Frequently Asked Questions

Below are frequently asked questions about studying in the USA.

There are undergraduate and graduate degree programs.  Within undergraduate are associate’s degrees (two years) and bachelor’s degrees (four years).  At the graduate level are master’s degrees, doctoral degrees and certificate programs.

Level: High School
Year in school: Grade 9 (Freshman), Grade 10 (Sophomore), Grade 11 (Junior), Grade 12 (Senior)
U.S. Degree: High School Diploma
Saudi Equivalent: 
General Secondary Examinations Certificate

Level: Undergraduate
Year in school: 1st Year (Freshman), 2nd Year (Sophomore), 3rd Year (Junior), 4th Year (Senior)
U.S. Degree: Associates Degree, Bachelors Degree
Saudi Equivalent: 
Bachelors Degree

Level: Graduate
Year in school: 1st Year, 2nd Year, 3-8 Years
U.S. Degree: Master’s Degree, Ph.D and certificate programs
Saudi Equivalent: 
Master’s Degree, Ph.D

Degree-granting institutions, accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-approved accrediting organization, can be referred to by any of these terms. Colleges and institutes are not inferior to universities.  As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller than universities and usually only offer undergraduate degrees, while universities offer graduate degrees.  Institutes often specialize in certain fields e.g. engineering, art, etc.

Community colleges provide two-year associate’s degree programs as well as technical and vocational programs.  They can be public or private institutions and are sometimes called junior colleges or two-year colleges.  Tuition costs are often lower at two-year than at four-year institutions, and many have articulation/twining agreements to allow students in transfer programs to move easily into the third year of a bachelor’s degree at a university.  A growing number of international students choose to study at community colleges.

It is recommend that you begin your search 12-18 months before your intended departure date. For example, if you plan to start study in the U.S. in September 2012, you should begin your search in June/July of 2011.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do I want to study?
  • Does my secondary school coursework prepare me for the demands of this major?
  • Can I meet admission requirements?
  • What kind of environment do I want to live in? (large city, small town, cold climate, close to family, etc.)
  • Do I want to go to a small (Under 5,000), medium (10,000+) or large (20,000+) school?
  • What is my budget and how much can my family afford?
  • Do I want to go to a private or public institution?
  • Do I want to attend a university that has services for international students?

Many ranking lists are created by magazines and other publications.  No list has official status or is endorsed by the U.S. government.  Rankings are likely to be subjective and they are generally based on a wide range of criteria that do not necessarily include academic standards.  The more established rankings may give you a starting point for your decision, however, the “best” college or university for you will be based on many other factors, including how you feel about a program’s potential to meet your needs.

Individual institutions set their own admission requirements and application procedures.  Check college/university websites and/or printed application materials for details. You may be required to submit the following items before universities evaluate your application:

  • A completed application form
  • An application fee
  • Official copy of your academic transcripts stamped by the Ministry of Education.  If the transcript is not in English, then it needs to be translated by a Ministry of Education-approved translator and then stamped by the Ministry of Education.
  • An application essay
  • Two or three letters of recommendation.
  • Financial documents proving you have adequate funds, or a scholarship, to study in the U.S.
  • Official standardized test scores sent directly to the university from the testing company.

All items must be submitted according to application deadlines set by the college. Deadlines can range anywhere from 3 to 9 months before classes start.

Universities might evaluate your grades and documents themselves, or they might require international applicants to pay an outside company, called a credential evaluator, to evaluate.  Follow application directions provided on the institution’s website.  Some universities will indicate what credential evaluation company they want you to use.  For a list of evaluators, go to the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services website at http://www.naces.org/members.htm

Some applications, mostly for medical schools, require an applicant’s signature to be notarized. This service is offered through U.S. Citizen Services.  Details can be found here.

For students interested in starting programs in August/September, deadlines may be as early as November of the previous year.  Since every university has its own deadlines, it is best to locate these dates on each university’s website.  There are also universities that have rolling admissions where applications can be submitted throughout the year and decisions made on a monthly basis.

The cost of study in the United States varies widely among universities and the cost of living from one location to the next.  Comprehensive costs can range from US$12,000 per year to over US$40,000 per year. The figures listed below are designed to provide some indication of how much students can expect to pay for 12 months of study in the U.S.

Finances per Year

Tuition                         $3,000-$35,000
Room-board                $4,000-$10,000
Books-supplies           $400-1,000
Health Insurance        $500-$1,000
Personal Expenses     $1,200-$3,000
Travel to USA              $1,200
Total                           $10,000-$50,000

The U.S. Department of Education has an online database, which provides the names of postsecondary institutions and programs accredited by a USDOE-approved accrediting organization.  The database has multiple search functions, allowing search options by name, location, type of institution, accrediting association, etc. U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions & Programs.

In addition, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is another website that lists postsecondary institutions and programs that are accredited by USDOE-approved accrediting organizations. The website is http://www.chea.org/.

If you are a Saudi citizen, you will want to make sure that the colleges/universities you apply to are recognized by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Saudi Arabia.  The MOE has a list of approved schools by major and degree type on its website, http://www.moe.gov.sa/. This is important because when you return to Saudi Arabia you will probably want to have your degree equalized by the MOE.

Distance education is a popular way to study and you will want to make sure that the college/university you enroll in is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-approved accrediting organization. There are MANY online colleges and universities that are not recognized.  If in doubt, contact an Education Advising Office for assistance when selecting programs.  If you hope to have your online degree recognized by the Ministry of Education, check with them prior to applying to programs.