How to Increase your Chances of getting a U.S. Visa

If you want to attend college in the United States and you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need to obtain a student visa. The Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security share responsibility for monitoring school and exchange programs and for monitoring visa applications that are submitted.

In order to obtain a visa, there are specific requirements that must be met by each applicant. It is always a good idea to start preparing for this part of the process early on so that you can be sure you are able to meet each requirement sufficiently.

Applying for a Student Visa

Applications for visas will not be approved any more than 120 days in advance of when the first day of classes will start. Approved applicants are generally not allowed to enter the United States any sooner than 30 days prior to the start of their classes, so if you have special circumstances or you simply want to come to America sooner than that, you will need to request an exception through the consulate or embassy that you are dealing with.

Applicants should wait until they have been accepted by a college or university before they begin the application process, as it is not at all likely that an application will be approved for students who do not have concrete plans to attend a school in the United States.

As a standard part of the application process, applicants will be required to participate in an interview at an embassy or consulate. There is usually a wait for interview appointment times, so it is advisable to put in a request for an interview as early as possible. The U.S. Department of State has a listing of American embassies to help you find the one that is nearest to your location.

Documentation

Everyone who applies for a visa will have to present some documentation during their interview. There are no exceptions to this rule. The documents that are required are:

  • One 2 x 2 photograph
  • A passport that is valid for travel within the United States. It must be valid for a period of at least six months beyond an applicant’s intended period of stay in America.
  • A completed application – this is the non-immigrant visa application, number DS-156. It must be submitted along with form number DS-158. The embassy that you go to can provide you with complete, detailed information regarding any questions that you might have concerning these application forms.
  • Form I-20A-B – this is the certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status. This form, or another one that is similar, will be required. You must complete and sign this form, and a representative of the school you will be attending will also need to sign it.
  • Transcripts and diplomas – these are required from each institution a student has attended.
  • Scores from standardized tests such as TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
  • Financial evidence proving that you or your parents have the financial means to support you while you are in the United States attending school.
  • Fees – application fees are always required, and they may vary. It is always best to check with your local embassy to find out the current fees in advance.

If you make sure that you have all of your information together at the time you begin the application process, you will likely find that it goes quite smoothly.

Interested in a University in the UK?

Many African students dream of traveling to the UK to attend university. They’re excited about the multicultural glamour and fine art of London, or the wild, barren reaches of Scotland or Wales. If this is your dream, you’re probably wondering how to achieve it.

Here are a few tips from the experts. We spoke with officials from the international student office at several universities, and here’s there advice. Before you apply to a program, here are some questions to consider.

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Am I qualified for this program?

Every university course has entry requirements. The requirements are designed to choose students who will be the most successful. Research the program and course requirements online or in the university prospectus. Remember that the requirements are there for a reason. It’s not going to do much good for you to enroll in Advanced Algebra, if you’ve never studied Basic Algebra.

Usually the entrance requirements will be described in terms of UK exams as grades such as A* (A-star, the highest grade), A, B, C, D, E, F, or G. Often they will be described in terms of a Tariff point score. The Tariff point system is used by UCAS to help universities to compare students. An A –Level exam score of A* counts as 120 points on the Tariff point scale, for example. Each university sets its own requirements for Tariff points. For example, one university might require 240 points for entrance, while another might require 260 points.

Will this university accept my diploma, certificate or qualifications?

Unfortunately, there is no standard for international students throughout the UK. Every university sets its own standards. Some will accept your secondary school certificate, and some will not. Those that won’t, will likely require that you take British A-Level exams, which you can study for and take online. Contact the international student’s office at the schools you are interested, and ask if they will accept your qualifications.

What are my English scores like?

If English is not your first language, you’ll probably need to pass a test. Every UK university sets its own requirements for admission, and they vary widely. Unfortunately, there are over a dozen different English tests that may be accepted. If you already have high scores on the TOEFL, ESOL or another test, ask if they will accept that. If not, research schools online to find a school that will accept your test scores – or test again.

Should I take a gap year?

Gap years are becoming increasingly common in the UK. If it’s good enough for Prince William, it’s good enough for you, right? A gap year is a year off between secondary school and university. In past generations, wealthy Englishmen spent their gap year traveling throughout Europe. Today, young people of all classes take gap years. They often work or pursue a special interest during their gap.

