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Preparing for your US arrival: what do you need before you leave? 

Claire Hopkins - August 07, 2017

Preparing for your US arrival: what do you need before you leave? 

Prodigy Finance has extended loans to more than 7100 talented individuals like yourself. Over the years, we’ve fielded many questions from our community-funded students – everything from “what’s life really like in the US?” to “what documents do I need for a US bank account?” have been thrown at us.

And, though we may be a global fintech company, we’re all about developing and supporting our community. So, we’re always quick to answer and happy to help.

Whether you’ve just been accepted or you’re deep in your final travel preparations, the answers to these common questions will definitely help. (Be sure to click the links in each section if you want to learn a little more; each one points to deeper information to help you on your way.)

What do I need to get my US study visa?

Once you’ve been accepted to a grad school in the United States, you’ll need to get to work on getting your study visa as soon as you possibly can. The United States has a stringent visa application process – and has for many years, though you should expect it to take a little longer in light of current immigration thinking.

As an international grad student, you will need to apply for an F-1 Visa at the closest embassy or consulate to you. (Keep in mind that you will need to travel to this venue for your interview – and you will not be able to change where you go once you have started the process).

To secure your visa, you will need all the paperwork you can find that relates to your education and your finances. The most important document is the I-20 form issued by the university that outlines the cost of attendance – and how you intend to pay for it.

You must also demonstrate ties to your home country. This is very important; the United States has the right to refuse you a visa if they believe you will attempt to stay in the country following your studies. That does not mean you cannot find a post-grad job in the US, but you must illustrate your intention to leave the country when your study visa expires.

How will I find a place to live? How do I know which neighbourhoods are safe?

This is a great question - and one we frequently hear from incoming students. You aren’t forced to find accommodation prior to your arrival, but it’s a good idea to source it – or at least begin your research - if you can.

In some cases (such as in New York City), accommodation on or near the university is scarce and expensive; it makes sense to secure a good deal before you’re forced to live in a pricey hotel for several months.

It’s much easier to find housing in smaller (yet still substantial) cities such as Pittsburgh or Austin. If you’re studying outside of the biggest cities, you can relax a little as you’re likely to find a terrific place after landing.

If you want to live on campus, which is often the least expensive option, you will need to get in touch with the university’s housing department as soon as possible after accepting your seat at their institution.

Even if you want to live off-campus (or the university doesn’t have enough on-campus housing available), the housing department is a fantastic resource. They understand how stressful this aspect of your education can be and do everything possible to ensure their students find safe, affordable accommodation.

You can always get in touch with a current student in the programme to learn about alternative housing options; there is nothing better than getting information firsthand from an experienced classmate! At the very least, take some time to research the neighbourhoods around your campus.

Is there public transport? How will I get around?

Public transportation in the United States varies greatly. You should expect it in cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. Outside the biggest cities, however, you will need to do some research before leaving home.

Often, smaller cities – especially those known as college towns (where the majority of the city’s population attends or works for the university), don’t have substantial off-campus transportation systems. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; in most cases there are buses – though they may be underutilised and, therefore, represent an undeveloped network.

In most cases, you will be able to use your existing driver’s license if you plan to buy a car or make use of car-sharing services. (Indeed, companies like Zip Car do their best to service the international student communities at campuses across the country.)

However, some states require a supplementary international driver’s permit – which you must secure in your home country before arriving on campus. Your best bet is to obtain one of these documents whether your state requires it or not – even if you don’t plan to drive. You never know where you’ll go when you and your new classmates decide on a spontaneous weekend away (or – more practically - when you take an internship with car privileges in another state.)

Can I open a US bank account?

Absolutely. And, if you’ve taken a Prodigy Finance loan that covers some of your living expenses, you’ll need to get a local bank account. Prodigy Finance disburses your loan directly to the university – and the bursar’s office will transfer your living expenses to your bank – when you have one.

