International Students in the USA

Group of international university students

In 2018, I decided to take a leap and accept an athletic scholarship for swimming in the U.S. I was also committing to a four-year bachelor’s degree in business at a school in South Florida, requiring me to move to a new country. Over five years later, I am still here, about to finish my MBA at Grand Canyon University.

My international student experience in the USA has been tough but also really rewarding. In this blog post, I am going to convey some tips, tricks and aid for those who are currently looking to study in the U.S. or for someone who might already be an international student in America. Read more to find guidance and insight for future, prospective and current international students in the USA.

In This Article:

Preparing Your Journey: Factors to Consider

There is an increasing trend of international students in the USA. Globally, and in the U.S., students are pursuing degrees in higher education. It was estimated that in 2020, over a million international students came to the U.S.

Choosing the right university for you can be tricky and exciting. However, preparing for your journey is important. To help narrow down your search, some key questions you should ask yourself include: 

  • Is there a specific state I want to study in?
  • Am I pursuing a sport? If so, could I get an athletic scholarship? 
  • What degree program am I interested in?
  • What is my budget?
  • What are the different deadlines and application processes?
  • Do I want to go to a big or small school?
  • What is campus living like, and are there other international students?

A good place to start is to envision what you want and which school is within your budget. Researching universities and degree programs can be crucial for your experience at a school. At GCU, for example, you can browse the degree programs page and fill out a form to contact a university counselor who can answer your questions. In addition to counselors, GCU has an International Student Office, which is there to strictly help international students uphold their F-1 Visa status and guide them through their journey in the States. 

School size and campus living can vary greatly from university to university. You might have certain preferences, and at GCU, there are many student living options

Exploring eligibility for international student scholarships can assist in determining which schools may fall within your financial range. 

Visa and Immigration Procedures

International students in the USA are important for cultural and academic diversity. But like other countries, one must follow visa and immigration procedures to be able to study in the States. A student visa (typically F-1) is required for you to study in the United States.2 There are several steps to apply for a visa, and one should visit the U.S. Embassy homepage or consulate in their respective country for instructions. 

Remember that visa processes can take time, so it’s best to allow several months to get everything in order. The university's approval for the visa application is required, typically along with demonstrating proof of funds at this stage.

Key International Things to Know

A key thing to know for preparing for your journey is to pack everything you need. GCU has a dorm checklist that can be helpful. However, when you are an international student, you might not be able to bring as much stuff, so prioritize clothes for the environment you are moving to, electronics, medicine, important papers (such as travel documents) and other things that you might not be able to get immediately, or expensive items that you do not wish to re-purchase. 

By this time, you already know where you are headed, where you are living and when school starts. You should consider getting a phone plan and opening a bank account in the first few days or weeks. Even though these things are not needed, they can make your stay easier. If you plan on working in the U.S., such as getting a student worker job on campus, having an American bank account can make your pay deposits easier. 

Adapting to Changes

Depending on where you are moving from, cultural differences will be something you experience, and adapting to change is inevitable. Language transition varies from country to country, depending on how much English is taught in your home country or if you speak English daily where you moved from. Food, manners and living can also be different experiences. Utilizing the available resources can greatly aid in providing guidance. GCU has specific international student resources for various information, including topics like finance, housing and visas. 

Challenges and Tips

Adapting to a new culture, language or school system can be challenging. One thing I wish I spent more time on before leaving my country was hearing about other international students’ experiences. Some mention that American school rankings can be better than in their home country and oftentimes may have better facilities and resources.3

Another obstacle international students might encounter is forming friendships. Not everyone has a pre-determined group of people to hang out with like I was lucky enough to have with my swim team. However, schools typically boast an array of social opportunities. For example, GCU has over 100 student clubs and organizations as of Spring 2023. These groups can provide an immediate opportunity to connect with individuals who often share similar interests. If I wasn’t a student-athlete, this is where I would start to find people with common interests and start building a network. 

Making the Most of Your Experience

Once you’ve completed the process of arriving in the U.S. and organizing all necessary paperwork, you’ll spend a couple of weeks getting adjusted to your new living situation. This may include setting up a bank account, obtaining a phone number and adapting to potential changes in cuisine, language and customs before fully embracing and enjoying your stay. Even though you will likely bump into new challenges and experience more culture shocks, try to take them as they come. 

One thing I have learned with my stay here is that you will eventually figure it out. No matter how lost you might feel in certain situations, people are willing to help and guide you. Building a network at GCU is fun, and many other students are in the same situation as you. You can find friends, comfort and understanding in these people. You will never know what is on the other side of things you are curious about, so you might as well try. Being here for so long has taught me independence and resilience at a level that I doubt I would have learned if I had taken a traditional path and studied in my home country. 

A big part of the journey as an international student is to learn. If you are afraid of failure or trying new things, learning may be harder. You might miss home and the way you are used to doing things. However, you might also appreciate how things are done in the U.S. comparatively. Growing as a person is inevitable when you move to study abroad. Do your best and try to make the most of your journey by being open-minded and not too hard on yourself. Ask for help and talk to your professors, classmates, roommates and teammates. 

GCU encourages students worldwide to apply for all degree programs. Whether you want to start your higher education or add to it, GCU offers degree programs on every level. Remember, as an international student, you can enroll in online programs but cannot stay in the U.S. on a student visa if enrolled fully online. A student visa requires full-time enrollment on campus. Fill out the form on this page to learn more and get in contact with a university counselor.

1 College Factual. (2023). Grand Canyon University International Student Report. Retrieved Nov. 22, 2023.

2 U.S. Department of State. (n.d). Student Visa. Retrieved Nov. 22, 2023. 

3 Shorelight Software. (2019). 10 International Students Share Their Personal Experiences. U.S. News Global Education. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2023. 

Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on Dec. 12, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.