For an international student, the gap year allows you to study English or brush up on any academic areas that you might be weak in. If you need to study for British exams such as the A-Levels, this is the perfect time to do so.

If you applied to UK universities and weren’t accepted during your last year of secondary school, consider applying again. Often, if your grades were good in your final year, you’ll be accepted. You’ll be showing school administrators what you have accomplished, instead of what you might accomplish.

Give some thought to these questions, and then figure out the best way to make your dreams of a prestigious UK education come true.

Australian Admissions Checklist

If you dream of attending an Australian university, here’s how to make that fantasy come true. Australia has a centralized application process for students from Australia and New Zealand. Students from other countries must apply to individual universities, so it’s best to start the process earlier.

Three Years Before You Enter University Research universities and identify courses you are interested in Research scholarships Contact universities by email or mail Learn entrance requirements at each university. Locate the nearest office of the Australian Commission on Educational Research (ACER) All schools in Australia are regulated by the state or territorial government. The higher education tax system in Australia ensures that the brightest students are able to attend university, without worrying about the cost.

For this reason, the most intelligent students, not the richest, usually go to state universities in Australia. On the other hand, private universities may have more financial aid available for international students. Compared to similar programs in the United Kingdom or the United States, it is much cheaper to live and learn in Australia. The cost of living is low, and students can work up to 20 hours per week.

Two Years Before You Enter University Take the STAT in October or November Apply for scholarships, grants, loans and funding from your home country Apply for scholarships, grants, and other funding from a variety of sources:

  • The Australian Government
  • The Australian States and Territories
  • Australian Companies
  • The United Nations
  • The World Bank
  • International Student Loans Begin working on your personal statement or Statement of Purpose (SOP)

Since the STAT measures ability and not knowledge, there’s no advantage in taking it later. Take it in October or November. If you don’t score well, you can always take the test again next year. Australia offers a variety of scholarships for students in high-demand professions. Usually, the students must agree to work in Australia for a specified period after graduation. Contact each Australian state for more specific information.

One Year Before You Enter University Take the IELTS or TOEFL English tests, if required. Complete your personal essay or Statement of Purpose (SOP) Complete applications for each university on time. Receive an offer letter from one or more universities and select one Make sure you have funding in place for your education. Apply for a preliminary assessment of your student visa, if required Get health insurance coverage through the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) Get a medical exam, if required Pay at least one semester’s tuition, if required. Receive your eCoE from the university Apply for a student visa Receive your student visa The school year for Australian universities starts at the end of February and runs until November, so plan accordingly.

If English is not your first language, most Australian universities will require that you complete an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test, or a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. Depending upon which African country you come from, you may be required to have a preliminary assessment for your student visa. Once this is complete, you can get health coverage, pay your tuition and receive the electronic Confirmation of Enrollment (eCoE) from your university. With that in hand, you can officially apply for your student visa.

Your student visa will not be issued until you have met any financial requirements of your university, and obtained health coverage through the OSHC (Overseas Students Health Cover.) OSHC is designed specifically to provide health coverage for international students, and their families, while studying in Australia. The rates range from $300 for a single student to $1,000 for a family. OSHC covers medical and hospital care, but not dental care.

Improve Your Test Scores

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Are you stressing about testing? Most students do. Don’t worry, help is in sight! Follow these tips to improve your scores on any type of standardized test – the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, LSAT, or GMAT.

First, recognize that taking tests and preparing for tests are skills. Like any other skill, they can be learned, and they improve with practice. You will need to study for the tests, and you will need to practice taking tests.

Relax

Test scores are not the most important factors in getting into a U.S. college. Your grades in secondary school are more important to college admissions officers. They will also consider your activities outside of school, your athletic or leadership abilities, your admissions essay, and your evaluation letters. Finally, they’ll take a look at the interview. All of these factors, except possibly the interview, are more important than test grades alone.

Tests don’t carry the same significance in the U.S. as in some other countries. In Canada or the U.K., students take comprehensive tests when they are young teenagers. Only those who earn top scores go to university. That’s not true in the U.S., where tests are much less important.

Testing is stressful for many students whether they come from Africa or the U.S. The more tests that you take, the better you will be at it. Eventually, you will become an expert. Never avoid a test. If you have the opportunity to take a test, do so. It helps you to practice for the future.

