A Foreigner’s Introduction to Studying Nursing in the U.S

Nursing is an especially propitious course of study for foreigners to follow in the United States because demand for nurses exceeds supply in the domestic job market and therefore the government makes staying in the United States to pursue a career once education is completed relatively easy. There follow some basic considerations of matters of import to foreign nationals who wish to study nursing in the United States.

Strong English skills are essential to any foreigner wishing to become a nurse in the United States. That is true for the undergraduate level and it is even more essential for advanced degree programs such as an MSN, for which an excellent score on the required NCLEX examination is indispensable. Most likely, the college or university to which you are admitted in the United States will offer intensive courses in English as a Second Language. Take advantage of such opportunity if your English language skills are not up to snuff.

All nursing students of whatever level in the United States will have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). TOEFL results are valid for two years after you take the test. For those nursing students who wish to practice nursing in the United States, further tests are required, including the Test of Spoken English (TSE) and the Test of Written English (TWE) and sometimes the MELAB battery, another English proficiency examination.

For those of you who may have studied nursing in your home countries and wish to either practice or study further here, there are several means of having your credentials evaluated. Individual colleges and universities have their own methods of pursuing such evaluations. Some schools have staff specialists who can determine where you stand vis-a-vis the professional nursing requirements of the United States. Other schools might ask the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions’ Officers to evaluate your educational and/or work record. Still other schools will have your credentials evaluated by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools. In any case, there seems to be a consensus that evaluations of foreign nursing students in the U.S. are consistently fair and carried out with a mind to providing hospitals and other care-giving facilities with top-notch professionals.

Many programs in Latin America and Russia provide some training for nurses at the secondary level; be aware that such a background would not permit you to be a licensed nurse in the United States. Nonetheless, that training would facilitate your entry into a nursing program here and some of your past studies might count towards fulfillment of your degree requirements in the United States.

Wherever you may have studied previously, you must send original copies of your secondary school transcripts and diploma as well as your university academic records to the U.S. schools you hope to attend. You must accompany those documents with a precise English translation of them that reproduces the format of the originals. Because grading systems vary from country to country, the schools to which you apply may ask the school you previously attended to send explanations of their grading methods. Many countries host offices of the United States Information Services; if your homeland has a USIS office you could consult with them as regards grading equivalencies between your country and the United States.

Be mindful that you should be getting in contact with schools that interest you at least one year before you apply to them. Many schools have limited spaces for international students. A good strategy is to apply to one or two of your “dream” schools and to several others that you know have solid reputations and which are likely to accept you, given your educational background. It happens sometimes that schools receive more applications from qualified applicants than there are spaces in their programs, ergo applying to more schools can only work in your favor.

It has been said that you should apply to schools in different areas of the United States so as not to arouse the suspicions of the U.S. consulate in your homeland that you could be coming to this country for reasons extraneous to your education. Make sure you know which tests you must take to get into the schools to which you are applying and take those tests as far in advance as you can. Remember that you will have to demonstrate through documentation that you are going to be able to fund your entire stay in the United States. When you are accepted to a school and decide you want to enroll in its program, immediately forward your deposit to the school so you will be eligible for on-campus accommodations and also for financial aid.

Once you have been accepted to a college or university as a full-time nursing student, you have to apply for an F-1 visa. Once you are approved for the F-1 visa, notify your school so they can send you an I-20 application form. Take it along with your passport to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. An official who oversees non-immigrant visas will help you. You will have to submit an “Affidavit of Support” form at this time proving you can finance your stay in the United States. Thereafter, your visa application will be processed.

Colleges and universities are aware that since September 11, 2001, delays in the procurement of visas are more likely; they tend to be accommodating of your situation. However, you should do everything you can to avoid difficulties; complete all your visa-related paperwork promptly after you are accepted.

While there are restrictions on the forms of employment you may accept in the United States, you are not entirely prohibited from working. If you have an F-1 student visa, for example, you may not work off-campus for your first 9 months in the country and your on-campus employment may not exceed twenty hours per week. The bottom line is that you should have your stay in the United States mainly financed before you come here.

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