About The USA
The United States of America is home to countless riches that attract travelers from all over the globe. The country houses some of the most picturesque and diverse landscapes on earth, a vast collection of iconic attractions, and many concrete jungles to explore. The destination truly encapsulates all the experiences that make an overseas trip an adventure to remember. Although, there are a few things that you should be aware of before visiting the US. From tipping customs and payment expectations to entry requirements and road rules, here are some of the important things to remember before visiting the United States of America.
Americans do tend to be more informal than people from other countries. It is common custom in the USA to wear casual clothing to school. Unlike India, students greet professors by their first names and don’t use any prefixes such as sir or madam. Nonetheless, good manners and politeness are always appreciated. Always be courteous and polite, and Americans do use sorry and thank you for the smallest of gestures.
However, there are situations and environments in which formality is the norm. Some businesses require their employees to wear a uniform or a suit. It is inappropriate to wear casuals to a job interview. Some of the more prestigious restaurants, venues, and gatherings require a coat and a tie along with formal shoes. Americans tend to dress up for cultural events (the opera, theater and ballet) and to dress down for athletic events. Formal wear is required at weddings and funerals, or any other event with religious overtones (Formal clothing for men usually comprises of a suit and for women, a dress or a suit).
Forms of Address
In an informal situation, Americans will introduce each other by first name, without titles. Some people preferred to be called by their last name and it is considered polite to ask how they would like to be addressed. People who hold important positions must always be addressed with their titles first, such as the director or a president of the university. Unless they tell you otherwise, faculty should be addressed using their title and last name (e.g., “Professor Smith”).
Be sure to address your professors or people whom you email with the correct titles (not every lecturer is a professor, as professor is an official title given to a select few and reflects seniority in comparison to others); this would reflect good on your candidacy. It showcases sincerity and effort. A mistake here can be seen as a sign of being casual and disrespectful.
In the USA, restaurants do not include a service charge in the bill, so tipping your waiter is the normal practice and not leaving one is considered rude. Most servers and staff work on minimum wages and tips being their major source of income, it’s common to leave a 15% to 20% tip to compensate. There have been incidences where restaurants have been offended by the behavior of patrons leaving without or with low tips and banned them from coming back again. So remember, whether you’re at a restaurant, bar, or in a taxi, it’s important to leave a tip, especially if you’ve received good service.
Business visits, on the other hand, tend to be extremely punctual. If you arrive late to a business appointment, it will reflect badly on you. So try to arrive on time, or even a little early. If you know that you will be arriving late, you should telephone ahead to let them know of the delay. Remember, it is considered more professional to be on time, not earlier than 10 minutes to your appointment and not a minute late.
Be careful where you wander in cities
Many cities, no matter what country you visit, typically include suburbs/ areas that you should avoid at all cost. In America, the line between these areas can be quite thin. In fact, the difference between a friendly and dangerous neighborhood can sometimes differ by only one block. Just to be safe, try to be aware of your surroundings at all times, assess your situation regularly, and try to gain some local wisdom on where to and where not to wander.
Don’t visit without health/ travel insurance
Travel insurance is a necessity of any trip overseas and when it comes to America, it is absolutely essential. The country’s health services are extremely expensive, to the extent that you’ll be wondering whether you truly need medical attention or if you can stick it out. Just to be safe, it may be wise to make an investment in travel insurance and keep a printed version with you while on your journey. No student must ever travel without a valid insurance to study in the USA. Most insurance providers have their mobile application to store digital copies of active insurance as well.
Most Americans eat three meals during the day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast begins between 7:00 and 8:00 am, lunch between 11:00 am and noon, and dinner between 6:00 and 8:00 pm. On Sundays “brunch” is a combination of breakfast and lunch, typically beginning at 11:00 am. Students often enjoy a “study break” or evening snack around 10:00 or 11:00 pm.
If you wish to give a gift to those who helped you with your admission process to the University of your liking, the best gift would be something that is unique to your country. It need not be especially valuable or rare, just reminiscent of your home country. Possibilities include a book about your country, an inexpensive handicraft or piece of art, or something else that reflects your culture. You may walk an extra mile to find out about their hobbies in their bio and be thoughtful about your gifting choices.
If you owe a debt of deep gratitude to an American host family, a common way of repaying it is to take the family to a form of entertainment, such as a baseball, basketball, or hockey game, the ballet, or to a good restaurant. It is customary in the US to split the bill so be sure to make it clear that it is your treat!
