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International students can enroll in online U.S. programs to expand their education options, save money and add flexibility to their learning. However, learners from other countries who want to study in the U.S. must meet stringent requirements, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online education for international students can offer significant benefits to international students. This guide explores online programs for international students, including information on visas, credit requirements, benefits of online programs and tuition costs.
What to Consider When Searching for an Online College
International students considering online college have many options, so the process may seem overwhelming. When researching prospective schools, make sure to ask yourself the following questions.
Do they offer online programs for international students?
If you find a U.S. school that provides online learning, make sure it offers programs for international students. For example, international learners cannot enroll in 100% online programs based in the United States, but they are permitted to enroll in hybrid courses.
Before COVID-19, international students could only enroll in one online class per semester. However, starting in March 2020, the U.S. government loosened this restriction, allowing international enrollees to participate in hybrid learning.
Can you complete work 100% online, or is it hybrid?
International students cannot complete fully online programs at U.S. institutions. They can, however, enroll in hybrid programs, which combine online and in-person learning. Enrollees have several options for completing hybrid programs, including attending courses with local partner institutions.
How much is tuition for international students?
Tuition costs vary based on whether a school is public or private and whether the student is pursuing undergraduate or graduate education. U.S. schools may allow international learners to pay in-state tuition, which typically costs less than out-of-state tuition.
On average, international undergraduate students pay an annual tuition of $25,000 to $35,000 at private schools and $30,000 to $45,000 or more for private institutions. At the graduate and postgraduate levels, enrollees pay an annual average of $20,000 to $35,000 at public institutions and $35,000 to $50,000 at private schools.
Is the online program accredited?
Accreditation is a process through which schools undergo a voluntary, rigorous review by third-party organizations to ensure certain quality standards. Online programs are not accredited specifically for their distance learning offerings, but their host schools may hold accreditation on the institutional and programmatic levels.
Institutional accreditation is critical to any school’s reputation. Transferring credits and even finding employment can be difficult if you earned a degree from an unaccredited college or university.
Specific programs may also earn accreditation. For example, organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing accredit nursing departments within schools. Business schools may earn recognition from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
International students should always research and confirm the accreditation status for their prospective schools and programs. By confirming that their desired institution and program meet quality standards, enrollees can have peace of mind knowing they are making a worthwhile investment in their education.
What support does the school offer for international students?
International students can start exploring available resources by contacting schools’ international student offices. These departments can get the ball rolling by helping with visas, financial aid and immigration questions.
Some colleges offer English language centers for students seeking additional support. International learners may need to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for admission. Some institutions offer online TOEFL courses to help international applicants prepare for the exam.
International students do not qualify for federal funding through the FAFSA, but colleges and universities may still use this form to identify whether an international enrollee is eligible for state- or school-based aid. Institutions may offer scholarships specifically for international students, as well. For this reason, international students should still fill out the FAFSA.
Schools may also provide orientations or advisors specifically for international students.
Benefits of Online College for International Students
Online colleges in the U.S. offer several benefits to international learners. Read on to learn about the positive aspects of studying in the U.S. as an international student.
Variety of Programs
By opening their college search to schools with online learning options, international students can pursue education at many more institutions. Along with an increased slate of available learning options, these enrollees can engage with peers, instructors and coursework in cultures that are different from their own.
Online programs often apply lower tuition rates than their on-campus counterparts. Some schools and states allow international students to pay in-state resident rates, which helps enrollees save money. Though international learners cannot complete fully online programs from their home countries, they can still save on transportation and housing costs during the online portions of their education.
Traditional, in-person schooling can require extensive travel for on-campus commutes or relocation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, international students were only permitted to complete one online course per term, which required more travel between countries and to campus. But in spring 2020, the U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) updated its policy to allow international learners to complete hybrid programs.
Online students can complete a significant portion of their education from their homes. Some U.S. schools partner with international institutions, allowing enrollees to complete online courses with local schools before completing their programs in America.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online College for International Students
Can international students study online from their home country?
Yes, but only for a portion of their education. International students cannot complete 100% online programs based in America, but they can participate in hybrid education, which blends online and in-person instruction.
Do I need a visa if I study online?
Generally, yes, but there are some exceptions. An international learner with hybrid enrollment in an SEVP-approved school needs an F-1 or M-1 visa. Some schools allow international learners to begin school from their home countries before they qualify for F-1 visa status.
Can you get a student visa for an online course in the USA?
Yes, but international students cannot complete 100% online programs in the United States. Some schools help international learners obtain their F-1 and M-1 visas to take online courses with U.S.-based schools.