Welcome to our guide about studying in the United States of America (US/USA)! If you’re considering tertiary education in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, this is the guide for you. Click the hyperlinks to find the section you require, or simply read from start to finish!
Table of Contents
|· Food portions in the US are generous, but don’t worry if you cannot finish your meal! Taking away your leftovers is accepted and not frowned upon|
· The US is huge and some states are susceptible to more extreme weather. Be sure to look up the weather in the state you’ll be in!
· Unlike Singapore, the US drives on the right side of the road
Culture, Weather and Money Matters
The United States is one of the world’s largest countries by land and water area, so the weather can vary greatly from state to state.
The USD is currently stronger than the Singapore Dollar (SGD) at 1:0.74 as of the time of writing. The popular reserve currency has been on the rise in 2022, hitting a 20-year high. The cost of living has also increased: according to CNN Business, consumer prices have reached a high not seen since 1982[i].
Popular Student Cities
Each state/district in the US has a unique character and charm! Here are some you should know about.
- New York
New York is home to popular higher education institutions such as Cornell University, Colombia University, Barnard College and of course, New York University (NYU). It is a student hub with a huge population of international students, and over 50 Fortune 500 companies are based here.
New York is also a cultural hub for the US! There are 41 active Broadway theatres in the city alone, and according to the NYC Government, 37% of New Yorkers were born outside of the United States[ii]. There is a “Little Odessa”, “Little Italy”, Chinatown, and many other neighbourhoods! You will enjoy this city if you thrive in bustling environments and a global perspective.
12% of the US’ top research universities and 15% of the top 40 liberal arts colleges are located in Massachusetts; this includes Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The state consistently ranks highly for innovation, and has come up top in the State Technology and Science Index published by the Milken Institute since 2002.
The Boston and Cambridge cities are vibrant student towns close to each other, so you will be amongst many youths if these cities are where your future schools are at!
Like nature and the great outdoors? California is where it’s at! The sunny state is home to Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, amongst others, and other gorgeous landscapes like the Mojave Desert. It is also home to Silicon Valley.
The Golden State houses Stanford University; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; and the California Institute of Technology. Just take note that California is rather car-centric: it takes much longer to get to places via public transport, and you may have to do a fair bit of walking.
Nicknamed the Sunshine State, Florida is renowned for its beaches and many theme parks. The state has a strong focus on agriculture, tourism and international trade, and a thriving sports culture.
The University of Florida, the University of Miami, Florida State University and University of Central Florida are just some of the many higher education institutions located here.
The second largest state of the US, and its top exporting state, Texas is home to Texas Tech University, University of Houston, University of North Texas, Rice University and more. It offers a lower cost of living and lower university tuition fees compared to states like New York.
|· The US adopts a liberal arts approach for higher education: undergraduates take general classes for the first year, or first three semesters (typically) before declaring a major|
· In the latest Ranking of National Higher Education Systems (2020), the US came in top[iii]. This was based on variables such as resources, environment, connectivity and output
· The US higher education system is unique, allowing you to transfer from one college/university to another midway through your studies as long as all criteria are met
The US is a huge country home to thousands of higher education institutions! This includes has many leading universities. The top 10 universities, based on university table rankings are listed below.
Here’s something unique about the US higher education system: it has community colleges and universities with articulation agreements. In the UK, taking a foundation year gives you the opportunity to brush up on your knowledge and meet the entry requirements for a degree. Each university typically offers these for its own degrees only. In the US, however, you can begin your studies at a community college, and then proceed to study the remaining two years at a university to obtain a bachelor’s degree if the transfer requirements are met!
|QS||Times Higher Education|
|1) MIT||1||1) Harvard University||2|
|2) Stanford University||3||2) Stanford University||=3|
|3) Harvard University||5||3) MIT||5|
|4) California Institute of Technology (Caltech)||=6||4) Caltech||6|
|5) University of Chicago||10||5) Princeton University||7|
|6) University of Pennsylvania||13||6) University of California, Berkeley||8|
|7) Princeton University||=16||7) Yale University||9|
|8) Yale University||18||8) Columbia University||=11|
|9) Cornell University||20||9) The University of Chicago||13|
|10) Columbia University||22||10) University of Pennsylvania||14|
How many Singaporeans are studying in the US? According to statistics from the 2021 Open Doors Report, there were 3,558 individuals — with 43% pursuing undergraduate courses and 35% studying graduate courses[iv].
Many universities are part of a network/grouping. These networks help them gain financial and reputational advantages, share best practices, increase collaborations across member institutions, and increase the depth and breadth of opportunities they can offer students.
For US universities, the most well-known group is the Ivy League, often described as the US’s counterpart to the Russell Group.
The Ivy League was formed in 1954 and comprises 8 of the US’s leading private universities located in the Northeastern United States, which count US’ presidents and other eminent individuals within their alumni. The universities have a history of stellar results in sports, but today are also known for their academic excellence — particularly in law and medicine.
