The United States is the first country to welcome foreign students. There are 4,000 universities, some of them very prestigious (Harvard, Stanford, etc.), and more than 8,000 French students study here every year. If the desire to go there has also crossed your mind, here are the steps to take before trying the experience.
Can we go after the baccalaureate? If you are already a student, how are university exchanges? When should you start and how should you prepare your application? How much does it cost and can you get grants? What are the steps to take, visas and insurance to obtain? Is it easy to find housing, a student job, or an internship?
Going to the USA for post-baccalaureate studies
For a young person who wants to do his post-baccalaureate studies in the United States, two solutions are available to him: the best known (and expensive) is to apply to a university, the second is to enroll in a community college, a two-year program after the baccalaureate, which is much more accessible.
Applying for a Bachelor’s degree at an American university. This course lasts four years, with one peculiarity: there is no obligation to choose a major subject during its first two years. “At the age of 17, Americans generally don’t know what they want to do. So they try a lot of things during their first two years of study,” explains Céline Ouziel. It’s called general education – a wide variety of subjects such as history, literature, science, math and so on. Specialization only takes place in the third year.
Before you apply, you should know that the U.S. federal system allows each state to decide its own policy, with public universities that it funds, and private ones with much higher tuition fees. In both cases, an application is required (as for American high school students) one or even two years in advance.
Prepare an associate’s degree in a community college
This is a two-year program, which has two interests for a young French person: “To bring oneself up to speed in the different subjects if one has gaps and to deepen one’s English with specific courses,” explains the counselor. Because the fees are relatively lower, a student is not eligible for American scholarships.
Universities provide a strong outreach to the cities in which they are located. This is the case in Boston, which is home to some 100 university institutes, including Harvard and MIT or Pittsburgh. In order to boost their capacity without leaving the city centers, major business schools, particularly in New York, are launching bold projects.
Apply for an academic exchange
A student who started his studies in France can also go, provided that his university or grande school has signed agreements with American faculties. You should check with the international relations department of your institution, which organizes one or more orientation days on this topic every year.
It is possible to go as soon as you have a Bachelor’s degree (after a Bac + 2), by preparing your file one year in advance. Send in your transcripts (translated into English), take the Toefl (a test to determine your level of English) and write a cover letter (in English). In some cases, letters of recommendation are also required. This is a selective process, as the number of places is limited, but much more economical in terms of tuition fees.
Registering for a master’s degree without a university exchange
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in France, a student can go to the United States for a master’s degree without going on an academic exchange. However, there is one difference: the entrance to a master’s degree in an American university is done in the fifth year and not in the fourth year as in France. “Admissions are on a case-by-case basis for international students. Some admissions offices consider the bachelor’s degree to be the equivalent of the American bachelor’s degree and the student will then be eligible to enter the master’s program. But other universities, especially the more selective ones, will first want the student to have at least a Master’s 1 or even a Master’s 2 in France before they can enter their Master’s programs,” explains Céline Ouziel. An admission file will have to be put together, just like for a bachelor’s degree.
Tuition and budget
Studying in the United States is, in all cases, an expensive investment, between airfare and living there, often with significant tuition fees.
For those who go on an individual basis, outside of an inter-university agreement, it is necessary to pay the registration (tuition and fees) of the American university. If the university is private, the tuition fee is about $50,000 (47,000 euros) per year. If it is public, the cost is from 15,000 dollars (14,200 euros) to more than 35,000 dollars (33,200 euros). In a community college, it’s about $7,000 (6,600 euros). “Every year, these costs increase by about three percent,” Ouziel says.
For a year of study at a university, the total budget ranges from $30,000 to $70,000 (‘28,400 to ‘66,300) all inclusive. The student will be eligible for a U.S. scholarship (details below). “The price difference depends on the reputation of the university and the geographical location. For example, in New York or Los Angeles, the cost of living will be more expensive than in a smaller city,” she says. For a year’s study at a community college, you can expect to pay $20,000 to $25,000 (‘18,900 to ‘23,600), all-inclusive – tuition, housing, travel, transportation and so on.
