If you just got accepted to a school in the US this article is for you

In this I will be sharing with you all the unexpected stresses of getting accepted to a university away.

 

It was a Friday afternoon. I was supposed to be on a Monday flight out of the country for a family wedding when I suddenly realised that I had given my passport to the US Embassy the day before.  It was 3:15 P.M. and the only way I could travel was to get an emergency travel document from the immigration office which would close at 4:00 P.M. I printed out the form and ran to my car. Thirty minutes and two near crashes later, I was stuck in traffic on Tragarete Road. I parked my car on the side and literally sprinted ,with my jeans falling off my waist, for 2km through the middle of Port-of-Spain only to reach the immigration office with no air left in my lungs and five minutes to spare. But after all that, I was told that they had stopped issuing those documents at that immigration office and their website was not updated.

On Monday morning I woke up at 5:30 A.M. to try the head immigration office on Richmond Street. After waiting in a line for an hour and half, the lady at the front of the building told me I had no grounds for an emergency travel document and that my only hope was the embassy. I sped home and called every number I could but they all repeated the same thing. Finally, on Monday night, I received an email from the P.O.S. US Consulate saying that my passport had been sent to DHL for processing and that I would receive my passport on Wednesday – still too late. On Tuesday morning, I called DHL first thing; they told me that TTPost did their shipping. I called TTPost who told me that I had to just wait till it was dropped off. I continuing calling TTPost over and over again until I finally got the phone number for the driver for Diego Martin (Mr. J). We agreed to meet in a random car park, but when I got there, he had unfortunately forgotten it at the St. Anns office. Driving to the St. Anns office I finally got my passport and began making arrangements to fly out.

Backstory

After I got accepted into Vanderbilt, I thought the whole college admissions stress was finally over. Boy was I wrong. I cannot even begin to tell you the amount of time I wasted, figuring out what taxes my mother paid, who she paid it to and how to prove it. I had to make dozens of accounts: Gmail, University ID, University Email, CollegeBoard, CSS profile, ACT, visa application – the list goes on and on. I made frequent runs to the bank, paid deposit fees, went to the doctor and a whole lot of other stuff. And then, even after I had gotten everything official taken care of, I overlooked not having my passport to travel while my US student visa was being processed.

To help you guys out, I have summed up the most daunting aspects of the post-acceptance processes. Keeping all my accounts and information on a spreadsheet saved a lot of hassle and I would recommend thinking of the best way for you to stay well-organized before you start.

Deciding where to go

I did not have this problem and Paige Gillette recently wrote a fantastic blog on IvyEdge Global discussing this topic in painstaking detail; I recommend you check it out.

Committing to your school

Most schools require an online downpayment (this gets deducted from tuition so don’t be too scared). My own was $400.00 USD and had to be paid online. Make sure you have a credit card you don’t mind putting online to pay this fee.

Student visa

If your passport does not permit you to live in the United States, you must apply for a student visa. You will most likely be applying for an F-1 visa (the most common), but, if you meet certain criteria, your school may recommend a J-1 visa.   To begin you must fill out the DS-160 form at your country’s online visa website.

This is a pretty general outline of how you should go about obtaining your visa

  1. Accept your school offer before May 1st
  2. Apply on your school’s website for an I-20 form
  3. Complete your DS-160 form online
  4. Choose an interview date

NB* to complete this you will require an I-20 form.

I-20 forms are distributed by the school you plan on attending and will require an online application. The school processes your application and then ships the physical I-20 form to you.

NB* get on this as soon as you can and FOLLOW UP! – even prestigious schools can still make mistakes or forget to send something or fail to prioritize your documents.

After you send in your DS-160 you pay the visa fee $160.00 USD  at your local bank (check the possible locations online first), pay the SEVIS transfer fee $200.00 USD at the US Embassy’s website, and proceed to the interview.

NB* most student visas can only be obtained 4 months prior to the beginning of your intended program so keep this in mind. You should also walk with proof of every visa related payment you made when you go to the interview.

Immunization

Different states require different immunizations and the university must withhold your acceptance until you comply. For example, the state of Tennessee required that I get the M.M.R. (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), Varicella, and the Meningococcal – A,C,Y,W  vaccines – the last of which I did not have. My doctor also recommended that I get an HPV vaccine; talk to your own about this.

Obtaining US Cash

If you live in the Caribbean, it is most likely difficult to get US Cash especially for lump sums such as tuition. For this, I had to go with my official acceptance letter and a few utility bills to the bank to prove that I required the money to attend school in the US. This is a painstaking process and you can end up spending a lot more money buying US dollars from outside sources if you wait too long to visit your bank. Get this done or urge your parents to get this done as soon as possible.

Safety Accounts

You never know what can go wrong when you are in a foreign country. Imagine this scenario, the only flight for the week out of your town gets cancelled and your residence hall close; you now have  to stay in a hotel for a week and book a new flight. This is why you need a safety account. That one terrible experience can easily run up to $2-3000.00 USD easily. You should get a family member to set up an account with $5-10,000.00 USD in it ONLY for emergencies.