Smoking has in many ways become socially unacceptable in the US. Smoking is prohibited in government and public buildings, and many businesses, especially restaurants, will not permit smoking on the premises. People who smoke are looked down upon in a formal setting. Those restaurants that permit smoking will usually have a separate section for customers who smoke. Most schools and universities have a ban on smoking within campus buildings or near building entrances. If you do smoke, be a model citizen and do not throw cigarette butts on the road.
In the United States, dates are written as month/day/year. This is the opposite of the British method, in which dates are written day/month/year. So while 4/3/67 would be March 4, 1967 in Europe, it is April 3, 1967 in the United States. It is best to write out dates using the month name in order to avoid confusion.
Temperature and Time
The United States has a very varied climate across all its states. Depending upon what part of the country you are in, you will need to carry clothing options appropriately. You may need an umbrella, even in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, and they may be just as useless on windy days. In the northern cities, such as Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Seattle, Washington, Denver, and Minneapolis you will need cold weather and snow gear (It is advisable to purchase them from the US; the Indian clothing and gears will not suffice for the extreme winters of the north). In the southern states, such as California and Florida, summers may be very hot and the winters mild. Depending on the part of the country, temperatures during the summer will run from the 70s through the 90s (Fahrenheit).
No matter where you are in the US, you will probably need a sweater or jacket for part of the year. If you will be living in an area that gets snow, you will need a good winter coat, boots, and gloves. If the coat does not include a hood, you will need a hat that covers your ears. But all this can wait until after you arrive in the US. Clothing is relatively inexpensive in the US, and it may be easier to find appropriate clothing at your destination. Wait until you arrive, and watch what the natives wear.
The concept of Daylight Savings might seem new coming from India. The main purpose of Daylight-Saving Time (called “Summer Time” in many places in the world) is to make better use of daylight. They change our clocks during the summer months to move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. It begins on the first Sunday in April and ends on the last Sunday in October. The mnemonic “Spring Forward, Fall Back” will help you remember how to set your clocks. It is adjusted automatically on all electronic devices that are connected to the internet. Students tend to stay up and have parties that day to see the clock move forward or backward. Quite interesting, isn’t it!
Education in the US
In the US, higher education refers to optional schooling that is done after secondary (high school) education. Also known as tertiary education, third level, third stage, post-secondary education, or higher education takes place either in universities or colleges all around the country. Higher education institutions comprise of liberal arts colleges, public universities, for-profit colleges, private universities, or community colleges. American universities and colleges have been ranked among the most prestigious in the world mostly due to high levels of research and strong funding. These institutions attract international students, researchers, and professors who are in pursuit of academic excellence. Unlike third level education systems in places such as Australia and the UK, the US comprises of the world’s most unique education that strongly emphasizes on Liberal Arts education in the curriculum of its higher education.
Higher Education in America
US institutions offer a wide variety of subjects (or majors, as they are called) to study, everything from the fine and liberal arts to practical, career-oriented fields such as engineering and marketing. The USA also presents a wide variety of types of institutions to choose from: large, comprehensive land-grant institutions of 40,000 students to small traditional liberal arts colleges of less than 1000 students. Distinctions among these academic institutions are in size, level and competitiveness of education offered, social/residential atmosphere and the time required to complete a degree. Almost all of these colleges offer some kind of scholarships to study in the USA. Because the United States is a large country with a variety of climatic and living conditions, schools vary greatly due to their location. Since academic levels and quality of instruction are comparable at most accredited institutions at the undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) level, students’ personal preferences as to size, climate and location, play a key role in what school they choose. Students often begin study at one institution, then transfer after two years to complete their degree at another institution. One needs good GPA (Grade Point Average) to transfer. At the graduate (master’s, doctoral degree) level, more importance must be paid to the reputations of the faculty and department.
Admission requirements differ greatly from one institution to another. All schools, however, require students to submit official transcripts of courses and grades taken in high school and other post-secondary institutions and a formal application. Smaller schools require letters of recommendation. Most schools will require submission of standardized tests such as the TOEFL, and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), GRE (Graduate Record Exam), GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), etc. Most of these tests are presented by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey. It is very important to begin the admission process early because in many cases application deadlines are far in advance of the start of the semester (sometimes as many as twelve months). Students also need to allow time for scheduling any standardized tests needed for admission and then having the results of these tests sent to schools. Each college or university establishes its own unique policies regarding admissions.