Make a Plan

Start studying early for any test. Many students begin preparing for the major entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT a year or more in advance. Don’t believe anyone says that “you can’t study for these types of tests.” It’s true that studying doesn’t improve your score on an I.Q. test, but tests like the SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, and GRE are as much a test of your knowledge as of your ability to reason. Students who study for these tests earn much higher grades. The TOEFL, of course, is exclusively a test of your knowledge in one subject: English.

Figure out how much time you can spend studying for tests, and still earn good grades at school. Break the test material down into blocks, and plan how much time you will use for each block. For the SAT, decide how much time you will spend studying for each section of the test.

Study your weakest subjects more than your strongest ones. In studying for the TOEFL, many international students say they wish they had spent more time practicing for the spoken part of the test. Instead, they focused on the reading and writing sections, which were easier for them. Don’t make this mistake! If math is your weakest area on the SAT, set aside extra time to study math.

Use Test Prep

There are some test preparation (or “test prep”) materials available. There are books, tapes, and online programs. Usually, they include tips and facts on each area of the test, plus practice tests.

Test prep materials also include tricks to improve your score. For example: on the SAT, if you really don’t know any answer, don’t guess. When the test is scored, a ¼ point is deducted for each wrong answer. You’re better off not answering a question than getting it wrong! On the other hand, if you can eliminate one or two of the five alternatives in a multiple-choice question, go ahead and make an “educated guess” among the others. You’re likely to improve your score that way.

Take a Practice Test

Perhaps the greatest advantage that test prep materials provide is the practice tests. They include practice tests and the correct answers. These are usually drawn from actual tests that were used in prior years. Recently, in a few widely publicized cases, international students received old SAT tests that were exactly the same as those in their test prep materials! Even if that never happens again, the more you practice taking tests, the easier it will become.

The Day Before

Don’t try to “cram” or study all night the day before the test. If you don’t already know the material on a standardized test the night before, it’s probably too late. The best way to improve your score is to get at least eight hours of sleep the night before the test, so you are at your best. The day before the exam, be sure that you know exactly where it will be given and how to get there. Before you go to bed, make sure that you have everything that you will need for the test ready. On the morning of the test, be sure to eat something. Some studies show that students perform better on tests when they eat breakfast.

Come Prepared

If you’re not taking the test online, make sure that you have any required materials like pencils and pens. Remember to bring your receipt to gain admission to the test. If the building where the test will be given is air conditioned, bring a sweater or jacket in case the room is too cold. Avoid drinking too many liquids just before the test, so you don’t have to go to the bathroom.

Reward Yourself

Schedule a special family dinner or some time to relax with friends after the test.  You’ve spent a lot of time studying, so spend some time relaxing.

If you don’t think you did well, don’t let it worry you too much. The latest psychological studies on pessimism show that many students have negative thoughts about a test in the days just before and after the test. Usually, they are less fearful about the test results as time goes on. By the time they receive their grades, they are pleasantly surprised!

Consider Testing Again

If you didn’t get a high score on the test, and you know you can do better, retake it. Some students are afraid to do this. They think, “What if I get a lower score?” Don’t let that discourage you from testing again. Almost every U.S. college or university will allow you to use whichever score is higher.  This will mean paying the test fee a second time, but it’s more than worth it if it earns you a scholarship, or gets you into the school of your dreams.

 

U.S. College Admissions Checklist

As an international student, you will want to start planning for your education at a U.S. College early. It’s good to find financing for your education early. The U.S. State Department suggests that international students have financing in place one year before beginning college. Many experts recommend that international students take required college admissions tests like the ACT or SAT in their next-to-last year of secondary school. This allows you to focus on the application process, writing your college essay, and your grades, in your final year in secondary school.

Depending upon the part of Africa that you call home, you may attend secondary school for 2 to 5 years. We’ve adjusted this checklist so it applies to students from all African nations.

4 Years Before College

  • Research colleges in the U.S. in books and online
  • Send away for brochures from different colleges
  • Collect information about different U.S. regions and choose one or two
  • Begin studying for the TOEFL if needed
  • Network with other international students in person or online
  • Begin activities that will demonstrate your leadership, academic abilities and unique talents
  • Remember to keep your grades high

This is the perfect time to begin researching U.S. colleges. Most students develop a list of two or three “dream schools” that they would love to get into. They also choose 4 to 7 other schools, including 1 or 2 “fallback schools” A fallback school is usually one accepts lower test scores, so students feel confident that even if they aren’t accepted anywhere else, they can attend their fallback school. Research the schools’ websites online, and send for brochures. Talk to other students who have studied in the U.S. and ask their opinions. If you don’t know any international students, visit student forums online to network.