In the US, you have a choice of keeping your money with a bank or a credit union. Banks, you know already – and you will have plenty of choice in the United States. It’s best to opt for a bank with a national footprint that offers several branches and ATMs in your area. Many universities also have a (private) bank branch that operates on campus, and you may want to consider their products first.

Credit unions, on the other hand, are non-profit cooperatives that operate similarly to banks and service a specific market, such as universities or city employees. Not every university belongs to a credit union, but the benefits of these accounts are higher interest rates on savings products and lower interest rates on credit products.

Either way, you will need to gather paperwork before leaving home so that you have everything in order once you arrive in your new American home. It’s best to look at the banking options on or near your university (thanks Google Maps) before leaving so you can see exactly what’s required.

Am I really supposed to be working on the pre-recruitment now?

Are you totally shocked that the university sent you a pre-recruitment questionnaire or advised you to begin consulting their on-campus recruitment resources? You’re not alone if that surprises you; but it’s no mistake. Even when you’re pursuing a two-year degree, recruiting is a big deal from day one.

Many of the on-campus recruitment fairs take place during your first semester on campus – and you will never have the time to meet and greet every company that participates. That’s why universities want you to use the time you have before classes start to begin narrowing your options.

Remember that you may be recruiting for a summer internship as much as you’re looking at prospective employers. We recommend leveraging the careers office, student clubs, and classmates extensively.

Recruiting and networking go hand in hand. A large part of your master’s experience and time abroad will be spent networking, so get ready and make the most of it! Tackle recruiting smartly, think about fit within a company as well as visa sponsorship. It is great to bear in mind that what is right for someone else might not be right for you.

Also, Americans engage in a way that may feel extremely foreign to you at first. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, varies from country to country and you should attempt to mimic or adapt the local ways for your best shot at an awesome job (that said, you should always be yourself; it’s just putting the best foot forward). Definitely prepare and pay special attention to eye contact, maintaining a firm handshake, meeting on time, and wearing professional attire. 


Can I work while I am in the US?

An F-1 study visa includes some work allowances – but it is highly regulated. You may secure on-campus employment during your first year of study, with a maximum of 20 hours of work per week during study periods (when classes are in session). You may work up to 40 hours during holiday (vacation) periods.

Unless you have special permission from US Citizenship and Immigration Services, you may not work off campus until you have successfully completed three semesters of study. Then, you will be able to expand your work options to off-campus businesses, but you will not be granted additional hours. (If practical experience is required for your degree, your advisors will guide you across whatever administrative and legal hurdles necessary.)

However, there are several ways for students to earn extra cash on-campus. Many students apply for positions in the classroom, such as Teaching Assistants (TAs). These students help professors in various ways, such as grading papers or tests, and are paid by the hour to do so. There may also be research positions available, depending on your field of study.

On some campuses, TA positions are difficult to come by and go quickly, so you should reach out to your academic advisor, or the university’s career portal as early as possible. And, you should know that many of these positions require a higher TOEFL or IELTS score than was needed for admission to the programme.

Another great way to earn some money would be to sign up as a tutor on campus. You might be really great at math and have some time on nights or weekends to assist struggling students. The university would also have the best portal or place to pair you with someone who is looking for guidance.

Still have questions about life in the US?

Of course you do.

And, we have a few more answers too. Prodigy Finance recently co-hosted a webinar - How to prepare for your US arrival? - with Galvanize, a test prep company in India, to prepare admitted students for their international experience. You can easily check it out by clicking on the link above; you never know which bit of information will help you the most.

But, don’t stop there. Connect with your incoming class through WhatsApp or Facebook groups. Perhaps you can answer some questions together. And, having a friend, or even roommate, before starting your programme never hurts.

Not sure how to connect or whom to connect to? The international student office at your university is a terrific start, but if you send a mail to info@ProdigyFinance.com, we’ll see if we can point you in the right direction.

Bon voyage!


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