As part of a university exchange, the student pays the registration fees of his or her university or college in France and not of the host university, which considerably reduces the cost.
Financial conditions and guarantor. “In the case of an exchange, the university in France gives the student an estimate of the total cost of a year in the U.S., because the student must prove that he or she has the estimated budget in his or her bank account,” Ouziel adds. They must also have a guarantor (relative, friend, etc.) who can help them if they need it. The same principle applies to post-baccalaureate training, except that the student must have enough money in a bank account to cover not only tuition fees but also living expenses (housing, food, living expenses, etc.).
Steps: visa and health insurance
Once admitted by the American university, the student can apply for a visa. A file must be filled out and then an interview in English at the U.S. Embassy in Paris to explain your project. “In a university exchange program, the visa lasts for the duration of the exchange program, but students have the right to stay one month after the expiration date,” she adds.
Health insurance is also necessary. Universities offer their own, which cost more. “It’s important to find out, because sometimes it’s not mandatory, which they don’t always specify right away,” advises Ouziel. If you have a choice, it’s better to turn to an international health insurance (Mondassur, AVI, Cap Student, etc.), or your student mutual insurance company, which may offer a special plan.
Scholarships to help finance your studies
Scholarships depend on whether you are going on an individual or an academic exchange.
Students going after the baccalaureate can obtain a scholarship from the university that will host them. The amount varies from one university to another, and can be found on the EducationUSA website. They may also be eligible for a merit-based scholarship (based on their grades). Few community colleges offer scholarships for international students (contact the institution to check). “In any case, you have to apply at least a year in advance,” she said.
For exchange students, there are several types of support. First of all, funding from the departmental council, the regional council and the Crous (the student’s scholarships are kept during the exchange). On the other hand, they are rarely entitled to an American scholarship.
Students who go on a master’s (or doctoral) degree without going on an exchange do not have a federal government scholarship but may be eligible for a merit scholarship from the host university (based on grades). Then, the Franco-American Fulbright Commission awards about ten scholarships each year (applications are mainly evaluated on the quality of the study project, academic results and motivation of the candidate).
Find a home
Housing in the United States is generally easy. There are several possibilities: renting a university room on campus (alone or with others) or taking a roommate not far from the campus. At the larger universities, there is a program that allows students to stay for two weeks at the beginning of the semester in a hall of residence (or host family) while they look for accommodation. Do not hesitate to contact the international student office of the American university for information.
“When you are between 18 and 20 years old, I think that a room in a hall of residence is preferable. The campus is a small community, everyone knows each other, it’s a good way to integrate. Beyond that, a university room is of course possible, but I would recommend a roommate outside, it’s more fun,” explains Céline Ouziel.
A student’s visa allows him or her to work on campus only – and not off campus – for a maximum of 20 hours per week. How easy is it to find a student job? “It depends on the size of the campus. If it’s big, there are lots of opportunities to find one, whether it’s in the cafeteria, library, gym, bookstore, restaurant… But if the campus is smaller, there are obviously fewer opportunities,” Ouziel points out.
International students also compete with American students who may find a job off campus, but for the sake of convenience may want to work on campus. “There is one situation where the visa does not allow the student to work, and that is when the student goes on a language trip, because they are not preparing a degree,” said the Fulbright adviser to the French-American Fulbright Commission.
Finding a student job is therefore not automatic, but “there is always a solution like going to the tutoring office and offering to be a tutor to give private French lessons,” she explains.
Going for an internship in a company
To do an internship in the United States, it is possible to apply for an offer posted by an American company. For example, the Student Conservation Association offers a list of internships for international students. It is also possible to send an unsolicited application to a particular company. Some French companies may also offer internships abroad (ask the companies that interest you for more information). The J-1 visa is required to do an internship in the United States.