International Students: Prepare to Study in the U.S. With This College Checklist

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  • Bringing items and mementos from home can help stave off homesickness.
  • Make sure to fill any prescriptions and gather critical documents before leaving your home country.
  • It's a good idea to bring a laptop, a backpack, and an adapter.
  • Consider renting or borrowing textbooks instead of buying them when you get to campus.

Entering college is a big step, especially if you're planning to study in a different country.

Attending college in the United States requires more planning and foresight for international students than it does for domestic learners. For example, you may find it difficult to keep up with all the required documentation.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

Packing the right items for your first year of college can help start you off on the right foot. Discover what you need to prepare for college in the U.S.

4 Things to Do Before You Get to Campus

International students in the U.S. often need to go through several more steps than domestic learners. As a result, it's important you start this process early.

Check with the international students and scholars office at your school for details. This office should offer cultural and academic support, as well as a global community to connect with.

1. Gather All Necessary Documents

U.S. colleges and universities require you to submit documentation that proves you're in the country legally for the purpose of studying. Many colleges provide students with advisors to help them gather the necessary forms. Knowing what documents to bring to college can help you avoid potential issues later on.

Required items often include the following:

  • Passport and valid U.S. student visa
  • Form I-20
  • Any other immigration documents
  • Acceptance letter from the college and other correspondence with the school
  • Proof of financial support
  • Record of required immunizations
  • Health insurance information

2. Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

Current CDC guidelines require all nonimmigrant, non-U.S. citizens — including international students — entering the United States by plane to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. To meet this requirement, you must have received both doses in a two-dose series (as of July 2022, booster shots are not required for entry).

Additionally, many U.S. colleges require incoming students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

3. Confirm Your Class Schedule

Be sure to confirm your class schedule and that you've registered for courses required by your degree program. A U.S. student visa may require international students to maintain full-time status, meaning taking too few classes could complicate your time abroad.

4. Reserve and Pay for Housing

Whether you want to live in an on-campus dorm or an off-campus house or apartment, it's important to find housing as soon as possible. Before you arrive, reserve your room and pay for it.

If you want a roommate, take time searching for a roommate who meshes well with your personality and overall lifestyle. You can use social media, email, and video chat to get to know a prospective roommate before agreeing to live with them.

What Should You Bring From Your Home Country?

Figuring out what to pack can feel overwhelming. Here's a short list to help you prioritize the essentials.

  • Photos and Mementos: Feeling homesick is totally normal in college, especially for students thousands of miles away from home. Bringing photographs, small decorative items, and even food items you can only find in your home country can help mitigate homesickness and make you feel more comfortable in your new environment.
  • Laptop and Electrical Adapter: Bringing a laptop from your home country could help you save money. If you do this, however, make sure you have the proper plug adapter for both your laptop and any other electronics you plan to bring from home.
  • Backpack or Bookbag: When you have multiple classes in a row and no time to go back home, finding a suitable backpack is key to carrying all your textbooks without hurting your back. These bags can also be used to carry smaller essential items like folders and pens.
  • Prescription Medications: If you take any prescription medications, you'll need to bring them with you to the U.S. Note that you can only bring 90 days of medication, but your doctor may be able to transfer your prescription to a local pharmacy. Bring a doctor's note and a copy of your prescription (in English) for when you go through customs.
  • Seasonal Clothing: Rather than packing your entire wardrobe, try to pack appropriate clothing for the climate where your college is located. For schools in the Northeast, for example, fall-term items might include a mix of T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, scarves, sweaters, and winter shoes. As long as you plan to return home for winter break, you can bring more spring-friendly items at a later date.

What Should You Buy After You Get to Campus?

While it's best to bring the items above with you, here are a few things you should wait to get until you arrive on campus.

Dorm Essentials

Your housing space will likely be pretty empty once you arrive, so make sure you stock up on dorm essentials right away. Some items to put on your list include bedding, a laundry hamper, toiletries, storage containers, utensils, and a small trash can. Depending on what your college offers and whether you live on campus, you may also need to buy some furniture.

School Supplies

Creating a college supplies checklist can help ensure you don't show up to your first class without an essential item. Whether you decide to shop off campus or visit your campus bookstore, make sure you buy all the essentials for school, including pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, and a planner.

Textbooks

There are several ways to save on college textbooks, though they can still be expensive. For starters, decide whether renting or buying textbooks makes more sense for you. If you're taking a class outside your major, you may be able to rent books or borrow them from the library or a friend.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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