Higher education in the USA for immigrants. How to get and combine study with work? Step-by-step guide

Getting a higher education in the USA is one of the most popular ways to legalize it. To do this, the future student comes to America on a special student visa, completes a full course of study, depending on the chosen program and university, and receives a diploma. The crust of an American university makes it possible to find a job in a good American company immediately after graduation and speed up the process of obtaining a residence permit or Green Card.

Many immigrants seeking to enter an American university are already living in the United States.

What types of higher education are there in the USA?

In the United States, higher education is divided into several stages:

  • community college
  • Undergraduate
  • Master’s degree
  • PhD

I propose to discuss in more detail the specifics of admission to an educational institution for each type of program.

community college

These are analogs of colleges in the countries of the former CIS, where school graduates enter after the 9th or 11th grade. This type of educational institution suggests a convenient location since you can find one in almost every city in the country. In addition, the tuition fee is relatively low, ranging from $7,000 to $9,000, and the duration of education is two years. 

Most often, such training is considered by students as an intermediate or preparatory stage before entering the university. Why?

Firstly, the college program differs significantly from university programs, as it has a narrow applied specialization.

Second, attending a community college before the university can help you save money. After graduation, the student can be immediately enrolled in the 3rd year of the university, as he already has a certain knowledge base.

Higher education in the USA for immigrants


The training lasts four years; you can enter if you have completed secondary education in the CIS countries or the college community in the USA.

Important! Upon admission, you wait to choose a specialty. You can take different subjects as part of your studies, try them, change them, and only by the end of the 2nd course make a more conscious decision about what kind of specialist you want to be.

Master’s degree

This is the next stage after receiving a bachelor’s degree. For it, you must have a diploma from a university in your country, confirming the presence of a bachelor’s or specialist’s degree. The diploma must be translated into English and apostilled, with a stamp confirming its legality. In addition, you need to conduct an evaluation (conformity assessment) of the diploma – we will discuss this with you later.

Upon admission, you immediately determine what specialty you will study for 1-2 years of the master’s program. You can choose such areas: as medicine, law, creative specialties, and others. You can learn more about the entire list of possible directions for a master’s degree here.

Interesting❗ Business or MBA is among the most popular areas in the US master’s program in 2022. 


This option is suitable for researchers or those who plan to pursue a career as a university professor. Education in American graduate school lasts at least four years.

Depending on your previous education, which you received in the CIS countries, you can enroll in graduate school after a master’s degree or, in some cases, after a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate studies in the US are always free. You must take your studies seriously and teach and engage in scientific activities. If you are considering going to graduate school, you need to be prepared that you will devote all your time to this.

Higher education in the USA for immigrants

Required Exams:

  • IELTS or TOEFL are tests that determine the level of English proficiency. 
  • GRE(Graduate Record Examinations) – a test designed to determine the level of analytical and mathematical thinking of applicants. It also checks vocabulary and general language proficiency, how ready you are to perceive academic information in English.

What documents are needed to enter an American university?

Providing documents for enrolling in a university program depends not only on the type of your education and the chosen educational institution. The main feature of the American education system is that there are no uniform requirements for applicants in the United States.

Each school has its rules, which may vary depending on your department. It is worth checking them in advance on the university’s official website. But usually, regardless of the requirements of each institution, in general, the list of exams is almost the same:

  • A high school diploma in America or a high school diploma in your home country and its evaluation.
  • Financial documents.
  • Test results.
  • Recommendations.
  • Motivational essay.

Let’s talk in more detail about each stage.

Diploma evaluation

Immigrants who have received secondary or higher education in their home countries can continue their studies in America. To do this, you should officially confirm the document on education by evaluating it *.

* Evaluation is a transcript or transcript of all your academic hours and points to assess the ratio of your level of education with the equivalent level in the United States.

WES is one of the most popular international diploma evaluation companies. On the company’s website, you can find out what documents you will need for the assessment, depending on your education level and the country in which you received it.

On average, the cost of the service is $250. The verification process takes about a month.

Financial documents

When applying to US universities, it is mandatory to provide financial documents. This ensures that you, your parents, or sponsors can pay for the entire educational course.

