10 Things They Don't Tell International Students in College

By Shanique Wright on July 11, 2017

Thousands of students leave their homes and travel to the United States for college. However, there are just a few things that we end up learning the hard way and it is beyond frustrating. Here is a list of the top 10 things that colleges fail to tell their international students before it’s too late.

1. You will need a SSN or ITIN to file your taxes

Now I have been in this position where I had letters piled in my mailbox from the Internal Revenue Office for filing my taxes. Even though you are an international student, you are not exempted from taxes and you have to eventually complete your W-2 forms and other documents to get your tax return.

Now a lot of universities offer international student counselors to provide advice and sessions, yet none of these seminars or conversations provide the help you really need. There are two options for international students on F1 visas for correctly filing a tax return. If you are not employed then you will have to apply for an ITIN. Now, this process is long and requires you to visit the Social Security office and fill out an application form. This process does not guarantee that you will receive an ITIN and your application may be rejected which delays your tax return.

The best method is to apply for an on campus job and get a SSN number. Immigration rules specify that international students on F1 and J1 visas are not permitted to do paid work off campus unless it is an internship related to one’s major. By getting a SSN through on-campus employment you save the hassle of getting fined for not filing your tax returns.

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2. CPT and OPT for internships: there is a big difference

Most universities require that you complete an internship within your area of study or an equivalent credit course. However, most students opt for internships as a vehicle to get experience in the professional field.

If you plan on doing an internship during the school semester then you are required to visit your international student’s scholars office and request a CPT. This process will require a change in your I2o stating the company you are employed with is approved by the university so that you are in line with the law.

CPT limits students to only 20 hours per week for that period. An OPT extends towards the summer and allows up to 40 hours per week. This is useful for summer internships off campus. Both processes are long and require many academic signatures and approval, therefore it is important to communicate with your job supervisor and academic counselor to ensure that you will be able to start work as soon as possible.

3. Immunization

Every country has different standards for being fully immunized and the United States is no exception. International students are expected to be fully immunized under U.S. standards before the first week of class registration. If you transfer to a new university or it is your first time in college, be sure to review the university’s health policy regulations and visit the school clinic to ensure that you are fully immunized.

A lot of international students are not aware of this and so they end up getting four vaccines at once for something their parents should have done when they were 10.

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4. Getting a state ID

Getting a state ID is something every international student should consider. A lot of you will argue that college is only four years and getting an identification card is pointless so I will outline a scenario that will have you thinking differently in three seconds.

If your passport gets wet or damaged from displaying it at restaurants and other venues from time to time then it can cost you hundreds of dollars and a lot of inconvenience to go get it replaced. Two seconds … and so getting a state ID is free with only a $20 processing fee in most states … three seconds.

5. Bus and train routes

Your driver’s license from your home country means nothing in the United States. There is a completely different system that requires additional testing and long practicing periods. Therefore your best option is to familiarize yourself with the bus and transit systems. This will allow mobility to many places around the city and spare you the high cost of getting an Uber. Frankly, college students are broke and buying a bus pass can save you a lot of money.

6. Learner’s permit

If you hate public transport and creepy people then there is a way to get out of it. You can apply for your driver’s license. Yes, this option is open to international students and requires completing a permit test and driving courses. The requirements vary by age, however, the same resources are available for international students as for U.S. residents.

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7. Applying for a green card

Many of you decide to stay in the United States after college to work and build a professional career. However unless you attained other means of residency, a green card is the only way to ensure a legal status. However, what many universities fail to tell junior upcoming seniors who would like to stay in the country is that it is important to apply four months before graduation to ensure that they can be processed by their graduation date.

A lot of international students run into this problem and end up having to return home after their visas have expired unless their potential employer offers visa sponsorship, which is not very common.

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8. Taking classes pass/fail

Nobody says shit unless it’s too late and then academic advisors chime in, “Oh why didn’t you take the class pass/fail?” Because I DID NOT KNOW.

New students encounter this a lot especially with graduation course requirements that are not related to their majors. We end up barely passing calculus with a C- and then our GPA looks better left dead. It is unfair for many students who find out when it is too late and end up having a lowered GPA for a course that has NOTHING to do with their major.

Courses that are unrelated to one’s major are available in pass/fail across many campuses. Don’t forget to take advantage of this when in doubt.

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9. Get I-20 signed before overseas travel

You don’t want to be stuck in immigration especially with Donald Trump as president. So it is extremely important to have your I-20 signed and updated every time you decide to leave the country.

With Republicans pulling all the strings being an alien in the country with an un-updated I-20 might be dangerous and may put you at risk of deportation. Exactly the thing you want on your background check …

10. Living off campus

The bottom line is it’s cheaper. College landlords take advantage of students because of housing proximities. The rent most students pay for a shared bedroom could rent a townhouse. Don’t be fooled — unless drunk cat calls in the middle of the night is your thing, then do you by all means.

There are cheaper apartments available that are within close distance of bus routes that can take you directly to campus. Sometimes it may mean getting up earlier than usual, however sometimes it helps to choose money over convenience, especially in college.

Shanique Wright is a Jamaican native with a passion for writing and doing research on social issues and ways to help end global poverty. She is the founder of the blog layeredonionz where she provides discussions on issues surrounding politics, race, class and gender.

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