Oh.. My… God! I finally booked my flight to San Diego and paid my full tuition. There is really no turning back now. I guess I’m all set to leave.. I just can’t wait! For the ones who are thinking now “say what? You’re going to San Diego?” Oh hell yes, I am. I’m going to study this fall semester at the San Diego State University, while I can enjoy the sun every single day. I’m going to enroll in some Journalism and Film courses, but I have to make this final decision over there. You can’t even imagine how excited I am right now, I would even hop that plane this very moment if I could!
Since I’m in the exchange mood, I’ll tell you guys about my experience in arranging this whole adventure-that-still-has-to-come trip so far. Maybe you can even use my story and tips for your own exchange.
1. Start EARLY – orientation
My number one tip is to start early. How earlier you’ll begin looking at some university or college websites, other exchange student blogs and everything you just need to know before making your own decision in what you want, the less complications and difficulties you will get while arranging your whole staying abroad. Maybe my story is an extreme version of this, but I began to orientate a few years ago. I really wanted to go to high school in the United States for one year. I went to open days of travel agencies and visited the Google website like a trillion times for searching for more information regarding this. Because this one year high school didn’t work out for me in the end, I started looking for a one year college program. In the end I just left this all behind and planned to study abroad while I’m enrolled in a major program in my home country, The Netherlands, as part of my studies. Because I gathered so much information about studying abroad, I learned more and more in time what I really wanted. It’s important to really know what you want before you start this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2. What do you want?
After the orientation, you should have more knowledge about what you really want. In my case, it was my dream to attend the University of California, situated in Los Angeles (also known as UCLA). This university is ranked #12 at the prestigious academic World University Ranking (http://www.shanghairanking.com) and I even visited the campus last summer when I was in California. When I got over there I was like.. I HAVE to study here, it’s like one of my new, passionate goals. I almost jumped a thousand miles in the air when I found out UCLA was a partner university of Utrecht University (UU), where I’m doing my bachelor program. But not so fast.. Maybe I just thought to easy of this. UU enables students to enroll this exchange program where you can choose your top 3 universities, which you want to apply for. Unfortunately, UCLA is part of the UC system, so I couldn’t apply for this university only and there were just a few places open. Also, you had to have a GPA 3.0 in order to apply. Luckely I got a GPA of 3.1… Now. Not at that very moment, which sucked as hell. When I couldn’t apply for UCLA, my world fell apart. I also wasn’t interested in the other partner universities. This is exactly why you really have to orientate as much as you can and have some second, third and fourth plans, because setting your mind on one university or college only is really tricky.
So.. How did I came up with the San Diego State University (SDSU)? Because of all the information I had gathered in this long time of orientation, I saved a whole network of travel agencies in my mind. I looked them up one for one and found a really interesting university on one of the websites. “Kilroy Education” happened to be the lucky travel agency that could help me with arranging my staying-abroad-expierence. I immediately fell in love with the SDSU and from then on I focused on this university only. I contacted Kilroy and they helped me with my application process right away. I’m really thankful for that, because arranging everything on your own with no help from your university, but if you do want to transfer the credits earned abroad to your own bachelor program, can be really hard.
San Diego State University campus
3. Starting the process! Apply at the university.
Begin at least 6 months before you will leave. It all began with applying for a certain program. Check out the possibilities the university has to offer for international students and also the requirements before you actually apply. In my case, I applied for a special “Semester at the SDSU” program, in which I can enroll in almost every SDSU course I want for one semester only. Don’t forget to pay the admission fee; in my case this was $175 dollars.
Also, don’t forget to communicate with your own university about your staying abroad. In the Netherlands you can study abroad, while your still a student from your own university. But your own university also wants to know what you exactly want to do in your studies. I had to let my university approve the courses I want to follow at the SDSU in order to be able to transfer the credits I will earn.