To do this, you must fill out a detailed form about your income and family. It is more convenient to fill out an electronic version of such an application so that later it can be sent to several universities at once.

Each university puts forward its requirements for the amount that must be kept in your account as a deposit. This is the average amount of training from 1-4 semesters.

Test results

Before entering the university, you need to pass several exams. Their number may vary depending on the university you choose. Check the list in advance.

Higher education in the USA for immigrants

I chose the main exams that are usually taken before admission: 

  • TOEFL or IELTS – determine the level of English.
  • SAT or ACT – determine the general level of grammar, the ability to speak, analyze and understand the text, as well as the mathematical knowledge of the student.
  • LSAT is required for law school applicants.
  • MCAT is mandatory for medical school applicants.


For Americans, what kind of reputation a person has is very important. The same applies to prospective students. 

Each university requires a letter of recommendation that characterizes you as a person. For those who enter their first higher education, these can be letters of recommendation from school teachers.

For those who are getting a second higher education or going to a master’s program – in addition to letters from teachers from the university, you can attach letters from colleagues or business partners with whom you have worked. The number of letters is not limited. But much more valuable is their content and description of your strengths.

“The number of letters is not limited. But much more valuable is their content and description of your strengths.”

Motivational essay

This is a short but extensive story about yourself. In the essay, you should describe your achievements, how you see yourself in the process of studying and after graduation, why you want to enter this particular university, what you are particularly interested in, and how you can be useful to the educational institution and its reputation. 

There are many resources where you can find useful tips on writing an essay for admission to an American university and examples of such essays.

In addition, you attach documents confirming your legal presence in the United States:

  • Green Card or other proof of legal presence in the United States.
  • SSN.
  • ID – This can be a US driver’s license, work permit (EAD), or a US citizen’s passport.

It is better to start collecting and preparing the documents necessary for admission about a year before the start of the program, at the same time specifying at what period the university starts accepting documents for the next year. In each educational institution, this period may differ, but, on average, applications must be sent 9-6 months before the start of training.

What does the admission process look like?

I have prepared a list of the main stages of admission to a bachelor’s or master’s program in the United States.

You will need the following:

⭆ Select the university and the specialty you would like to study.

⭆ Clarify the requirements of this university for applicants. Usually, this information can be found on the university’s official website.

⭆ Prepare for the IELTS or TOEFL English proficiency exam. It is important to understand that the exam’s main purpose is to confirm that your level of English allows you to correctly understand study materials in English and communicate in an academic environment. In addition, these exams have clear standards for passing, which test your knowledge on four factors – reading, listening, speaking, and writing. You can speak English brilliantly, but you need to know an insufficiently high to avoid knowing the nuances of the exam.

I recommend hiring a professional tutor who specializes in exam preparation. It took me 1.5 months to prepare for the IELTS exam, with individual lessons three times a week.

⭆ Pass IELTS or TOEFL.

⭆ Pass the SAT( Scholastic Assessment Test) is an American academic assessment test that shows your ability in general. The exam consists of three modules: reading, writing, language test, and mathematics. 

In the reading and language text block, you will have to read five texts on different topics and answer questions. In a written task – write an essay in which you will reveal some problem or propose a solution. In math, solve 58 math problems. The tasks of the last block check not only the level of knowledge in algebra and higher mathematics but also affect geometry and trigonometry. 

The SAT is not a required exam in all schools in the United States. Check with your university in advance.

⭆ Prepare a complete package of documents – the list you requested at the university in advance. 

⭆ Prepare a portfolio. A mandatory item only for those who are going to enter creative specialties – an architect, a fashion or interior designer, an advertiser, etc.

⭆ Write a Motivation Letter or Letter of Introduction. This is a mandatory stage in all American universities. 

This is a small letter in which you must explain yourself, why you want to study at this particular university, in a particular specialty, and what your advantage is over other applicants. Many American universities have quotas for the most prestigious specialties. Therefore, the management is interested in enrolling exceptionally motivated students who can positively influence the image of the educational institution. 

⭆ Apply for admission with all the necessary applications. Remember that the university may consider your request from 2 weeks to 4-5 months.

