If you are looking here, you have chosen the most stable, common, and definitive way of immigrating to America. This method works nearly all the time and is how I see most people immigrate to America on their own. However, bear in mind, this is also the most time consuming and expensive method as well. From obtaining an initial F-1 Visa to getting a green card via your employment, the process takes years and unflinching dedication and focus. If you are the kind of person that gives up easily, this may not be the best method for you. If you cannot persevere through difficult challenges that WILL arise during the course of your immigration, you will not be able to complete it.
The journey actually begins at home, in your native country. I will assume you are from a family that has no resources to spend $350,000 USD for a college education in America. I will also assume your family won’t be able to provide you with tuition or living expenses and you must do it on your own. The only way is to apply for graduate school in America. This is also helpful in later immigration as graduate degrees are considered advanced degrees in America and you will have an easier time immigrating than those who only have an undergraduate degree. Graduate degrees typically takes at the most 2 years to complete, most of the time 1.5 year or 1 year. This means less time spent not making money, less tuition that you have to pay and faster to begin a career and a steady life in America.
Go to college
Make sure you attend college in your native country. Work hard, and I can’t stress this enough, you MUST get good grades. This is necessary for you to be admitted to competitive schools. Getting into a random low-ranked school in America does not really help you unless you have extensive job experience already. Also build good relationships with your professors because you may need to ask them to write letters of recommendation for you. Work on your English, which I assume should be good enough since you can read this post. You need good English speaking, writing and reading skills.
Get a job in your relevant field, and SAVE SAVE SAVE
Work experience is also important, because it will help you to get internships during your graduate studies and then help you get a full-time job. Therefore, after you graduate from college, unless your family is going to pay for your graduate education in America, you need to find a job and save like no tomorrow. Your savings target should be at least $80,000 USD, but would be best to save something like $100,00 USD, assuming you are going for a graduate degree that is not an MBA. For an MBA degree, top schools require you to at least commit 2 years of study and therefore the cost of the entire education (tuition + living expenses) could be as high as $200,000 USD. Conversely, if you choose a really cheap school, you may be able to complete your education with about $60,000.
Take the standardized tests
You must take the GREs, the Graduate Record Examinations, to apply to schools. Check out the website here. That is the organization administering the tests. Look for relevant information for your country. If your country does not use English as its official language or the language used to teach in school, you must also take the TOEFL, another test administered by ETS. The website is here. Don’t take these too early as the GREs are only valid for 5 years and TOEFL is only valid for 2 years.
Apply to schools
America has thousands of schools approved to admit international students. Make sure the school is accredited. You can easily find this information online. What I would do is go through this list that is published on a yearly basis. The National University rankings published by US News. Any school on this list would be acceptable to apply to. I know this is a ranking of all undergraduate schools, but the general rule is that strong undergraduate programs also have strong graduate programs. You can also look at this List of Regional Universities for more options and possibly a school that would be more affordable with your budget. Remember to focus on the Out-of-State tuition, because that is the one you will pay. Undergraduate education and graduate education costs are typically the same, except undergraduate tuition is calculated per term where graduate tuition is calculated per class.
If you are really good, you can try to apply to the top 10 schools and see what happens. The name and rankings don’t really matter in terms of getting a job. Yes, a high ranked and top named school will be easier than others, but it does not mean that you get a job automatically if you did attend those. You still need to work hard and have skills. Remember each school requires essays, application fee and score reporting. The costs could add up if you apply to too many schools. You also need to supply the school with your financial documents if they are not giving you any scholarships.
The location of the school may be important to you so make sure you understand where you are going. Try to choose schools that are near highly populated cities, because they would give you the most job opportunities. Also more urban areas or suburban areas typically have other similar immigrants and might make it easier for you to adjust. This is just my suggestion, I think going to a school in very remote or non-populated areas may also be exciting and offers a fresh perspective into the American culture and country.
Choose a major/program that you can find a job easier after you graduate. Any engineering program, except aerospace (because it usually require US Citizenship to even get a job) would be fine. Any sciences program can also help you in getting a job. Finance related are also very easy. Other types like education, social sciences, and languages are a bit more difficult, but not impossible. MBA at a top ranked school and work experience will guarantee you a job and green card if you focus and dedicate yourself. The trade off with MBA is the cost that you will have to pay because it is more expensive than science or engineering degrees.
Once you are admitted, you should receive an I-20 from the school. This is your key to America. Sometimes, I believe this is the modern immigrant’s first papers. You are on your way. Check out Part 2 of this series on Immigrating to America as a Student to get your F-1 visa.