Many universities require test results of an English test, like the TOEFL or IELTS test. Apply for this way before the deadline of application, because test dates are fully booked very quickly and you have to wait a long time before you can take the test. Also, when you fail the test the first time, you will have to wait this same amount of time again. I know TOEFL test results are valid for two years, so start with this way before deadline! Also don’t forget the costs. Tests like this normally costs about $200,-.
4. You’ve got mail. Wait, what? You got accepted!
Congratulations! The letter in your mailbox states that you’re officially accepted to their university program. You almost thought everything is arranged now, do you? Wrong! You’re still at the beginning of the process. But don’t worry! The certainty rate of studying abroad almost reached climax.
By being accepted to their university, you will receive an I-20 form. Keep this form in a very safe place, even frame it when you have the chance. Just kidding about the last one, but be sure you won’t lose this form. This form will be very important in the next few steps of the arranging process.
5. Visa Application.
One of the most important things to get done now is the visa application. Before you can even apply for this, you will have to get a few things done:
1) Check your I-20 form and make sure all the information on this is correct.
2) Pay the so called $200 SEVIS fee (www.ice.gov/sevis/i901 or www.fmjfee.com)
3) You will have to fill in a form called “DS-160″ when applying for a F1-visa (student visa)
4) Schedule a visa appointment at the US Embassy or Consulate in your own country. You will have to call and make an appointment. In The Netherlands, this call has to be paid by creditcard and it costs 15 euro’s (which is about $20,-).
6. Visa appointment.. Scary!
Before heading of to the visa appointment, make sure you leave all electronic devices at home. They are forbidden in the US Consulate’s or Embassy’s building. Also, make sure you bring your current passport, I-20 form, financial statements, a US approved passport photo (!!) and the SEVIS payment conformation page. You also have to pay the $160 visa fee, either before your appointment via bank transfer or over there by PIN (no credit cards!). But I don’t know if this depends on the country.. For the exact checklist and the guidelines for the passport photo, check out the website of the US consulate or embassy.
When I was heading to the US Consulate, I got lost because I couldn’t bring any electronic devices.. Oh my god. It was such a disaster! Living a few hours without any technology. I felt so naked. It felt like sort of an experiment, especially because I live almost 3 hours from the US Consulate in Amsterdam. But hey, if I can survive, so do you! Leave those babies at home! Oh and one more tip, don’t be scared of the strict policies they follow over there. You almost think you’re a criminal, but believe me. You’re not. I think.
7. One of the hardest things: housing!
For me this was one of the hardest things, because I needed to find my roommates before I could apply for the apartment I really wanted. It became almost a full time job to “cast” my future roommates. No just kidding, it was just hard because I would only study for a semester only and almost every lease will be contracted for one-year. But if you apply for on-campus housing, this all would be so much easier. But also more expensive. When you choose to live off-campus, just like me, make sure you will start arranging this a few months before you leave. Maybe straight after you received your visa.. Well, that’s what I did.
8. You’re almost there.. Paying the tuition, health insurance.
As soon as your departure date is arriving, you will get spammed by emails from the university. Don’t worry, they will care of that you won’t forget all the important steps before arriving. For example, you will get mails stating a deadline for the tuition payment, how to pay this and when you will have to send in your proof of health insurance. Some universities also want a copy of your current transcript or a diploma / proof of a degree.
9. Time is ticking.. Booking your flight tickets!
It’s up to you when you book your tickets. You can book this a lot earlier then I state over here, but I recommend to do this after you received an approved visa. Because that’s the moment when you’re sure of your spot in the United States.
10. Bye bye, home! See you later, alligator!
You’re good to go now. Damn, time is really near now! Do you already feel the chills? After a great year of arranging, blood, sweat and tears, you’re finally ready to hop that plane and experience one of the most beautiful adventures in your life. Have some fun over there and don’t forget.. Never give up on following your dreams!
Good luck with all of this and maybe see you guys in the US one day, when we all decided to just stick over there..