The U.S. system of higher education institutions includes many colleges like community colleges, liberal arts colleges, technical colleges, tribal colleges, regional universities, research institutions and universities, etc. There are many law schools and medical schools as well. If you are on H4 visa (dependent visa) you can go to school or college without a change in your visa status. There are a few exceptions to the case, but if you are worried about applying for the student visa (F1) to study, think again. It is possible to enroll in a college or school on a dependent visa.

Where to get the Education?

Depending on your area of interest you may choose to join a community college, technical college, or other institution of higher education listed above. Basically, you can join three types of institutions: University, Community college or Local institutes.

  • For college degrees like B.S., B.A., M.S., M.B.A, etc you can join any university. Universities welcome international students with visa other than F-1 visa. The rules may vary and the guidelines and admission policies tend to be a little different.
    To get an admission for graduate degrees like M.S and MBA you will have to pass GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) respectively.
    You will have to clear SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) for undergraduate degree courses.
  • Local training institutes
    There are many training institutes that offer courses, especially in computer sciences and software development. Although the institutes provide training and certificates after completion of various courses, these certificates are not recognized everywhere. You may join them for the purpose of learning, but the certificates/diploma might not be helpful in getting a job. Generally these are expensive short term courses directed at improving the skill set of students.
    Globalization has had a profound impact on how technologies work and the impact on shorter development cycles has changed an employee. Every now and then you are required to learn new skills. Hence joining such training institutes to keep up with the changing technology is a good idea. However, you must check for the credibility of such institutes and courses before joining.
  • For professional courses like advanced software courses, film-making, art & design, it is best to go to the local community college. These are recognized institutes and have great student counseling services to help you decide what course is best for you. These colleges are great for spouses as the colleges offer
    • Flexible timings
    • Wide range of courses
    • Affordable fee structure

An important aspect to remember is that the fee structure of many community colleges depends on the residency status of applicant in that particular State. For example, if you join a community college during the first year of stay in USA the tuition fee is likely to be 3 to 10 times more than the fee paid by resident students (or students that have stayed in the State for a longer duration). You get a resident status after one year of stay in a State.

Documents required for admission to community colleges

  • All Transcriptions/Certificates.
  • Some universities insist on TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language). It measures the ability to understand, write and read English. For more information checkout TOEFL website (www.toefl.org).
  • Other institutes do not ask for TOEFL scores. They need at least 16 years of English medium education.

You must do some research on the required paperwork for admission as the policies are different in every institution.

FAQ

What courses are available in community colleges?

All community colleges offer many programs in different fields. You must study the websites of community colleges to learn what courses are being offered.

Are these community college courses job oriented?

There is no 'yes' or 'no' answer to that question. A lot depends on the course itself, the demand of the particular skill or knowledge set you develop, and market trends. One of the common understandings is that if you are experienced in software development, you will get a job. However, you can get a job in any other field as well. If you are on the H4 visa, you will still need someone to sponsor your work visa.

Is it necessary to convert H4 visa to F1 visa to study in the U.S.?

No, it is not really required to change your visa status in order to study in US. You can legally study anything here on any visa status provided you fulfill the conditions to get the admission.

On a dependent visa status you can attend school. The only difference is that a dependent visa holder cannot obtain any financial aid or apply for an OPT (the one-year optional practical training, after completion of the course). OPT enables the student to work for any employer for a period of 12 months. That is the bad part.

Now let's look at the good part. If you study on the H4/L2 status, then you will get the 'resident low fee benefit'. Normally you automatically become the state resident, after completing 1 year of stay. But, if you plan to convert your visa status to F1, then you will not be eligible to get this benefit. You will be charged the fee applicable to foreign students which is much higher than the fee paid by residents.

Where do I get the information about different institutes?

  • Consult your friends and family who have taken similar courses.
  • Search for information on the institutions' website. Google the institutions
  • You will also get advertisements of local institutes in your mail.
  • They are also listed in the yellow pages. Call them and ask for their brochure.
  • If you need some help regarding deciding which course is best for you or choosing your instructor, you can take appointment with the student counselor of the institute. Choosing the best instructor is very important.

Does my prior education degree count towards the course I want to join?

Yes, it matters if you want to go for courses like M.S. or M.B.A. In such a case you are required to have a 4 years Bachelors degree. It also makes an impact if your prior degree was in same field or had some common subjects. Some universities/community colleges are not rigid about TOEFL, but they do want at least 3 years of English education.