Want to know what the application process is like for international students? Check out this step-by-step guide that could have you applying to U.S. colleges in no time. Does the idea of studying in the United States cross your mind every once in a while? Do you want access to global perspectives by studying in a diverse learning environment? Or are you simply looking for an adventure? No matter what your reason is for wanting a U.S. education, you’re not alone. In fact, the number of international students in the United States reached an all-time high during the 2010 to 2011 academic year, at 723,277, according to “Open Doors 2011: Report on International Educational Exchange” by the Institute of International Education, an independent organization that has been conducting an annual census of international students in the U.S. since 1919. Judith A. McHale, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs says that a high number of foreigners studying in the United States “testifies to the quality and diversity for which American higher education is known around the world.” So, whether you want to study at a traditional U.S. campus or earn an American education online in your home country, you’re in luck. Both options are possible, and the process to make it happen isn’t as complicated as you might think. Keep reading to find out which steps you need to take to get the education you always wanted to. Step 1 – Research and Narrow Down Your Options One of the upsides of studying in the United States is that you have a variety of schools to choose from. In fact, as of July 2012, there were over 7,000 higher education institutions in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And that’s not all. For those who would prefer to receive an American education at home, you’ll also have a great selection of online programs to choose from. “The institutions that offer distance education programs are almost as varied as the programs themselves,” says Education USA, a global network of advising centers supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Online programs are available through traditional U.S. colleges and universities and other educational institutions, such as virtual universities, and junior or community colleges. But with so many options, how will you find the right program and school for you? To start, you should find out what colleges or universities offer the programs you’re interested in. To gain more information, you could use independent websites like the College Board or the American Association of Community Colleges, attend educational fairs, or simply refer to college and university websites. After you know what’s out there, start narrowing your choices by what meets your interest and needs. Step 2 – Get a Head Start on Your Application When it comes to college applications, the sooner you start, the better. Why? Because “Application packages require a great deal of preparation and planning,” says Education USA. It adds that “Most [programs] have similar application procedures for enrollment into a distance education program as on-site programs.” Although requirements vary by institution, they may include educational credentials, standardized tests, recommendation letters, and essays. Here are a few tips Education USA says could help students plan ahead: • Look online for application forms 12 months prior to when you want to enroll. • Request official transcripts of your academic performance and make a certified copy of your high school diploma 11 months prior to enrollment. • If you’re documents are in another language, you’ll also want to get your documents translated into English. • Ask teachers or the head principal of your school to write a recommendation letters 11 months prior to enrollment. • Take standardized tests eight months before you plan to enroll. Some tests you might be required to take to apply: • SAT • ACT • TOEFL Another part of your application may include writing a personal statement, which is described as Education USA as “your chance to write about your interests and strengths.” Stephanie Balmer, Dean of Admissions at Dickinson College, also recommends that you write about how you’ll contribute to the campus, and more importantly, what you’ll do with your educational experiences when you return to your home country. Step 3 – Apply to Your Program of Choice, and then Some The moment you’ve been waiting for: you can now apply for college. Education USA recommends that you confirm that all applications are complete seven months before enrollment. Now you can sit back and relax. At least for the next three to four months, because according to Education USA, your letters of acceptance or rejection could come a few months later. But it doesn’t end there, after you make your final choice it is important to notify the admissions office of your decision and send letters of regret to those college or universities you reject. Step 4 – Apply for Your Student Visa* Now that you’ve been accepted to college, what’s next? That’s right, applying for your visa, unless you’ve chosen to pursue an online program. For online students, the application process ends here and the adventure begins. And the adventure could begin with getting your books. Education USA says now is the time to find out how you will get your course materials. Now for those who do plan to travel to the U.S., there is still some work to do. You should start the application process for F-1, J-1 or M-1 visas, visas specifically for international students, says the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), the government dependency that issues visas and passports. These types of visas are issued 120 days before students’ courses start or less. If you’re planning to travel to the U.S. 30 days before your courses start, you have to obtain a visitor visa, CA adds. When you apply for your student visa you must fill out the correct forms and schedule your interview at the embassy. CA also says you must have a valid passport, present photographs and pay your visa fees. Remember that a visa does not guarantee entry in to the United States; it only allows a permission to visit a port-of-entry and request permission to do so. Step 5 – Get Started on Travel Arrangements Once you’re all set to go, student visa in hand, you can purchase airplane tickets or make hotel reservations if you need to. You should also start looking into housing options. “Most U.S. colleges and universities give students the option to live in residence halls or dormitories (“dorms”). This is a great environment to meet U.S. students and make new friends rapidly,” says Education USA. Keep in mind that the United States does not have a government medical plan that covers health care services, so purchasing health insurance should also be in your to-do list. “Ask your international student adviser for specific information regarding health insurance at the college or university you will be attending,” says Education USA. “Nearly all international students purchase health insurance through their universities,” Education USA adds. *All information regarding the visa application process comes from travel.state.gov.