The United States has one of the best education systems in the world and it is recognized by many African immigrants as the destination of choice to attain academic brilliance. In fact, more than 30% of international students today are pursuing an education in America. Furthermore, according to Quacquarelli Symonds World University ranking, thirteen of the twenty best universities in the world are located in the United States (Tempera, 2013).

The education system in the United States attracts international students because of its versatility and flexibility. Moreover, the United States offers a wide range of lucrative programmes across all disciplines. Undergraduate programmes cover many subjects in professional fields including those in modern day technological advancements.  It is also known for its higher education opportunities and its positive reputation in the international job market. Coupled with cutting edge technology, diversity of education opportunities and numerous opportunities for research, studying in the United States is a lucrative  investment to any immigrant especially those of African descent.

However, despite the numerous positive outcomes and benefits of learning in the United States, the whole process is not a walk in the park. Registering for courses is complex and competitive which means it requires hard work and dedication even before classes begin. Therefore, one has to prepare months in advance by staying organized and informed throughout the process. This article outlines advice and steps that can help an African immigrant family or an international student looking to study in the United States have a memorable and highly rewarding experience. It is a guide that will help you understand the American education system, navigate how to get into college and it is filled with useful tips that will help you along the way.


The structure of the American education system.

The United States offers a variety of study choices that may overwhelm African immigrants and it is important to understand and familiarize yourself with the education system. This will help you choose the right schools for your children and the available study choices for you and your family.

Around age six, children in the United States attend primary school also called elementary school for five to six years before moving to secondary school. Secondary school consists of two programs; middle school or junior high and high school which last another six years. Upon completion, a diploma or certificate is awarded. Primary and secondary school years are referred to as first grade to twelfth grade.

Students may then go to community college or university depending on their grades and education preferences. Student performance is measured using grade point average (GPA).  Each Academic year in college consists of two semesters that usually begin in August or September and continue through May or June. Each course in college has a certain number of credit hours a student needs to attain. The undergraduate level is followed by a graduate level in pursuit of a master’s degree and a graduate level in pursuit of a doctorate degree.


The USA school life

After watching many college movies from the United States, you may think you have an idea of what to expect. However, the reality and individual experience for an African immigrant joining college or schooling in America may be far from expectations. You may find out that university education is simply referred to as College in the United States. You will also not be expected to what you want to study immediately but you will be expected to take five subjects in the first semester before you declare a major which is the main subject to study. Course books and other reading materials are very expensive and you may opt to buy second hand books since books will help you a long way in passing your exams.

Furthermore, you may experience culture shock when meeting people from diverse cultures in college but you will sail through that easily by reading our guide here in Afrikagora that will help you understand the American culture. Also, sports and extra-curricular activities are a must in American schools as they factor into your overall school performance and grading. Excelling in a sport may grant your scholarships that can cut down your college expenses. Social life is important if you are to navigate college life stress free. Meeting with other students and making friends will help you learn more about student loans, scholarship opportunities and share your college experiences. You can find forums just like that here on our site.


Financing your education

Every year, the cost of higher education keeps rising and many students find it difficult to cope and support themselves. The cost of living also varies across states and generally urban areas have more expensive living conditions than rural towns. Before going to college, work on a budget that will include tuition, room and board and other living expenses. Also consider getting health insurance and additional expenses associated with moving and settling in. It is crucial therefore to source for funds or look for avenues for financial aid.

Looking for financial aid is not an easy task. As an African immigrant, you can keep an eye out for student loans and scholarships to finance your education. For instance, International Education Financial Aid ( offers financial aid, college scholarship opportunities and grant information for international students and African immigrants. You can also consider inquiring from the college you wish to apply whether they have any scholarship opportunities. Moreover, you can apply for a student loan like the Federal Perkins Loan, The Stafford Loan, The Federal Direct Student Loan Programme or you can opt for a private student loan. However, loans have to be repaid and students usually carry the burden of repaying after graduation.

On the other hand, students in the US are allowed to work part time to finance their education and pay their bills. However, for international students holding an F-1 non-immigrant Visa, there are restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). All employment for international students is guided by the terms and restrictions issued by USCIS. On-campus employment is the most freely available for International students and it does not require USCIS approval.

Holders of an F-1 students Visa can work up to 20 hours a week on-campus while school is in session and work full-time on campus during holidays and vacation. They can also be permitted to work 20 hours a week off campus in the capacity of Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT). OPT and CPT work programmes should be part of the established curriculum for the academic programme you are enrolled in and should be authorized by your international student office. Likewise, an F-1 student is eligible to work off campus for 20 hours a week by applying for severe economic hardship. To be eligible, the student should be in good academic standing, provide evidence of economic hardship or unforeseen circumstances beyond their control, show an effort of good faith to locate on campus employment and not get it. Then, you must apply for Employment Authorization Document that may take up to 12 weeks after which you can work anywhere in the United States as long as your F-1 visa status is valid.


Getting into college

Getting admission into a US college is a difficult and complex procedure that requires planning and dedication. You should start preparing months before it is actually time to send your college application. Many African immigrants underestimate the amount of time it takes to apply for admission into college. It is advisable to create an 18 month timetable to plan your approach to studying in a United States University. Firstly, research the programme you wish to study that will best serve your academic and professional goals. Secondly, make sure you meet the application deadlines of the institution which may be up to a year before the school term begins.

Most U.S. colleges and universities require that you take one or more standardized admissions tests in order to gain entrance into their programs. SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, TOEFL, IELTS. You need to thoroughly prepare for these tests as they may make or break your acceptance into college.

For others, it can be a better choice to start by studying at a community college before transferring to a larger university. Starting at community college has its perks like the easier admission process, it can help one save money and earn a higher Grade Point Average. Community colleges also have shorter courses (1-2 years), smaller class sizes and offer one-on-one assistance. Plus, community colleges have an open admissions policy where nobody is denied entry when they apply. This gives you more access to your instructor and the ability to form close relationships with other students. Earning a high GPA at community college can convince the admissions staff that you can handle the rigorous academic expectations of an American University.

From the above, it shows that if you want to study in the United States, you need to develop an education plan either for yourself or for your children. Finances are a challenge and you need to save for college or find alternative funds to finance your education. Also, education in the United States is rigorous and competitive therefore you have to work hard and study hard if you are to achieve your dreams.


Dickson Soire

Afrikagora Magazine

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