⭆ Receive an approval letter from the university and data with admission information.

⭆ Pay a deposit – a part of the amount you will have to pay for training.

⭆ Provide a bank statement. It must confirm your financial well-being and the ability to pay the full amount necessary for study. 

The admission process is considered complete when you receive an official acceptance letter from the university. Detailed instructions for the next steps will be attached to them.

What should you know about tuition fees?

The cost of studying for a bachelor’s program, on average, will cost from $22,000 to $55,000 per year, depending on the level and prestige of the university.

In some educational institutions, in addition to the tuition itself, the cost of the annual fee may include the following:

  • Individual lessons – if you need help with some academic subjects.
  • Support 24/7 for all questions.
  • Assistance in developing a plan for your training, according to a further plan for employment.
  • Use of sports and entertainment areas of the university campus.

Despite the high cost, the US educational system offers students various opportunities in the form of financial incentives. If you are a promising student, the university can support you by taking part or all of your tuition fees.

There are the following types of financial assistance from educational institutions in the United States:

1. Scholarship (Grant)

Grant – allows you to receive material assistance from the university at no cost.

There are several options for obtaining it – the university can choose you, according to your grades and how you perform in your studies, by offering a certain amount to cover your education, or you can send an application for a grant yourself, both when entering a university and after enrollment.

2. Assistantship (Work for the university)

This is one of the most affordable options. You can work for a specific professor at your university, lecture with them, prepare class materials, assist in research, or perform administrative work at the university for up to 20 hours per week.

Earned funds will be able to cover your education fully.

3. Fellowship (Research work)

This option is only suitable for those whose education is related to science. During the study period, such a student must conduct research, which can have a real impact on scientific activity or an actual problem. Such research is funded by outside organizations collaborating with the university. They cover the full cost of your education and give you a scholarship.

Is it possible to combine work and study?

Yes, you can combine your university studies and work. But you should carefully clarify this issue before the start of training and study the documents regulating the rules for combining study and work for students. Only then should one begin to act.

In this case, two groups of students are distinguished – US residents and international students.

US residents

Students who are US citizens or have legal permanent resident status have more opportunities to combine study and work. Depending on your program’s density, you can freely distribute your time and combine study with work.

For example, if you have taken 6 hours a week, and the program allows you to choose the period of classes (morning or evening), you may combine a permanent 40-hour work with evening classes 2-3 times a week. However, you are not required to notify the university of your work.

Foreign students

These students come to the US on an F-1 student visa. There are strictly regulated rules for them – the first year of study, such a student can only work on a university campus. During the academic year – at most 20 hours a week, and at most 40 hours during the holidays.

Only a year later, the student gets the opportunity to work off campus, but the same number of hours. At the same time, an international student must coordinate each place of work with his academic curator. And after obtaining permission – get a job. Otherwise, without permission, this may cause a violation of university regulations and, as a result, termination of a student visa and deportation from the United States.

Are there any age limits for students?

American universities do not accept applicants under 17, which is logical since the undergraduate program assumes completed school education. There may be exceptions to this rule if, for example, you graduated from school as an external student.

For Master’s or Postgraduate (MBA) programs, the student must be over 21 years of age.

As for the restrictions on the maximum age of the applicant, there are none. Students who have just graduated from high school and those considering getting higher education at a more mature age can study in one group. 

Getting higher education at the age of 30+ has both negative and positive sides.

On the one hand, the older you are, the more difficult it is to allocate time for study; combining it with work and other everyday issues, sometimes it is more difficult to perceive and assimilate new knowledge.

But, on the other hand, despite several difficulties that you may encounter, there are many positive aspects to learning after 30:

  • You can consciously approach the training program by carefully choosing the required subjects.
  • In the learning process, you already clearly know where and how you will apply new knowledge.
  • You will receive the most up-to-date information and knowledge that will contribute to your development.
  • Regardless of work and family circumstances, you can choose the most suitable training schedule for you by attending classes several times a week or studying remotely.


A diploma from an American university is automatic proof of the quality of your education that meets the highest international standards and is the key to a successful career in any field!

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