If English is not your first language, many schools will require that you take a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) for admission. Now is the perfect time to begin studying English intensively with a tutor or friends. You can find information on the TOEFL scores that different schools require online. You can also learn what ACT or SAT scores they prefer.

Admissions officers like to see students who demonstrate leadership, academic achievement and talent. Think about what activities you can become involved in now, to demonstrate those qualities. Can you tutor younger students? Enter a competition? Work in your community? It all helps.

The admission process is long and time-consuming. Don’t let it distract you from your studies! Your grades in secondary school are the most important factor that U.S. schools will consider.

3 Years Before College

  • Learn about financial aid from your home country, including loans, scholarships and sponsorship
  • Research U.S. scholarships, including athletic, academic and special interest
  • Identify 3 to 10 U.S. colleges that you will apply to
  • Continue to study for the TOEFL
  • Start Studying for the ACT or SAT admissions test

If English is not your first language, you may find that studying for the TOEFL is the most difficult part of getting into a U.S. College. Consider getting a private tutor or forming a study group with friends. Be sure to practice speaking English as well as reading and writing it. This is also the ideal time to begin studying for your entrance exam.

By narrowing your college choices down early, you can focus your attention on the testing and application processes later. Start studying for the SAT or ACT test. There are many online test prep (short for “preparation”) materials and books that you can use. As an international student, it’s great to have the extra study time.

Now is the best time to explore funding for your U.S. college education so it will be in place well before your university career begins.

2 Years Before College

  • Begin applying for scholarships
  • Check requirements for a student visa in your country
  • Consider taking the PSAT
  • Continue studying for the TOEFL
  • Consider taking the ACT or SAT early
  • Visit a few U.S. colleges, if possible
  • Send for updated brochures and applications for your favorite schools
  • Start writing admissions essays

Some scholarships will accept applications as early as 2 years before you start school. By beginning early, you will be able to apply to every scholarship you’re interested in, on time. Every scholarship has its own deadline. Apply online or by email if possible. If you’re mailing information, be sure to allow enough time for it to arrive before the deadline. Apply for every scholarship that you think you might qualify for. Sometimes scholarships go unclaimed, just because no one applies.

Consider taking tests like the ACT or SAT towards the end of the school year. Test scores are just one factor that admissions officers consider. If you score poorly on these tests, you can always take them again. Focusing on tests this year leaves you free to focus on applications next year. The PSAT or “Pre-SAT” is a good way to practice taking a real exam.

Consider visiting the U.S. during the summer. It’s great to actually walk around a few colleges and meet some of the students. Contact the office for international students. They will arrange for someone to give you a tour, and help you meet other students.

1 Year Before College

  • Continue applying for scholarships
  • Take (or retake, if necessary) the SAT or ACT
  • Take the TOEFL
  • Take the GED if required by schools you’re applying for
  • Organize your applications
  • Put all the due dates for applications on a calendar
  • Complete your essays
  • Mail applications early—be sure to allow enough time for them to arrive
  • Early admissions applications must be received in November
  • Most other applications are due in January
  • Begin receiving admissions letters in March and April
  • Apply for a student visa as soon as you are accepted
  • Compare financial offers from different schools
  • Talk with your parents and advisors
  • Choose a school
  • Inform all the schools of your decision by May 1
  • Put any housing or financial deadlines on your calendar
  • When the school term ends, have a final transcript sent to the college of your choice
  • Complete a student visa interview, if required
  • Make tentative travel plans
  • Receive your student visa 30 to 120 days before school starts
  • Make final travel plans

This is a busy year! Now you see why we recommend testing early, if possible. If you took the SAT or ACT last year, but think you can score better, retake the test.

Early in the school year, create a calendar with all the admission deadlines for each school on it. Use online, emailed or faxed application forms whenever possible. If that’s not an option, remember to add extra time for your applications to be delivered by mail. Be sure to request letters from community leaders and teachers 4 to 6 weeks before you actually need them.