There are four levels of degrees one can study for at an American college or university:
The A.A./A.S. degree or Associate’s Degree
The B.S. (Bachelor or Arts) or B.S. (Bachelor of Science) Degree
The Master’s Degree
The Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Doctorate Degree
Types of U.S. Colleges & Universities
“Public” Universities: These are state-affiliated institutions that are publicly supported (financed by public taxes) and they’re usually large in size. They normally offer all levels of degrees and many different fields of study. Public colleges and universities are relatively inexpensive for residents of the state where the schools are located (since they’re funded in large part by state tax revenues). Foreign students pay “out-of-state” tuition, which is higher, often significantly so.
Small Liberal Arts Colleges: There are hundreds of small liberal arts colleges throughout the United States enrolling anywhere from fewer than 1,000 students to several thousand. They are usually dedicated primarily to the undergraduate study of the traditional arts and sciences disciplines: humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
The Ivy League: Although these schools are among the oldest and most famous in the country, the Ivy League itself was not officially formed until the 1950s–as an athletic conference! Members of the Ivy League are: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania (a private college, not to be confused with Penn State University). All these schools are in the Northeastern U.S. Ivy League colleges stress undergraduate liberal arts education, but they also have noted graduate and professional schools. Tuition at these private schools is among the highest in the country, and admission is generally highly competitive.
Denominational or Religiously-Affiliated Schools:
There are a large number of colleges and universities in the United States that were formed by religious groups and organizations and which continue this active affiliation for people from all communities who study in the USA. They are not limited in admission, however, to members of that religious group, however. They are, however, administered by members of their religious group and are often run in line with their religious precepts. Among well-known schools in this category are: Notre Dame and Georgetown (both Catholic), Brandeis and Yeshiva (Jewish), Brigham Young (Mormon), Southern Methodist University, (Methodist) and Earlham (Quaker).
Technical Institutes: These are schools specializing primarily in engineering and science and particularly noted for their research and graduate programs. Most international students who attend these schools are admitted at the graduate degree level.
College or University?
Americans love to have variety in their personal lives and always like to have choices. This is reflected in the wide variety of institutions of higher learning existing in the U.S. The most prominent types are:
University – The broadest type of educational institution, comprising both undergraduate and graduate schools. Universities often have several colleges, schools, or faculties (e.g. School of Engineering, College of Business, College of Liberal Arts, Faculty of Arts & Science) and offer several levels of academic degrees (B.A./B.S., M.A./M.S., M.B.A., M.D., J.D., Ph.D.)
College – generally a four-year undergraduate academic institution (that’s less complex and often smaller than a university.) Colleges primarily offer Bachelor’s degree programs and sometimes a limited number of Master’s-level programs. (Colleges do not usually offer Doctoral programs.) Sometimes the term “college” is used for a specialized kind of degree-granting institution, such as a teacher’s college or a technical college.
The oldest U.S. colleges are generally liberal-arts colleges, meaning that they provide a broad education in a variety of Arts & Sciences subjects, rather than specific technical or vocationally oriented programs.
Professional school – is a graduate program where people study for specific professions, such as: lawyer, (law school), doctor (medical school), veterinarian (veterinary school), dentist (dental school) or business person (business school). Usually professional schools function as part of a larger university, but some are “free-standing” and function on their own.
In the U.S., people generally attend professional schools only after completing an undergraduate program. (Some universities offer programs where students can attend a professional school at the same time as an accelerated college program.)
It is important for an international students to understand that the U.S. education system is highly decentralized. Unlike most other countries, the United States does not have a Ministry of Education in Washington, D.C., which standardizes education across the country. There is a cabinet-level post of Secretary of Education, but it is a position with very little authority over the day-to-day functioning of universities and their programs. The Secretary of Education cannot dictate a uniform educational curriculum across the country. The methodology with which a student selects his/ her college to study in the USA, becomes very important for this very reason.
