StudentsStudy Abroad

Study Abroad In The USA: 4 Common Questions

Every year students around the world decide to study abroad in the United States, and that number has increased dramatically over the years. According to Project Atlas, the number of international students in the United States was 1,043,839 in 2016, up from 690,923 in 2010. If you are considering studying abroad in the United States for a semester or a year, read on for some insight on four common questions students planning to study in the United States might have. (Project Atlas.)


study abroad USA

Paul Stringer ©


1. Where should I study?

One theme that has come up in previous study abroad articles, such as “How to Pick the Best Study Abroad Program for You,” is that where you choose to study ultimately comes down to your own personal situation, preferences, and goals. You should take a moment and write down a few of these goals—for instance, are you hoping to gain specific experience in your desired career field? What is more important to you, going to a prestigious institution or experiencing American culture? Do you have a specific city or region you have always wanted to visit? These are all important factors to consider if you plan to study abroad in the United States.

One positive aspect to studying abroad in the United States is that there are many options for places to study, which allows you to be more specific with your personal preferences. A very useful tool for narrowing down your list of potential U.S. colleges you might consider studying at is the BigFuture College Search Engine. This search engine allows you to filter your search by type of school, location, major, and sports & activities (to name a few). Having a list of personal preferences will help ensure that you are finding a college and program that is an ideal fit for you!

2. How proficient in English do I need to be?

If you are reading and understanding this right now, then your reading proficiency in English is already high and you will probably have no trouble reading and retaining material in American college courses. To study at a higher education institution in the United States, however, you will need to complete an English language assessment. The most common English proficiency test is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which evaluates your level of listening, reading, writing, and speaking in the English language. There are many study guides available for this test, but ETS provides perhaps the most comprehensive and diverse range of testing materials through their website, including a free 6-week course titled “TOEFL® Test Preparation: The Insider’s Guide.”

Also, consider watching some college lectures on YouTube from American universities such as Harvard University. Becoming familiar with academic English in advance will help you comprehend lectures quicker and easier once you are actually in an American classroom.

3. What should I bring?

One aspect of American culture that may be shocking to you at first is the amount of large stores everywhere that have just about anything you could imagine. This means that even if you forget to bring something you will likely have no difficulty getting it easily somewhere close to where you live. One recommendation I have given to study abroad students, included in the article “Study Abroad Packing: 10 Things to Leave Behind,” is to plan to pack light. The less baggage you bring with you, the easier and more comfortable you will be while traveling.

Despite the abundance of large-scale stores in the United States, however, there are probably still some comfort items you enjoy at home that you may not be able to find here so easily. Sometimes you only realize the small comforts of home you take for granted once you are away, so think for a moment of some small things unique to your home country that you may want to bring with you to help you through the transition into life abroad. Also, be sure to read through the International Student Forum on Studying in the USA. If you search, you will likely find posts from students from your home country that can provide custom packing advice to make you most comfortable.

4. What can I expect?

As is to be expected when relocating to a new place very different than home, you will likely experience, to at least a small degree, the stages of culture shock. Though you may find ways in which the culture in the United States is similar to that of your society at home, there will probably be more ways in which you will find it different. You could create a list of defining characteristics of United States culture here, but the truth of the matter is that the different regions of the country are very different in a lot of ways. Food, politics, language, and social and behavioral norms are different enough in some places that I myself sometimes feel very much like an outsider when I travel within this country.

There is no denying, however, that across the United States the college experience is very much associated with transitioning into adult life. I use the word experience here because although the actual education obtained in college in general is globally deemed as important and transformative, but here in the United States the experience of “going away to college” is culturally a significant stage of life for many people.

Most colleges around the country place a heavy emphasis and importance on student involvement, offering a number of activities and organizations with which students can become easily involved. These student involvement opportunities will undeniably create an immense list of chances for you to meet other students (including other international students) and gain new friendships once you arrive here. Use these opportunities to your advantage, and you will likely find transitioning into American life easier and more rewarding in the long-term. Most United States colleges have a student involvement office somewhere on campus, so be sure to make this a stopping point soon after you begin your courses.

Let us know about your experience

Did you study abroad in the United States in college? What one piece of advice would you offer someone thinking about doing the same? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Be sure to visit our Study Abroad page for more articles and resources on student travel, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up-to-date on future articles.

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.