Ultimate pre-semester checklist for international students in the US
Studying in the United States can be a life-changing experience. You’ll meet incredible people, spend your time on leafy campuses and in grand historic buildings, and learn ideas and concepts that will change the way you think forever.
If you’ve already secured a place at US college and a visa to go with it – congratulations! Now you’ve finally arrived on campus, there are just a few things you’ll need to do to make sure you have the amazing first semester you’ve been dreaming of.
To help you get prepped for the start of your time abroad, we’ve compiled the ultimate checklist with everything you’ll need to do as the start of semester looms.
Register for a student ID card
Depending on your college, you may have to register to get hold of a student identity card. This should be the first thing on your pre-semester checklist, because you’ll need your student ID to access libraries, canteens and numerous other on-campus services.
Some stores also offer student discounts, so your college ID could be your ticket to great deals on books, clothes, stationery and groceries. Pro tip: at some colleges, students are also entitled to amazing discounts on public transport, so make sure you find out if you’re entitled to these concessions, too.
Get a US-dollar bank account
We can’t emphasize enough how important this one is for your pre-semester checklist. Having a dollar bank account is essential if you want live cheaply while studying in the US.
This might seem like a daunting process, but trust us when we say it doesn’t have to be. With Sable Card, you just need your student visa and your passport, and you can get set up online in minutes. Head to our application page to get started, and you’ll be issued with a digital card that’ll allow you to start stocking up on all the essentials from your pre-semester checklist right away.
Get a US phone number
No pre-semester checklist would be complete without getting a US phone number. How else are you going to contact new friends for coffee meetups or hear about all those freshers’ gatherings going on?
Without an existing US credit score, getting a phone contract isn’t always easy. Luckily, services like campusSIMS are designed for people studying abroad in the US, making it easy to get an affordable contract right away.
At the time of writing, you can get 3GB of data – plus unlimited texts and calls – for just $15 a month, or 8GB of data for just $20 per month. If you’re not in the US yet, you can apply for your SIM from wherever you are in the world, and pick it up as soon as you arrive on campus.
Make sure you have insurance
Healthcare in the US can get incredibly expensive, so the next item on your pre-semester checklist should be sorting out insurance. Many universities and colleges offer health insurance plans for international students studying in the US, which can be the most affordable option. Alternatively, you can look online for private plans like Compass Student Insurance or IMGlobal.
Find out about COVID-19 measures
As you probably already know, 2020 is no ordinary year to be starting a new college course. If you’re studying in the US in the era of COVID, you’ll need to add some additional research to your pre-semester checklist.
Find out how many of your classes, lectures and pre-semester events will be held online. Are you expected to wear a mask around certain parts of campus? How often are you advised to wash your hands? Are there restrictions on how many friends you can meet at a time?
Every college is working hard right now to make sure the virus doesn’t impact student life too much. But it’s still important to stay informed to make sure you can protect yourself and others throughout the semester.
Get oriented on campus
At the start of every new semester, it’s common to have an orientation week where students can learn about classes, campus life and extra-curricular clubs and activities. This is your chance to get to know other students and professors and ask any questions you may have about the coming semester.
Our advice is: don’t be shy! Studying in the US can seem complicated at first, so it’s a great idea to ask questions while you have the chance.
Most importantly, find out where you might need to go if you get into financial difficulty, have a health emergency, or need support with your studies. Most professors have office hours where you can get help with specific classes, so it’s a good idea to make a note of those as well.
Sign up for classes
Once you know your campus common room from your college canteen, it’s time to start signing up for classes.
If you’re unsure about where to start, College Raptor has some great advice for freshmen on designing a schedule that works for you. In short, it’s a great idea to mix and match different types of courses together – and don’t be afraid to try new things.
When studying in the US, having a diverse skill set is often rewarded, so mix up your analytical subjects with more creative ones. And remember to work out a schedule that works for you. Are you really prepared to have back-to-back lectures on a Monday - or would you prefer a more spread-out schedule?
Different things work for different people, so think about how you want your week to look.
Get hold of your course materials
So, you’ve now got your timetable and you know what classes you’re doing. The next item on your pre-semester checklist is to stack up on coursebooks, materials and set texts.
This can get expensive, so it’s always worth checking if your college has a Facebook group or online forum where students sell their old course materials. Alternatively, check out your on-campus bookstore, where you might be able to get second-hand or subsidised books – or ask your professor where they recommend purchasing the set texts.
Practice time-management skills
If your school days were packed with deadline-day panic, caffeine-fuelled all-nighters and last-minute cramming, now is the time to learn some time management skills.
We’ve put this on our pre-semester checklist, but it’s also not the sort of thing you can perfect overnight. Treat every semester studying in the US as a learning experience. Do morning classes help you get work done in the afternoon, or are you too tired to focus? Can you work in your dorm room effectively, or should you be heading to the library?
If you keep the losing the eternal battle with your willpower (a struggle we know too well!), then don’t be afraid to use technology. There are thousands – if not millions – of apps out there to help fight procrastination. We love sites like Pomofocus, which hack your desire to procrastinate by giving your 25-minute working sessions punctuated by 5-minute breaks.
You may also want to go analogue with a technique like the Bullet Journal method, which helps you keep track of your monthly and daily goals in a simple, guilt-free way (and one that doesn’t require a smartphone).
Get settled in – and enjoy the new semester!
Okay, okay, this probably won’t be on your pre-semester checklist – but it’s still important. With so much to organize and remember, don’t forget to make the most of the new semester. Take time out to have long chats with friends, go for autumnal walks across campus, and throw yourself into American life.
Studying in the US is an incredible experience, and you’re lucky enough to be right at the start of it.