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Study at a Community College

For the past few years the fastest growing enrollments of international students in the United States have taken place on the campuses of America’s community colleges. One of the great treasures of American higher education, the community college system has now begun to be discovered by students from all over the world who see the advantages of institutions that are convenient, affordable, innovative, and ready to admit students from other countries.

Study at a Community College

Community colleges are located in virtually every population center in the United States—from small towns in rural areas to the downtown campuses in large cities. They offer a variety of academic and vocational programs. They also offer a wide range of services to very diverse student populations. And increasingly, they are seeking to attract foreign students by offering special services to this unique population. What services can international students expect to find at a community college, and which of these services is often found nowhere except a community college campus?

To answer these questions, it might be best to begin with the services that are not usually offered by community colleges. For example, unlike many universities and four-year colleges, community colleges generally do not have on-campus housing.

The most common type of housing at universities is often a shared room in a dormitory or “dorm,” also referred to as a residence hall. Some residence halls are quite plain, but the rooms are comfortable and cheap and give students a taste of the traditional American college experience. Since community colleges are often “commuter schools” within commuting distance for students living in the surrounding urban or suburban areas, most of them do not have on-campus housing of any kind. Students attending community colleges live in the local community, usually with their families. The only public community colleges that have dormitories are located in remote rural areas far away from population centers. These colleges have to provide housing because their students come long distances to attend classes. This is particularly true in the wide-open spaces of the western United States.

Another service that you might not find at a community college is the health center. On many university campuses, students who feel ill or who have a health problem can go to a campus clinic. They may be seen by a registered nurse or other health care provider. Most large universities have full-time doctors on the staff who can treat students for any number of ailments or medical problems.

But community colleges tend not to have large health clinics. Many community colleges have no medical staff at all. Students who need to see a doctor do what anyone else in the community would do—they find medical services in the community. By not operating dormitories and clinics, community colleges save money. The savings are then passed on to the students in the form of lower tuition and fees.

Some of the services that both universities and community colleges provide are listed below. Please note that this list is by no means comprehensive, but it provides a checklist for international students who want to compare what is available at different institutions.

