More students than ever are leaving their home countries to pursue or continue their higher education. According to data from UNESCO, in 2016 more than 4.8 million students crossed an international border to pursue their study goals. Yet many who go to North America—particularly the United States—remain unaware of the three keys that can unlock success in their new academic environment. The three “keys” are:
- Credential evaluations
- Financial aid
- Off-campus volunteering
As an international student myself, I have researched global student mobility and found that students are pursuing their university education all over the world. In spite of this “limitless” approach to education, however, international students who go to North America often limit themselves. They erroneously believe that the credentials they obtained in their home country are irrelevant and that they need to earn another degree when they arrive in the U.S. or Canada to pursue their education or career goals.
But that is not the case. If you have earned a degree or studied at a higher education institution abroad, World Education Services (WES) or another evaluator can assess your credentials according to U.S. or Canadian standards. North American institutions can then determine whether to accept your credits or admit you. Once the equivalence and relevance of your course work are determined, there are few limits to the success you can experience in North America.
A WES Credential Evaluation
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., I sought a WES credential evaluation. WES authenticated and evaluated my undergraduate and master’s transcripts, making possible my admission into a doctorate program in educational psychology with a specialization in child and adolescent development.
My credential evaluation allowed me to continue my education and reimagine my career plans.
Depending on your goals and the results of your assessment, a WES evaluation may:
- Allow prospective employers to see that the credentials you earned in another country are equivalent to the standards of the U.S. or Canada
- Provide an opportunity for you to further your education and pursue the transfer of relevant credits
- Allow you to pursue licensing with professional licensing bodies or boards
- In the U.S., enhance immigration, work permit, or H-1B visas
International students who want to study in the U.S. should consider attaining legal status: a Permanent Resident Card (also known as a green card). Those who hold green cards are considered “domestic students,” whereas those who require U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorization to enter the country are referred to as “international students” and need either an F-1 or J-1 visa. Public colleges charge international students the higher, out-of-state tuition and not the lower, in-state rate. International students are not eligible for federal or state financial aid.
A permanent resident, however, needs no visa and is charged the in-state tuition rate, depending on the institution’s residency requirements. Permanent residents are also eligible for financial aid. I became a permanent resident by marrying my husband, a U.S. citizen. I have since applied for financial aid, scholarships, and grants, and was awarded a scholarship.
Keep in mind that most financial aid offers include loans—money that must be paid back, with interest. Scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid. Also, international students not eligible for federal or state aid can apply to other aid sources.
To remain eligible for financial aid, students who attain permanent residency must maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher and not withdraw from any courses. To ensure your continued eligibility:
- Pursue satisfactory academic progress.
- Complete the FAFSA every year that you are a student.
- Understand the terms and conditions of your loans.
Not everything you learn in university will be found in books. In fact, engaging in community service and volunteer work can greatly enhance your overall international student experience. Off-campus volunteer work is a way for international students to use their skills and meet professionals in the real world, and it can lead to permanent, salaried employment. When a full-time position opens, the volunteer is often the first to be considered to fill it. The trick is to do the following:
- Work diligently.
- Pursue excellence.
- Take the initiative.
International student: Your only limit is you. By recognizing the power of your own hard work, excellence, and attentiveness, you will go further in North America than you ever dreamed.