“There is no place, no country, more compassionate, more generous, more accepting and more welcoming than the United States of America.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

It’s been known as the New World, the Land of Opportunity and the Land of the Free. A continent rife with stunning natural beauty no matter what the season; a region built on liberty, with a rich and unforgettable past that shaped the modern world as we know it; a nation spurred by innovation and inspired by a warm intellectual vitality.

To this day, the 50 states of the Stars and Stripes embody the “American Dream”; the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American – native or adopted – allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. All of these factors combine to make the United States of America the number one study destination for international students around the globe.

The 2014-2015 academic year saw a record-high of 974,296 students cross oceans and borders for a U.S. education, a 10 percent increase on figures from the previous year. The region is arguably home to the world’s best higher education academics and facilities, so all international graduates leave with a ticket to opportunity that can lead to any corner of the globe.

Though not a decision to be taken lightly, the choice to enroll at a U.S. university for study abroad and/or advanced English programs could be the best you will ever make. Yes, it can be daunting, but with a little research and careful preparation, nothing can stand in your way. Here is a quick, step-by-step guide to living and studying in the U.S.:

1. Entry Requirements

It’s easy to get swept up in excitement of planning and packing, but remember – this isn’t just your regular jolly holiday, this is you in pursuit of your American study dream and your home for the foreseeable future. Yes, you are going to have the time of your life, but first and foremost you are there to study, so ticking off every point on your list of university-related priorities should be your number one priority.

When choosing which university you’d really like to go to, it’s best to pick out ones for which you already meet the minimum entry requirements.

In the U.S., general entry requirements may vary depending on the institution. However, all institutions in the U.S. require certain levels of English language proficiency, especially for study abroad programs.

2. English Requirements

For applicants whose native language is not English, and whose high school, college or university education took place in a country where the language of instruction was not English, evidence of English Language proficiency must be provided in order to be admitted to a U.S. institution.

Generally, proficiency in English may be demonstrated by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The minimum accepted score that is needed to be considered is 80 or better on the internet-based test, and 550 or better on the paper-based test, though this may vary depending on the institution.

Proficiency can also be demonstrated with the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, for which the minimum accepted score is usually 6.5 or better – though again, this may vary.

If you don’t meet the minimum English requirements – DON’T PANIC! One thing that’s so great about studying in the U.S. is that the universities have the skills and resources to support you, no matter what your ability or your situation.

Consider  the University of California Santa Barbara Extension (UCSB), for example: it provides a comprehensive English Language option  called the Advanced English Program (AEP), which is specially designed for students who want to study in the U.S., but need to develop the critical thinking and research skills, fluency and necessary knowledge of English to succeed academically. The program is open to all international students, and presents an invaluable experience for all participants.

“Studying at UCSB Extension was one of the best experiences that I ever had,” says Seuyeun Park, a previous student of the AEP, originally from South Korea. “During my stay, I had two primary goals which were to improve my general English skills and to take various lectures offered only at UCSB … I can say for certain that I reached my goals.”

3. Consider the Location

The U.S. comprises of 50 different states, each one presenting its own unique climate, setting and character … so which one are you going to choose? Before setting off on your study adventure, maybe look into what each state has to offer, and choose the one best suited to you. Here are a few states and what they’re best known for, just to help you on your way:

  • California
    • Famous attractions: Disneyland, the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, Yosemite National Park, and Fisherman’s Wharf
    • Surroundings: Deserts, mountains, forests, oceans, and beautiful beaches
    • Nickname: The Golden State
  • Washington
    • Famous attractions: the Space Needle, Olympic National Park, Museum of Glass and Safeco Field
    • Surroundings: high peaks of the Cascade mountain range, crystalline rivers and breath-taking National Parks
    • Nickname: The Evergreen State
  • Colorado
    • Famous attractions: Rocky Mountain National Park, Pikes Peak, Seven Falls and Bear Lake
    • Surroundings: Colorado is home to more than a thousand Rocky Mountain peaks, covered in powdery snow throughout the ski season
    • Nickname: The Centennial State

4. Choice of University

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), there are 2,618 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the United States of America. Each institution presents its own unique specializations, innovations and ethos, so your job is to narrow it down and pick out the ones that really resonate with you.  The academic rank or reputation of the university may be an important consideration.

For overseas students who dream of studying in the U.S. but lack the confidence to pursue it, a number of institutions, such as UCSB (8th among U.S. public universities and 28th among Best Global Universities by U.S. News & World Report ‘s 2016 rankings), provide programs through UCSB courses specifically designed to ease international students into life at an American college. These programs are highly sought after and the application process can be competitive, so be sure to submit your application as soon as possible.

5. American Culture

“Culture encompasses the religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones and a million other things,” says Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist from Barnet and Southgate College in London.

The U.S. culture is very broad and inclusive: from the Cowboy lifestyle – boots, Stetsons and spurs, born out of the American West; to the heart of the Native American spirit, where man lived peacefully alongside nature; to the Hollywood liefestyle of the rich and famous, and a global platform for the world’s best talent. As part of the globe’s third-largest continent hosting a population of 320 million, the United States is a veritable ‘melting pot’ of exciting cultures and flavors.

It is the home of the immigrant, shaped by the cultures of Native Americans, Latinos, Africans, Asians and Europeans in the years since its discovery. There is no region in the world that has not had some form of influence over American culture, and that is what makes it the true Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  What a place to go study and live!


Located on the Palm-framed vistas of the Pacific, there is no other campus in the world quite like the University of California Santa Barbara. In a setting far-removed from urban pressures and distractions, yet bright with cultural and student-centered activity, many of the country’s – and the globe’s – most promising students opt to join its community of scholars, whose accomplishments are internationally recognized. In the Humanities and the Arts, as well as in Engineering and the Sciences, UC Santa Barbara introduces students to novel ways of thinking, learning and conducting research.

Images courtesy of University of California Santa Barbara