Each of the fifty states in the United States is autonomous regarding the policy of its own colleges and universities. Each state and each school operates independently of the others. Therefore, there are various systems in place, which are often quite different from state to state. All states make some form of public–i.e. partially government-funded–college and university education available, but these systems are all organized differently. Colleges and universities are accredited by voluntary, self-governing, regional associations (for example the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities, the New England Association of Colleges and Universities, etc.) and not by governmental agencies. This accreditation is very important, however, since many educational programs will only recognize other accredited programs
Customs and Immigration
Every person who arrives to the US needs to go through Customs and Immigration checkpoint, just as you will go through the Emigration checkpoint at your country of departure. Note that there are separate lines for Greencard and US Citizens, so be sure to use them if you are eligible. It will save you time and effort compared to those travelling on other visas. The immigration officers will ask you questions about your reason for visiting the US. You must have your passport and original i20 handy at all times. Those are the 2 documents without which you will not be allowed to enter the US. For all travelling on F1 visa, the purpose of visit will be to study in the USA and you will be travelling on “Student Visa”. Keep your answers straight, simple, and direct. Never go on a rant and answer only what is asked of you without sharing any extra or supportive information to the questions. If they want more information, they will ask additional questions. For more information see the US Customs Service web site, which includes the brochure Customs Guidelines for Visitors to the United States. Immigration laws can also be found at the US State Department web site.
You may also be asked whether you are bringing in any food. Do not carry any perishable or unpacked items with you. It is forbidden to bring perishable foodstuffs, such as fruit, vegetables, and meat, or plants into the US. You must always say that you have ‘Packed’ food items with you. The officers will confiscate any spices, open jars, roti’s, theplas, etc. and other such items that are not factory packed upon inspection.
You will also be given a declaration form on your flight before landing into the US. If you bring in more than US$10,000 in US or foreign currency you must declare the amount on there. Always keep Forex exchange receipts handy if source of currency is asked.
For any medicines, insulin, syringes, creams, medical drugs that you carry, you must have a signed prescription from your physician with the medicine. Check the US Customs website to make sure you are not carrying any drugs that are deemed illegal by the US.
Holidays and festivals observed in the USA are different than what we are accustomed to in the Indian sub-continent. Since the United States comprises of people from all over the world who study in the USA, almost all festivals from different cultures are celebrated there. Although, not all of them have a federal holiday declared to their name. Illustrated below are some of the major Holidays in the US. It is important to make note of this since most government offices will be closed on these days (Essential services of Fire, Ambulance, and Police are always open). Any banking transactions need to be planned with these days into consideration since banks and post office tend to be closed on these days. Also, most of these holidays are long weekends! So be sure to plan your trips in advance since bookings to most holiday destinations get full quickly.
(NOTE TO DEVELOPER – NEED A TABLE ILLUSTRATING THIS)
Federal Holiday Calendar
Holiday Official Date
New Year’s Day January 1
Inauguration Day January 20*
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Third Monday in January
George Washington’s Birthday Third Monday in February
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day 4th Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
A complete travel checklist with all the necessary documents that are required is provided to our students to prepare for departure and their time to study in the USA. Following are some of the important checklist:
Money, credit cards, checkbook, traveler’s checks, financial records
Emergency Money (keep US$100 hidden somewhere on your person of an emergency)
Clothing, shoes, coats, cold weather clothing, and rain gear
Official Academic Transcripts (English Translations if its in any other language)
Medical and Dental Records
Immunization and Vaccination Records
Prescriptions, Eyeglasses, Insurance Records
National and International Driver’s Licenses
Before you Leave
Before you leave, let the international student advisor know about your travel plans and expected arrival date. Also, give your family members who are staying behind your contact information in the United States. If you have already rented an apartment, make provisions to have the keys to the place available upon your arrival. If you are staying at a friend’s place, share your flight details and travel plans with them too.
When purchasing your tickets, always ask about APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) fares, which offer significant discounts for tickets that are purchased several weeks in advance. Scan all airfare websites for the best possible price on your air tickets.
Keep in mind that air travel covering more than a few time zones often results in a disorientation called “jetlag”. Your body will initially have trouble adjusting to the time shift. During your flight, avoid caffeine and alcohol, but drink plenty of water. After you arrive at your destination, it is important to go to sleep at the normal time for your destination, and to walk around in the bright morning sunlight after you wake up. Most people take about 3 days to recover from jetlag.
For travel to the US, you should compare the fares on several major international carriers. Sometimes the US airlines are cheaper, and sometimes the major carriers serving your country are cheaper.