The Ivy League universities boast some of the US’ strongest alumni networks and endowments, which help them maintain excellent facilities and hire prestigious faculty members. Acceptance rates for Ivy League universities go as low as 5%.
That said, the US has many other excellent universities and colleges that offer excellent programs and quality education, such as Auburn University, John Hopkins University and more. Take your time to find an institution that fits your requirements and will help you achieve your goals!
Did you know that there are universities labelled as “Little Ivies” or “Public Ivies”? Check them out!
Areas of Specialisation
Which field(s) are you keen to major in, and which US university will help you gain an edge? Here are some to consider*:
Stanford UniversityCarnegie Mellon University
|Dentistry:||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor|
University of California, San Francisco
|English Language and Literature||Harvard University|
University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
New York University (NYU)
|Nursing:||University of Pennsylvania|
Johns Hopkins University
University of Washington
|Performing Arts:||The Juilliard School|
Curtis Institute of Music
University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
*Not an exhaustive or conclusive list, compiled with reference to the QS World University Rankings by Subject, and Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject.
A good way to decide would be to ask yourself these questions:
- Does the university offer a course with modules in areas I’m fascinated about, or will help my career trajectory?
- Is the school located in a city/area that may help boost opportunities and prospects?
- Does the university culture suit me?
- If I am exploring a field that will require registration/certification, is the university’s degree recognised by the relevant authorities? To practise law in Singapore, for example, your law qualification(s) must be from the following US universities:
|Country||Institution of Higher Learning||Applicable Law Degree|
|United States of America||Harvard University||Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.)|
|Columbia University||Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.)|
|New York University||Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.)|
|University of Michigan||Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.)|
Credits: Singapore Institute of Legal Education
Visa Application Affairs
To study in the US, you will require the following to apply for a student visa (the F-1 visa). You will be able to go through the visa application procedure after being enrolled into your university. Here are the documents you will require:
- A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form
- An approved I-20 form
- A photograph
- A valid passport
- A receipt showing payment of the non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application processing fee (the MRV fee) of US$160, paid in SGD for Singaporeans
- I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee receipt
University Application Affairs
While the academic year varies from university to university, and college to college, it typically runs from early September to the end of May. Usually, you submit your application through an online platform (often the Common App or the Coalition App) and are advised to begin your university application 12 to 18 months in advance. Some schools will require you to submit your application directly.
Your junior college/polytechnic may offer assistance with the process, so do check if you’re unsure!
In the past, you’d need ACT/SAT test scores as part of the application process. In recent years, however, some universities and colleges have decided to go test-optional due to the pandemic. This includes Yale University (for the Classes of ’27 to ’30), NYU, Barnard College and more. Do check each university and college’s website to stay posted!
Can I work while studying?
Here’s the good news: yes, you can on an F-1 visa!
The not-so-good news? Working while studying is less of an option for US-bound international students, as you can only work for up to 20 hours per week on campus when school is in session — and such jobs are harder to come by. It may be best to consider the US only if you have a scholarship covering most of your fees and expenses or the financial ability.
Before you head to the United States, take a look at scholarships to reduce the financial strain and gain valuable opportunities. According to EducationUSA, however, it will be harder to secure full scholarships, as there are only about 2,000 of these offered across 100 colleges/universities. There is no harm in applying, however!
Check out some scholarships (offered by Singapore or the USA) below.
|Fulbright Singapore Student Program||· The US Government’s flagship international exchange program|
· Priority given to those pursuing social sciences and humanities master’s degree programmes
· Grants are intended for a one-year master’s degree program or the first year of study for a master’s program
|SG Digital Scholarship||· Full and mid-term scholarships available|
· Awardees must pursue a tech or media-related degree
· There is a bond (between 2 to 5 years for Overseas Scholarship)
|· As an F-1 visa holder, you can apply for 12 months of optional practical training. This allows you to stay on and work in a field related to your field of study. Internships are included within these 12 months.|
· Unlike Singapore and many other countries, US companies tend to pay salaries biweekly or weekly.
· The USA is known for having an entrepreneurial culture, but also known for having longer work hours. Emails before or after official work hours is more common than not.
Post Work-Study Visas
Keen on experiencing US working culture? Here are some visas types to pay attention to! We list the options open to you below.
|1) H-1B||· Initiated by an employer (visa can be transferred to new employer)|
· 3 years long, can be extended once for another 3 years
· Opens every April
|· You must graduate with a degree minimum in the field you are employed for|
· Employer must be able to prove that there is a lack of qualified US applicants for the role
|2) H-1B1||· 12 to 18 months, extensions possible (1-year increments)|
· Only available to Singaporeans and Chileans
· You will not be allowed to apply for a Green Card when holding this visa (non-immigrant intent)
· Apply at the US Embassy
Here are some tools and links that may help your planning!
Numbeo (The site helps you get a rough gauge of US living costs)
The Education USA Singapore Advising Center (Their services are free-of-charge)
The USA is an exciting country to study in, and we hope you will have a fruitful student life there. We wish you all the best in your educational pursuits!