Find out how you can visit the United States as a student, where to learn English, and how the U.S. educational system works.
Education in the U.S.
The Education System in the United States follows a pattern similar to other countries:
- Early childhood (or pre-kindergarten) education
- Primary (or elementary) school
- Middle (or junior high) school
- Secondary (or high) school
- Postsecondary (college, career, or technical schools) education
Most education policy is decided at the state and local levels. The federal government role in education is limited, but the Department of Education:
If you want to learn English or need to join an English as a Second Language (ESL) program for school or work, these resources can help you find local and online courses:
- Schools or Nonprofit Organizations: If you live in the U.S., every state, county, and city has its own education programs and resources for learning English. If you have children, talk to their school staff, or contact a community college, university, or nonprofit organization to find local programs.
- Internet: Learn English from home with the website USALearns.org or download the application to your phone or tablet to practice on the go. Listen to ShareAmerica.gov for audio conversations to learn English.
- Libraries: In some communities, libraries offer English classes and materials to study. Find a library near you.
If you are concerned that you might have been scammed or overcharged by an ESL program, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint.
College or University (Postsecondary)
These five steps explain the process an international student can follow to study in a university or college in the U.S.:
1. Research Your Options. Postsecondary education includes six degree levels. These levels include associate, bachelor, first-professional, master, advanced intermediate, and research doctorate. The U.S. system does not offer a second or higher doctorate, but does offer postdoctoral research programs.
2. Finance Your Studies. The U.S. government does not provide loans, grants, or help with scholarships for international students. As an international student, you will have to find alternative sources of funding such as:
Your Home Country Education Authorities – Many countries offer foreign study funding for their own nationals. To receive funding, they must qualify for and be admitted to an approved program or institution abroad.
The International Admissions Office – Many U.S. academic institutions assist international students. Contact the international admissions office at the schools you are interested in to learn if you may be eligible for assistance.
Scholarships and Grants – Many organizations offer scholarships and grants for study and research. These organizations include private foundations, businesses, and nonprofits. Use the U.S. government’s free online scholarship search tool to find financial aid opportunities.
Exchange Programs Administered by the U.S. Government – These exchange programs provide assistance to qualified international students. You can get help from the Fulbright Program and other programs at all education levels.
3. Complete your application. In the U.S, colleges and universities establish their own admission requirements. These usually include minimum scores on third-party standardized tests. Follow the application requirements set by the admissions office of the school you’re interested in.
Foreign Diploma and Credit Recognition – The U.S. has no single authority that evaluates foreign credentials. Academic institutions and state licensing boards recognize these credentials based on their requirements. Academic evaluations include coursework, degrees, and professional licenses.
Standardized Tests – Some programs require students to take one or more standardized tests. Plan to take your tests in advance so your scores are available when you submit your application.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) – Many schools require this test to measure your English language skills.
4. Apply for your visa. Before you can apply for a student visa, you must be accepted by a SEVP-certified school.
5. Prepare for departure. Explore these resources while you plan your move to the U.S.
How to Navigate the U.S. Immigration System – Find out how to get started, arrive, stay, and leave the U.S.
Life in the U.S. – Learn about American holidays, states, and other useful information.
Working While You Study in the U.S. – Find information for international students who want to work while attending school in the U.S.
Training Opportunities in the U.S. – International students and new graduates can attend on-the-job training in the U.S. too. This training can supplement knowledge gained in their academic studies.
Foreign Visitors Driving in the U.S. – Get quick facts for short-term visitors, students, and residents about driving in the U.S.
English as a Second Language – Learn English and improve basic reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.
Income taxes – Some international students may be subject to income tax.
Elementary, Middle School, or High School
Find information on studying in the U.S. as a foreign student in primary or secondary school:
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Last Updated: July 15, 2020