in the States has a tendency to play up on English phones. Be sure to have photocopies of all your crucial documents in your hand luggage and your case because if you lose a thing, border control won’t let you in. And cling to your accent, the Yanks dig it.