  • Orientation Programs: Most colleges and universities that welcome foreign students provide some kind of orientation program for new students. These programs may last anywhere from half a day to a week or more. You should find out if the institution you want to attend has an orientation program, and if so, how long does it take and what does it include? A well-organized orientation program is a good indication of a higher quality international student program.
  • Academic Advising: What is more important than getting good advice about how to achieve your academic goals in the most efficient manner possible? Because academic advising is so critical, it is probably the most widely used service offered on most campuses. All students have questions that only well-trained academic advisors can answer. It is important that you find out how to get the most out of the academic advisors wherever you decide to enroll.
  • Immigration Advising and Processing: This is another critical “must” for international students. The ins and outs of U.S. immigration laws and policies are sometimes baffling. A good foreign student advisor can guide you through and help you avoid making costly mistakes. Conversely, a poor advisor can have a negative impact on your entire future.
  • Health Insurance Program: As medical costs climb higher in the USA, it is absolutely essential to have insurance coverage for accidents, injuries, or serious illnesses. Many colleges and universities require international students to purchase a particular health insurance plan. Find out in advance what the policy is and be prepared to pay for insurance. It is much better to have it and not use it than to lack insurance and find yourself with astronomical medical bills to pay.
  • International Students Association: If the college or university has any sizable population of international students, chances are good that there is an association. Some campuses even have associations for students from one particular country, for example, a Korean students association or a Chinese students club. If there is a club, join it and support it by your participation. You will have some of the best and most memorable experiences of your life!
  • Personal and Career Counseling: What do you want to major in? What are the “hot” careers? What future jobs suit your personality, aptitude and interests? What can you do about chronic depression or irrational fears? Is your boyfriend or girl friend treating you right? You can get help with all of these questions at the college or university’s counseling center. Don’t be afraid to make use of this service. It’s there for you and the professional staff there will talk to you as an adult in complete confidence.
  • Food Service: Practically every institution has a cafeteria where you can grab a bite to eat, have coffee with your friends, or stop between classes to have a cold drink. Large campuses tend to offer more choices of menu, payment plans, and meal options.
  • Transportation: Some universities and colleges offer free shuttle bus service or discounted public bus passes. On many campuses you can get help arranging ride sharing.
  • Financial Aid: Don’t expect to find a lot of scholarship money available to foreign students. Most financial aid in the U.S. comes from the federal government and is therefore restricted to citizens and permanent residents of the United States. Nevertheless, the financial aid office can help you determine if you are qualified for any forms of financial aid.
  • Student Employment Office or Career Center: International Students who have an F-1 or J-1 visa may be eligible to work on the college campus if they meet certain conditions. Check with the foreign student advisor on your employment eligibility. If you can take a campus job, you might find one that suits you through the student employment office or career services center.
  • Computing, Internet Access, Online Services: The first thing many students look for when they arrive on a new campus is a place where they can check their e-mail account. Most colleges and universities offer student e-mail accounts, access to the internet, and other types of online and computer services. Some institutions even require all students to purchase their own personal computer (PC). With a PC, students can log into the library, download course syllabi, access their grades, register for classes, and even order a pizza!
  • English as a Second Language (ESL): There are many different kinds of ESL programs on college and university campuses. If you need help with English, find out what is available, how much it costs, how long it lasts, and how it fits into the overall admission or course requirements.
  • Student Activities: Do you like to play chess, watch movies, go camping? Do you enjoy dancing or are you interesting in getting involved in volunteer projects? The student activity office on the campus has a long list of things that you can do in your spare time. There are clubs, groups, and people with common interests on your campus. But it’s your job to balance your leisure time and your study time!
  • Sports, Athletics, Intramural Teams: You can be a spectator or a participant. Just choose your sport and you’ll probably find it. (Even cricket players can find an outlet for their passion in many American cities!) Try something new while in America. You might really enjoy baseball!
  • Testing Services: Many colleges and universities offer student the chance to sit for required tests, such as the TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. Some schools even offer classes designed to prepare students for these tests. Other types of tests offered might include placement tests, aptitude tests, interest tests, GED (General Equivalency Diploma) tests, and even make-up tests (if you miss a classroom test due to illness).
  • Tutoring Programs: If you find that you need extra help outside of class with mathematics, or accounting, or history, or English composition, you may be able to sign up for a tutor. Tutors are generally other students who know a subject so well that they volunteer to help other students learn. Sometimes tutors are paid to help. If you are competent enough to be a tutor, you may be able to get a paid position as a tutor.
  • Remedial Programs: This is a particular strength of community colleges. Students who enter the college with weak skills in English or mathematics can begin with a course below college level. These courses will prepare the student to continue in the subject and work up to college level courses.
  • Honors Programs: For gifted students, participation in an honors program can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of their college career. Honors classes tend to have the best students, the best professors, and the most interesting class discussions. There may be other benefits as well. Community college honor students can join Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society. Phi Beta Kappa is the most prestigious honor society for students in a four-year institution.
  • Cultural Programs and Festivals: More and more colleges and universities sponsor international or cultural festivals. They are a wonderful opportunity for you to share your country, language, and culture with your fellow students. Find out how you can get involved in planning and promoting the event.

These are just a few of the programs, services, and activities that you can expect to find on many college and university campuses. If you have a need or an interest in any of the things on this list, it is well worth your time and effort to find out about it in advance. When you are considering which college or university to send an application to, ask about the services that you think you will need. Find out exactly what is offered, how much it costs, and whether or not it is available to international students. If you don’t take advantage of a service that is provided for your benefit, the loss is yours and you have no one to blame but yourself. Your American college experience will be all the more rich and rewarding if you take full advantage of the services and programs to which you are entitled.

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