Several US travel agencies specialize in student, and budget travel, including international travel. These include:
The International Student Travel Confederation (ISTC) is the organization that sells the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Their web site includes a list of the more than 6,000 discounts available to holders of the ISIC card and a list of locations worldwide that issue the card. For more information, send email to [email protected] They also provide a home page for the Student Air Travel Association (SATA).
There are also several websites that offer student discount for travel and other deals on the web. The most popular ones are:
CheapOair Student Fares
The students from the Indian sub-continent face several difficulties in the admission process of the American universities. Due to the varying academic practices within the educational systems of the nations of the Indian sub-continent, the American universities are not able to uniformly assess the suitability of students with reference to their philosophy and academic offerings. Further, most of the students from the Indian sub-continent are not fully aware of the American universities and the systems that they follow. The system of marks-based merit list for admissions is not practiced in the United States of America. The communication between American universities and the students in the Indian sub-continent is also very limited. Thus, the admission process that follows is intrinsically flawed, in that the students are forced to seek admission in American universities without being conversant with the complexity of the procedures. Most students miss out on opportunities of scholarships for Indian students in the USA.
Due to differences in financial practices and the associated documentation, the students find the task of evaluating the requirement of funds for study in the USA cumbersome. Further, the students face uncertainty even after admission is given because a significant percentage of students are refused visas by the American consulates in India. Lack of proper pre-departure personal counseling results in the arrival of inadequately prepared students on American campuses.
Students from the Indian sub-continent are unable to get comprehensive information on location, academic programs, admission, financial assistance possibilities, employment opportunities, procedures, interpretation of regulations and a host of other items of information. Some of the information provided in the American brochures and catalogs is not pertinent to the average student from the Indian sub-continent who is unfamiliar with the American way of life. Intuit Education takes care of all information needs of the students for their journey to study in the USA.
US Visa Counselling
To enter the United States as an F-1 student, the student must apply at a US Embassy of Consulate for an F-1 student visa. Students are required to make an appointment. It is important to get done with this sooner than later since the availability of appointment varies throughout the year. We inform the policies of the Embassy/Consulate for the student’s country so that the student will not encounter unexpected delays. Many a times students fail to obtain a visa because they were not aware of the procedures or were not adequately prepared for the interview. Our one-to-one US consulate interview preparation sessions ensure that our students do not fall short with the neither the documents they carry, nor are they unprepared to respond to the Visa Officers’ queries. The information outlined below is designed to help the student understand the visa process.
VISA POLICIES – Law views all non-immigrants as “intending immigrants”. This means that the visa officer is under the assumption that the student will be coming to the US and will remain in the US permanently. Student visas (F class) are given to students that can demonstrate to the Consul that they intend to return permanently at the conclusion of their studies.
The ability to convince the Consul (either in person or through written application) may be difficult. The student may want to present documents that demonstrate ties to the student’s home country that would convince the consul of the student’s intent to return. Apart from the admit and scholarships to study in the USA, the following are some documents that you need to carry to help you in this cause:
Proof of land ownership
Economic and Social ties are crucial: An applicant’s future role in a family business, academic institution, government agency, professional organization are all possibilities. Bring letters from appropriate parties to demonstrate such facts.
The family’s extended relationships in the community, civil service posts, church, etc., can make a difference. Additionally, if other family members have studied in the U.S. and returned it should be mentioned.
For students from nations with strict banking regulations, an application is strengthened when funds can be shown either in a U.S. account, or already received by the school. Any scholarships to study in the USA for Indian Students must also be shown in these.
Letters from prospective employers recognizing the need for specialized training offered in the U.S. can also serve to aid an application.
Most importantly, Consular Officials want to hear directly from the applicant in the personal interview. At no time, is it recommended that the applicant bring family members with them to the interview. The applicant must be able to provide any/all of the original documents to the Consular Official for review.
Along with the above information, the student must also present a valid passport showing validity for at least the next six (6) months and a properly completed INS Form I-20 A/B (Provided by the University/ College).
If the student has sufficiently proven to the Consular Official’s satisfaction that he/she intends to come to the U.S. solely for the purpose of study and will return to his/her home country upon completion his program, a visa stamp will be affixed to a page in the passport. Students are encouraged to apply for a multiple entry F-1 student visa. In most cases, the visa will be issued on the same day of the submission of the application. In some instances, the process may take longer depending on the time of year, consular caseload or other factors.