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Study English in the United States

Here's how to learn the language in the US.

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The idea of studying English in the United States is incredibly exciting. How cool would it be to improve your language skills in the world’s largest English-speaking country?

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s an overview of what you need to do:

    What’s your goal?

    First, clarify your goals for learning English. There are different ways to study in the United States, and the requirements vary depending on the path you choose. Consider these questions:

    • Do you want to attend a university?
    • Are you looking for work training?
    • Are you going on vacation and want to learn English casually?

    When you know which avenue to pursue, get more specific. For example, if you want to attend a university, make a list of schools you’ll apply to.

    Pass an English proficiency test

    If you are applying to a school, you may need to take a test of your English ability. (You can skip this step if you are studying English on vacation.)

    The two most widely accepted tests of English proficiency are:

    Both tests gauge how well you can use English in an academic setting. Before studying for a test, check the requirements of the school or program you’re applying for. You may be required to take a specific test or no tests at all. You may also have your choice between tests.

    For example:

    • You’re allowed to submit your iTEP score if you’re applying to California State University, Northridge.
    • Princeton University accepts scores from the TOEFL, IELTS and PTE.
    • A vacation program may come with no requirements at all.

    Other tests you may be asked to take

    Apply to a school or English program

    At an American university or vocational school, you’ll practice English every day with native speakers. (You may not need to take formal English classes, depending on your school’s requirements.) Private courses — such as those you might take on vacation — can help you learn English with structured lessons. You can also look into U.S. English as a Second Language (ESL) schools and programs.

    If you’re applying to an academic program or school, it must be certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You can only receive a student visa if you’re accepted by an SEVP-certified program.

    Visit the websites of the schools or programs you’re applying for to see their requirements. You may need to submit additional information beyond test scores, like application forms and teacher recommendations.

    After you apply for a school or program, wait for approval before applying for a United States visa. Learn more about vacation English courses from Kaplan, Embassy English and FLS International.
    Compare online courses and certificates

    Obtain a visa

    To study English in the United States, you’ll need a visa. A visa is a document authorizing you to enter a country.

    The United States offers three types of student visas:

    F student visa.For studying at a university, college or institute.
    J exchange visa.For exchange programs.
    M student visa.For technical or vocational schools.

    To apply for a student visa, you first need to be accepted into an academic program. After you’re accepted, you’ll receive a form so that you can apply for your visa. You’ll receive a Form I-20 for an F or M visa or Form DS-2019 for a J visa.

    If you’re studying English for recreation or if you’re taking a vacation program, you can travel to the US on a B-1 (“business”) or B-2 (“tourism, pleasure or visiting”) visa or a combination of the two. If your country is part of the Visa Waiver Program, you can travel to the United States without a visa.

    The basic process for acquiring a visa is:

    • Gather documentation — passport, visa application, application fee and photo.
    • Complete a visa interview.

    Pro tip

    Before your visa interview, you’ll need to complete a medical exam. You’ll need to bring the results of this exam, along with your appointment letter and other documents, or risk delaying or forfeiting your visa.

    Learn more about how to apply for your specific visa on the State Department’s website:

    What’s next?

    After you’re accepted into an American program and you have a visa, you’re ready to come to the United States. You’ll want to note when your visa expires and make arrangements to return home before that time.

    You’ll want spending money when you arrive. If your credit card has foreign transaction fees or you would like cash to use instead, use an international money transfer service to have money waiting for you when you arrive.

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