The transition from high school to college is an exciting part of any student’s life. Still, there are several aspects of that transition that require a degree of acclimation, like the new and often confusing world of academic reading and writing. Unlike some of the reading that you have done in high school, academic writing has a specific format, tone, and body of language that can, at times, seem overly complicated and make the subject harder to understand.
For international students, developing strong academic reading and writing skills can be doubly challenging. Not only is the subject not written in their first language, it can also seem like an entirely new language unto itself. If you are planning to attend an English-speaking college or university, there are several ways that you can begin to develop your reading and writing skills before starting the fall semester:
1. Begin exploring your field via abstracts and keywords
One reason that students—both international and otherwise—struggle with scholarly writing is because of its language and style. Each academic subject has theories, technical terms, and formats that can make comprehending the material challenging. Rather than simply opening a textbook and reading, consider beginning with the abstracts and keywords that are published with scholarly articles.
This week, I’ll be discussing optional practical training (OPT), which is another exception to the F-1 no-working rule. OPT is only allowed after completing the first academic year. OPT activity must be related to your field of study. Unlike curricular practical training, however, you must apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for an employment authorization card for OPT purposes. You must physically have the card before starting work.
Optional Practical Training
OPT comes in two “flavors.” There is pre-completion OPT which can be used during your vacation and during school. However, during the school year, pre-completion OPT cannot be for more than twenty hours. The other flavor is post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT may be obtained after you complete all of the course requirements in your course of study, with the exception of your thesis or dissertation. Regardless of whether you use pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT, you can only have a total of twelve months of OPT. While there are generally no extensions, you can apply for a new twelve months of OPT after each additional degree level. Please note, however, that you cannot have more than 90 days of unemployment during this initial OPT period.
Institutions of higher education in the United States welcome international students, but in order to pursue their academic goals there, these students must first seek permission from the U.S. government to enter the country. For most, this permission comes in the form of the nonimmigrant F-1 international student status. Nonimmigrant visa statuses are based on very specific purposes, and the main purpose of the F-1 status is to allow students to study in the U.S. If you’re primarily looking to work in the U.S., you must apply for a different nonimmigrant status that carries employment authorization. As with all rules, there are exceptions, which we’ll explore here.
F-1 Visa and Employment
When applying for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, showing that you’ve been accepted to an eligible school is only one step in the process. You’ll also need to prove that you plan to return home after completing your educational program and that you have enough funding to not have to work in the U.S. Remember, the purpose of the F-1 is to pursue an education, not to work. For any of the exceptions below which allow for work, you should first check in with the Designated Student Officer (DSO) at your school to ensure that no activity would violate your F-1 status.
There are a number of promising college opportunities for international students, but prospective applicants will most likely be expected to submit their scores on either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The TOEFL can be costly, and it therefore requires careful research and preparation. Having studied the format of the TOEFL, and perfected your TOEFL-related skills, consider these day-of techniques for TOEFL success:
Remember that the TOEFL truly begins the evening before your test date
Preparing for the TOEFL is as much about your actions before the exam as it is about the test itself. Ideally, you should practice self-care in the week leading up to the exam. While we cannot plan our illnesses, we can try to avoid them—ensure you follow a healthy diet, especially in the case of dinner the evening before your test and breakfast the morning of. Focus on “brain” foods like salmon and spinach, and drink enough water. Avoid caffeine frenzies and sugar rushes, and remember, your careful preparation will not matter if you cannot remain alert during the exam. Diet, exercise, and sleep are equally as important as studying.
You’ve done it! You’ve completed yet another semester and this time your reward is a four-month break. How are you going to spend it? Maybe you want to keep the momentum going by taking classes or interning, or perhaps traveling is in your future. We talked to Laura Chaney, the Director of International Student and Scholar Services at the University of San Francisco, about some of the options international students can consider.
Moving is frequently cited as one of the most stressful life events, but it typically only involves relocating from one part of your town to another or, in more extreme circumstances, one part of your own country to another. Imagine how much more stressful it would be to move to a foreign country. Compound that with the routine challenges of college life, and you have a vague sense of the kind of pressure that the 886,052 international students in the United States cope with.
Thankfully, as an international student, you’re not alone. While you already have the support of family, friends, classmates, and professors, there may also be a better-equipped (yet less often recognized) resource at your disposal: a counselor. Many universities employ counselors to promote the academic, personal, and social well-being of their students, and they are typically available to see free of cost. These are just a few of the ways in which counselors can help you:
1. Counselors Can Help You Plan Your Academic and Professional Careers
Planning a fruitful academic career that will lead to a rewarding professional career can be challenging for any student. However, it may be especially challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the cultural norms that often inform how one successfully makes the transition between school and work. Internships, for example, aren’t necessarily a global component of education, yet you may be required to complete one in order to enter certain career fields in the U.S.
If you aren’t already dreaming about a break from classes and assignments, you can start now! Spring break, a weeklong academic holiday that takes places in early spring, is just around the corner. Here are some great tips to help you decide what you should do, whether it’s traveling, staying in town to see the local sights, or volunteering.
When planning for your spring break or summer trip, choosing the right clothes to bring, packing all of your essentials, and arranging transportation are all undoubtedly important. But according to Marisa Atencio, the Director of International Student and Scholar Services at Georgia Tech, the first step in the planning process should involve your travel documents. When we recently sat down with her to talk about international student travel, she gave the following piece of advice: “Before you even buy a plane ticket, make sure that your travel documents are in order.” She went on to break down exactly how to do just that.
In this new Flywire blog feature, International Office Corner, we’re talking to International Student Offices all over the U.S. and providing you with helpful advice on topics relevant to you as an international student.
Every year in the United States, April 15 marks Tax Day—the day when tax returns are typically due to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). As an international student, you may be wondering how Tax Day applies to you as well as what exactly you need to pay taxes on. We went to Marisa Atencio, the Director of International Student and Scholar Services at Georgia Tech, to provide insight into filing taxes as an international student.
What to File Taxes For
One way students can look at taxes is that they refer to the year that just passed. “The first question to ask yourself is, were you physically in the U.S. any day during 2015,” said Atencio. “If not, then you have no tax obligations for that year.” If you were here, then you’ll need to prepare a Form 8843. This form, which can either be found here or at your college’s International Student Office (ISO), is used by those with non-immigrant status to file taxes and has to be filed regardless of whether or not an income was earned. For guidance on filling out your 8843 form, contact your ISO or check out some online resources—there are plenty of great ones out there! And this form isn’t due until June 15, so while you don’t want to procrastinate, you do have a little more time to complete it.
One fundamental concept in U.S. immigration law is the difference between having a visa and having status. Status is what is granted upon entry into the U.S. and must be maintained. For travel purposes, the focus should be on the visa. Knowing the difference will help international students avoid a lot of confusion and headaches when it comes time to travel.
What Is a Visa?
A visa is the actual stamp or sticker in your passport that is labeled “VISA.” This stamp includes:
- biometric information (i.e., photograph, fingerprints)
- visa type/class
- issue date
- expiration date
The significance of the visa is that you need an unexpired visa of the correct visa type/class before the U.S. government will admit you into the U.S. (If you’re traveling by air, airlines will likely check your passport to see if you have a valid visa. Please note that airline employees aren’t government officials and aren’t the final authority on whether one can be admitted into the U.S. or not. Therefore, even if airline employees don’t find any problems with your visa, that doesn’t mean that you might not have complications at the border.) While the visa itself isn’t relevant until the time of reentry, it’s still always best to check your visa before making travel plans.