So congratulations, you have been accepted! But now what?
It was around this time last year—precisely on March 31—when I received my notification of acceptance. I was delighted, but little did I know how much stuff I had to do before school would begin. Therefore, I have compiled the following guide that hopefully serves as a list to remind incoming freshmen of the things to never forget about. International students should make sure they do not miss anything, but domestic students may also refer to the list as some of them are still relevant.
1. Confirm your offer. Whether you have received ten or a hundred offers does not matter; you will still end up going to one: so make sure you know which one and confirm it. It is a personal choice to write back to the other colleges who accepted you but whom you rejected. I did it, but it is totally optional. What is not optional though, is to pay the deposit to the college where you will be matriculating. Some schools have multiple deposits, such as one to secure the placement and another to secure housing. In that case, make sure you do not pay more or pay less than what you should.
2. Pass your existing high school academic program. College acceptance is contingent on the successful completion of your current program. So make sure, if you still have final exams ahead of you, to do well. You must also notify your current school about where you are heading, so they can send a final transcript or certification to validate your completion.
3. Activate your college e-mail address. You will be assigned an academic advisor to guide you through registering for courses and planning your program. In addition, you may want to contact your potential professors. That is why you should activate your school e-mail address as soon as possible and check it regularly. You should also activate the account for your school’s internal web system if there is one.
4. Identify the appropriate visa type. There are a number of visa types for students, including F-1 and F-2 for academic students, as well as J-1 and J-2 for exchange visitors. Most full time students apply for the F-1, but there can be exceptions. Make sure you can distinguish between them and know which one to apply for.
5. Fill in the I-20 or DS-2019 application form. The idea is that, in order for the American government to issue your visa, the school must confirm you will attend full time. So there are three parties involved in the process. Only the university has the authority to prove that you are eligible. As a result, you have to submit the I-20 form (for the F-1 visa) or the DS-2019 form (for the J-1 visa) to your school. Some schools require a process fee; there is nothing you can do about it because only they can help. So submit the fee and the form.
6. Get a bank statement. Contact your bank or your parents’ bank and request an official documentation that proves your account has sufficient money to fund all four years of your academic studies. This number is different for everyone as it depends on your school’s tuition and whether you have received some form of financial aid or scholarship. After obtaining the bank statement, scan one copy to your school along with the I-20 or DS-2019 form. Only knowing you have enough money to pay for school, would they approve your application.
7. Arrange a meeting at your local embassy or consulate. This process very much depends on where you currently reside. Find the closest American embassy or consulate and arrange online a time slot to go there. Prior to attending, you will have to pay a visa processing fee with your local currency, but all this information will be available to view online—check that. On the day of the visit, bring a copy of your approved I-20 or DS-2019 form, the bank statement, a hard copy of your letter of acceptance from your school, and your valid passport. They will conduct a short interview of about two to three minutes, when you must justify your reason for attending that particular school and your plans after graduation. They will take your passport after the interview to issue your visa. Again, depending on your local embassy or consulate, you will either have to pick your passport up somewhere or have it delivered to you.
8. Check health requirements. Different states have different requirements for health. In New York, for example, you must complete a “Student Immunization History” form to declare any disease you have or had, as well as medication use. In addition, all students studying must receive two MMR vaccines upon arrival. Make sure to inject the required vaccines and have evidence of it. I only know New York state’s requirements, so please check with your own state if you are heading somewhere else.
9. Book your flight. You must do this step after successfully doing everything above. You need your passport information to book an international flight, so wait for the American embassy or consulate to deliver it back to you first. By then, your passport should be slightly thicker because your visa, the most important documentation, is in there. If you have previously visited America, you would have either the B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas. These would get you round-trip tickets for a short stay. Only the F-1 or J-1 visa proving your status as a student can get you a one-way ticket. This is extremely important, because you rarely know the exact date you will come home next time.
10. Other less intense work. There are still things to do before your arrival, but they are not compulsory. Aside from registering for classes, which your academic advisor will help you with, you should also join the Facebook groups for incoming freshmen, try to contact your future roommate, and do more research about living in your new city or town.
To wrap up, studying overseas can be exciting, but only if you do everything right. As an international student, it is important to realize your unique status. Living in a foreign country can be disadvantageous at times, especially when there are laws—complex and difficult to understand—that restrict you from doing certain things. For example, you cannot work part-time at McDonald’s, but you can apply to a part-time job on campus. Worry about them later though. For now, just relax, stay happy, and be prepared to bring your exciting cultural background and experience to diversify your future school!