As an international student in the United States, you have to navigate more than just a foreign culture and new way of life. You also need to figure out an entirely different university system, with its own ways of organizing courses and prepping you for a career. If you’re going into a STEM field – that’s short for science, technology, engineering or math – there are a few things you should know before you start your studies. Here are five tips on how to study STEM in the U.S. as an international student at an American university:
- STEM Is a Huge Priority for the U.S.
The U.S government encourages students to pursue STEM degrees because it considers those fields essential to job creation and innovation within its borders, as well as to the country’s competitiveness in the global economy. Despite this inward focus, the country is also looking overseas to improve the STEM community. The U.S. has partnered with the U.K. in the Global Innovation Initiative, which aims to strengthen partnerships and research opportunities between those two countries and others, including Brazil, China and India.
- You Can Get Hands-on Training After You Graduate
After you graduate with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, you might be eligible for another year or more of internships and training in the U.S., up to 29 months. In order to qualify, you need to have majored in a STEM field on the Department of Homeland Security’s program list, your employer needs to use the E-Verify program and you can’t have already gotten an extension of your OPT. Check with your host university to see what kind of resources it can offer you in terms of post-grad training options.
- Make Sure You Apply to a Certified Program
In order to maintain your student visa, you need to enroll in a full course of study at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program certified school. Most U.S. colleges and universities measure their courses in credit hours, and you’ll need to reach a certain number of credit hours each semester in order to be considered a full-time student. Check with your university to see if required lab work outside of class counts towards those credits or not. Most American universities have academic counselors that will help you keep track of everything.
- Know What Really Counts as STEM
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security updated its list of what it considers a STEM degree in 2012. Because earning a STEM degree can make you eligible to spend extra time in the U.S. and give you other educational benefits, it’s important to know what the government considers a STEM program and what it doesn’t. Additions to the list include areas not traditionally classified as STEM, like environmental studies, computer programming, and educational evaluation and research, so take a look to see if what you want to study is now included.
- There’s a Big Push to Get More Women Into STEM
Only 12 percent of computer science majors in the U.S. are women, down from 37 percent in 1984, and the numbers in other STEM fields aren’t looking so great either. While there are still barriers to break down for women in STEM fields, many universities are introducing ways to make STEM programs more welcoming to women, like showing how they’re relevant and what kinds of careers anyone can pursue with a STEM degree. While this may or may not be different from your home country, it’s a sign that you can expect an inclusive environment in all of your courses. There might also be organizations designed specifically to help women succeed in STEM fields, like student clubs at your university or scholarship and training programs outside of it. Do some research to see what might work for you.
Science, technology, engineering and math courses are challenging enough without adding a new culture to your plate. If you’re an international student in the U.S., you’re going to have to figure out a new school system on top of all your studies. From practical concerns like how to maintain a valid student visa, or budgeting your monthly expenses, to understanding what opportunities are available to you, there’s a lot to know besides what’s in your textbooks.