Attending high school in the United States can be an exciting opportunity, and can offer students a great chance to gain new perspectives. With so many schools to choose from however, it can be daunting to find the right school and figure out the best way to apply. Luckily, there are several different pathways towards studying high school in the United States as an international student and each of them offers a different experience.
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One of the great benefits of studying in the United States is the wide array of schools to choose from. Whether you opt for a public or private school, a school that offers university-accredited courses or one that offers other extracurriculars, there are plenty of options.
Firstly, it’s important to consider how long you’d like to study in the United States, since international students are generally only able to enroll in a public school for up to 12 months, while those enrolled at private school can study for the full duration of the academic program, as long as they meet the other requirements of their visa.
Both private and public schools can offer different experiences. Public schools, which are funded by U.S. taxpayers and must follow the established state curriculum, can offer an experience that’s closer to the one a typical American student might experience. Though international students must pay tuition to attend public schools, the price is usually lower than the cost of private schools. Regardless of which type of school you choose to enroll in, only schools that are registered with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can accept international students.
You should also consider whether or not your school has an existing international student program, the school’s location, and what kind of housing options are available nearby. Established and vetted international student exchange organizations can help you find a school, or you can do your own research using the School Search tool from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
If you are not participating in a student exchange program, then you will need to apply for admission to the high school you want to enroll in. Each high school has different requirements, but you can expect to include the following materials in your application:
- An application essay
- Financial statements to prove you’ll be able to pay for any program fees and expenses
- Proof of language proficiency, for example through a TOEFL score
- Immunization records
Some schools may also require essays, interviews or teacher recommendations. Once you are accepted for enrollment, you can apply for the necessary visa.
There are two main types of visas you can use as an international student to study in the U.S.: the J-1 exchange visitor visa, and the F-1 student visa. If you’ll be attending high school as part of a cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, you can apply for the J-1 visa as an exchange student.
If you are attending a high school outside of an exchange program, then you can apply for an F-1 visa, regardless of whether you’re studying for one year at a public school in the United States, or studying for one year or more at a private school. To do this, you will need to get Form I-20 (“Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”) from your designated school official (DSO). Once you have this form, you can proceed to apply for your F-1 visa.
Unless you are an exchange student on a J-1 visa, you will need to pay the full fee for the school you attend, regardless of whether it is public or private. The exact amount will vary from school to school, but typically range from $3000 to $10,000 per year for public schools. You can expect to pay more for a private school.
You will need to pay this, along with your I-901 SEVIS fee of $350 for F-1 visa holders, before you can apply for your F-1 visa. You may need to show proof of payment at your interview and when you enter the United States, so you should keep a record of your payment handy. Exchange students on J-1 visas typically don’t have to pay school fees, but they will still have to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee of $220 for J-1 visa holders.
The most common way for students to pay the cost of their tuition and application fees is through their family because international students cannot apply for financial aid from the U.S. government. Some private schools may offer scholarships to international students. You can also apply for a private loan from a U.S. lender, or you can check with the U.S. embassy in your home country to see what sources of funding are available.
Where can I go to high school as an international student?
As an international student, you can attend any high school that has been Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified. You can search for schools by education type and location through DHS.
Where can I live while attending high school?
You can find a host family to live with, or manage your own accommodation, for example if you have family members who live in the U.S.. For those on J-1 visas, designated sponsor organizations that have been approved by the U.S. Department of State can help you make arrangements.
Can I work while I am at high school?
If you’re studying at a U.S. high school through an exchange program on a J-1 visa, then you cannot work. If you hold an F-1 visa, then you may be able to work, but only under certain conditions.
Can I travel while I’m studying at high school?
Yes. Both categories of visa holders may travel outside of the U.S. for a short period of time, but before you leave, you should confirm the expiry date of your F-1 or J-1 visa, and also check that it is valid for multiple entries. On top of that, you should make sure your I-20 form (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 form (for J-1 visa holders) has been signed for travel by your DSO or the relevant program officer before you leave.
Can I transfer schools on an F-1 or J-1 visa?
Yes, you can transfer. For students on an F-1 visa, you will need to speak to the DSO at both your current high school and the school you wish to transfer to. If you have a J-1 visa, you will need to find another sponsoring organization and make arrangements with them.