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Studying in the United States

Universities in the United States

Why study in the USA?

The USA is one of the most popular study-abroad destinations for UK students.

  • More than 9,000 UK students are studying in the US, and that number is bound to grow as UK students evaluate the relative costs of obtaining a quality degree.
  • The US has a large and diverse higher education sector. There are more than 3,500 higher education institutions.
  • The US has more universities in the 2014–15 QS World University Rankings than any other country.

Many people are aware of the reputation of the Ivy League schools – a group of elite private universities that dominate the more numerous and often larger state universities.

  • Harvard has traditionally been cited as the world’s leading university – but Massachusetts Institute of Technology has now come 1st in the world for 3 years in a row, according to QS World University Rankings
  • While the term Ivy League has overtones of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism, it was in fact an athletic consortium first and evolved into a synonym for academic excellence.
  • While all eight Ivy League institutions are in the 2014–15 QS World University Rankings, their positions range from Harvard at number 4, down to Dartmouth College at 136th.
  • The leading non-Ivy League university is Stanford, in 7th place.

The university year in the US is the same as in the UK.

  • Studies start in September and go through until the following May/June.
  • This means if you want to study abroad in the US, you need to start planning your application at least one year in advance.

Entry and visa regulations

Full-time students will need a F-1 student visa.

  • The required application forms will be issued by the university that has accepted your application, which, on completion, must be taken in person to the US Embassy.
  • This visa is valid throughout the length of the programme of study and for 60 days after graduation.
  • Study in the US as part of a student-exchange programme requires a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa.
  • You can find out more about these different visas from the US Embassy in London.
  • Additional procedures apply if the applicant has ever been arrested and/or has a criminal conviction, has a medical ineligibility, or has previously been denied entry into or deported from the United States.

A-level results may count towards a US undergraduate degree – something to check during pre-application research.

  • A number of universities, including some top schools such as Harvard and Yale, are part of the Common Application system which permits online applications to more than 465 affiliated institutions.
  • Otherwise, applications will need to be made to the individual chosen university.
  • As part of your application, you may need to sit an admission exam, either the SAT (Standard Assessment Test) or ACT (American College Testing) – both standard tests for US college admission
  • Universities will also request a transcript listing your marks, as well as up to three letters of reference.
  • Finally, you will complete two or three essays covering the admissions criteria.

While there are many similarities between the UK and US education systems, one of the major differences is that medicine or law is not taught at undergraduate level in the US.

  • Instead, students have to complete an undergraduate degree (which may or may not be in a similar field) before they can apply to a graduate school.
  • Applicants seeking to study either medicine or law at graduate level will also have to sit a preparation exam (either the Medical College Admission Test or the Law School Admission Test). 

Funding your study

Most undergraduate degrees in the US will take four year to complete, so being able to finance your way through your international study experience is paramount.

  • International students at state universities pay more than local residents but the same as other out-of state students.
  • Fees will start at about US$20,000 a year and can range to US$40,000 for one of the Ivy League institutions.
  • This in itself need not be a deterrent. Harvard and other private universities operate a need-blind admissions process for all applicants, including foreign nationals. An applicant's ability to pay has no impact on admissions decisions.
  • At Harvard University, 61.5% of full-time undergraduates receive some kind of need-based financial aid and the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $39,156.

There are other costs on top of tuition, such as textbooks, accommodation and student living.

  • Loans are available for international students but need a US citizen as a co-signer – fortunately they're not the only option.
  • A number of scholarships are available for UK students, offered by the universities themselves as well as external bodies. More from the Fulbright Commission.

What about part-time work?

  • UK students can work part-time while studying in the US and a Social Security number can be obtained from the US Social Security Administration.

Typical prices in the USA (prices in GBP, March 2015) are:

  • Apartment rent, 1 bedroom: £510 - £643 per month
  • Meal, inexpensive restaurant: £6.78
  • Meal at McDonalds: £4.41
  • Domestic beer (0.5 litre draught): £2.37
  • Imported beer (0.33 litre bottle): £3.39
  • Cappuccino: £2.51
  • Coke/Pepsi (0.33 litre bottle): £1.11
  • Water (0.33 litre bottle): £0.88
  • Loaf of bread: £1.66
  • Cigarettes: £4.07
  • One-way ticket local transport: £1.36
  • Cinema ticket: £6.78

Staying on after study

  • It is possible to stay on to work in the US for one year after graduation under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) scheme.

Health and safety

Medical insurance is absolutely essential for UK students in the US.

  • There are several insurers in the market who offer student medical insurance policies.
  • Students should compare various international student medical insurance plans before buying.

For more information

  • To find out more about international study in the USA, visit the Fulbright Commission website.
  • The US Immigration Service gives details of how to obtain a student visa.

Articles about the United States