Uploading Documents

Almost every single step I outlined requires you to scan documents and although a phone can get the job done I recommend a scanner. This would save you a ton of time if you have one on hand.

In conclusion, I hope that, after reading this, you realise that even though admissions is over there is still more that needs to be done and you can save a lot of stress by planning ahead.   

If you can’t afford a US education, this article is for you.

Backstory

My name is Joseph. I am a 19 year old, male, Trinidadian who, like many of you reading this, could not afford a US education. The day before I entered Lower 6 at Fatima, College I knew that I wanted to study away; because of this, I worked relentlessly for my two years in Form 6 trying to obtain a government scholarship. After graduation, I soon realised this was not happening and came to terms with attending U.W.I. (which is by no means a bad school). Then, U.W.I. rejected me. I had messed up my online application and, before I could fix it, my intended department was full. As I walked off campus that day, I told myself I was never going back to that place – a lofty goal that eventually would come true.

In this, I share with you how I will be attending a US school for less money than the University of the West Indies and what it took.

Standardized Tests

This is a biggie. Right after graduation I went searching for *SAT lessons; asking around a few times I found Paige. I began as soon as I could and worked like a dog. My practice tests were really good; 800s in Math, 730s in English. I was on my way to Princeton for sure! But, when I actually did the exam, I ended up underperforming with a 1430 (this is a very good score but it was just not competitive enough for Princeton whose average SAT is around 1520). I was profoundly upset. I felt like I had worked harder than everyone else in the class by far and still didn’t reach my goal. By now, a lot of you must be sarcastically saying “Oh poor you. You couldn’t get into Princeton because you only got a 1430” but hear me out. I needed 2 million dollars to go to school away and I was under the impression that only a handful of the top schools were capable of facilitating that absurd number – something I later learned is incorrect. Nonetheless, my anguish was fully justified.

As time went on I sucked it up and sat the November *SAT subject tests and did well. I also decided to do the December *ACT’s.  I had already gotten a 31 during upper 6 and felt like the exam was a better fit for me. I received my ACT results in January and did very well.

 

Cornell and ESSAYS

As November 1st approached *(Early Decision I deadline date) I realised I was in no shape for Princeton and decided to apply to Cornell. I was writing essays like crazy. For my Common App essay alone, I rewrote it completely 3 times with 2 – 5 drafts for each rewrite. This, accompanied by supplementary essays, was a killer combination and Paige was probably the only reason I didn’t succumb to the panic.

My understanding from research and in talking to Paige, is that essays are the most important aspect, apart from good grades, of your entire admissions process if applying to US schools. This is what allows admissions officers to determine who you are and if you belong in their distinct institutional cultures.

Eventually, I mustered up everything I needed the afternoon of the deadline and sent in my application. I was rejected a month and a half later. This was definitely the hardest part of the entire admissions process. When a school you weren’t even aiming for initially does not even *defer you, you feel like you are way over your head. I went into a mild depression for a couple days. It was like a war had begun in my brain. I was constantly criticizing myself: “You could not get a government scholarship or fill out a U.W.I. application and you expected for the 14th best school in America to give you 2 million dollars’ were among my initial thoughts. It took over a week and a lot of motivation from people around me to get out of that rut.

 

Regular Decision and ESSAYS….again

In hindsight, I really should have organized these much sooner, but as I mentioned before I was in no frame of mind to do so. I still had to write essays for Princeton University, Yale University, Vanderbilt University, The University of Notre Dame, Trinity College, Union College and St. John’s University before the New Year. This single handedly occupied my entire vacation. I was in Tobago writing for hours on end, every day. I was sending draft after draft to be checked over and constantly tweaking what I already had. Thankfully, by the time January 1st rolled around, I had – by the skin of my teeth – everything in order. I applied to all the schools above under Regular Decision and to Vanderbilt under E.D. II.

 

Vanderbilt

February 15th came around and to my complete surprise and utter happiness I was accepted to Vanderbilt University. There is nothing better than the feeling you get when you prove yourself right and the 14th best university in America (tied with Cornell) gives you a ridiculous grant. Looking back, after that day, I realised that even though I failed everything over the last 3 years, I really only needed to succeed once.  

 

*Technical Terms:

  • SAT/ ACT: A standardized test required for entrance to most US colleges
  • SAT Subject Test: A test specifically designed for one specialized subject area
  • E.D. I (Early Decision I): Most schools allow you to apply ED I. ED I has a higher acceptance rate; however, if you are accepted you must commit to that school.  In some cases, you can only apply to one school ED.
  • E.D. II ( Early Decision II): Same as E.D. I but only a few schools offer it and it typically has a later deadline than E.D. I.
  • R.D. (Regular Decision): This is what you apply to the majority of schools under and it gives you the freedom to choose between whoever you want.