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Attending a U.S. Community College as an International Student

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Though it's not thought of as a common destination, community colleges are a popular choice for international students. If you're considering enrolling in such a school, read on for more information on what steps you need to take and how you can prepare.

Can You Attend Community College as an International Student?

As the most important question related to this article, this is something we should address right off the bat. The answer is absolutely yes, you can! Community colleges are welcoming of students from all walks of life, from teenagers to seniors and from locals to foreign students.

As of the 2014-15 school year, there were over 91,000 international students enrolled in U.S. community colleges. While this number pales in comparison to the number of internationals enrolled in other programs (more than 974,000!), it should serve as reassurance that you will not be the only international student looking at enrolling in a community college program.

student on campus

Community colleges offer a number of benefits, including flexible schedules, lower tuition, and generous admissions criteria. At Montgomery College, for example, you only need a high school diploma to apply, and even this requirement is waived if you are over the age of 16 and have attended any amount of secondary school.

Things to Consider

Now that we've established that you can attend a U.S. community college, it's time to discuss what you'll need to take care of in order to be a successful student.

From determining your residency status to picking the best program for you, there's a whole laundry list of things to prepare for before you embark on your academic journey.

Visa Status

Depending on your residency status, you may be required to obtain a student visa (usually the F-1) that grants you the right to study in the U.S.

The F-1 is for foreign students who plan to return to their home country upon completion of their program. If you're a permanent resident or want to stay in the U.S., you may need other documentation such as changing your status from non-immigrant to student.

visa application

This is usually done on a case-by-case, so check with your intended school and see if they have any resources that can be of assistance.

Eligibility

While community colleges usually have less rigid admissions requirements, it does not mean that you can simply waltz into a school and expect to encounter no hurdles. Even Montgomery College, listed above, has additional requirements for internationals: students outside the U.S. will need to complete the SEVIS I-20 form in order to be eligible for the program.

If you come from a non-English speaking country, you may be required to take the TOEFL exam, as international students at Frederick Community College are required to do.

You may also need to pay additional fees, provide a copy of your passport, or fill out extra forms if your schooling was completed in another country.

Be sure to confirm and complete these additional steps well before your program starts

Program Offerings

While most schools accept international students, they may not open up their entire catalog to international students.

Northern Virginia Community College, for example, offers a wide range of standalone courses, but only allows students to pursue an associate's degree or Intensive English Program.

taking notes

This is all well and good if your intent is to pursue such a degree program, but if you're an international student looking for a less intensive program, you'll need to look carefully to find a school that caters to your needs.

Learning Curve

Once you've made your decision to pursue your education in the U.S., you should expect to encounter a slightly different learning model.

Every country has its own education style, and there's a good chance that you'll experience some culture shock when you first get started. Interacting with professors, understanding grading scales, and tailoring your learning style are all common issues that international students face.

A little difficulty in the early days is to be expected. Stick with it and keep your spirits up; eventually, you'll get the hang of things!

Academic & Professional Goals

With so many unusual things to keep in mind, it's easy to let more conventional plans fall by the wayside. While you're making arrangements in regards to how you're going to study, make sure not to forget what and why you want to study.

At community college, you can take a single standalone course, enroll in a certificate program, or even pursue an associate's degree in just about any academic field (and some professional ones as well).

When making your decision, consider what your professional aims are, and which academic programs will help you move closer to those goals. Be sure to keep on top of visa requirements and language exams, but don't forget why you're jumping through all those hoops. Make your academic decisions first, then find an appropriate school, not the other way around.

diverse students

Attending community college as an international student may seem complicated on the surface, but with proper planning and organization, it's a relatively simple matter to get started. Do your research, take your time, and you should have no problem entering a program and getting one step closer to your goals. Best of luck!

By Bill Sands
February 2018
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