Studies in the U.S.

Group of students

The United States has one of the world’s largest and finest university systems, with outstanding programs in virtually all fields. At the undergraduate level, excellent programs exist in traditional disciplines as well as in professional fields. At the graduate level, students often receive the opportunity to work directly with some of the finest minds in the world. U.S. degrees are recognized throughout the world for their excellence.

The higher education system in the United States has something for everyone. Some U.S. colleges and universities stress broad educational principles; others stress practical, employment-related skills; and still others specialize in technical fields, the arts or social sciences. As a result, if you are looking for an institution where you can study in a particular field – no matter how unusual or specific – you can usually find several from which to choose from in the U.S.
Please follow the link for information if you wish to study in the USA (in English only) or visit the local Education USA office in Riga.

Education USA
Skolas street 11,
Riga, Latvia

Telephone: +371 6708 9800
Website: http://www.educationusa.lv

Of the almost 1.5 million students in the world pursuing post-secondary education outside their home countries, more than one third choose to study in the United States. Why do so many students choose U.S. colleges and universities? What does the United States have to offer you?

Academic Excellence

The United States has one of the world’s largest and finest university systems, with outstanding programs in virtually all fields. At the undergraduate level, excellent programs exist in traditional disciplines as well as in professional fields. At the graduate level, students often receive the opportunity to work directly with some of the finest minds in the world. U.S. degrees are recognized throughout the world for their excellence.

Variety of Educational Opportunities

The higher education system in the United States has something for everyone. Some U.S. colleges and universities stress broad educational principles; others stress practical, employment-related skills; and still others specialize in technical fields, the arts or social sciences. As a result, if you are looking for an institution where you can study in a particular field – no matter how unusual or specific – you can usually find several from which to choose from in the U.S.

Cutting Edge Technology

U.S. universities pride themselves on being at the forefront of technology and educational techniques, and in making available to their students the best possible equipment and resources. Even if your field does not directly involve science or engineering, you will become skilled in using the latest technologies to obtain and process information. You will find ways to stay connected with people in your field all over the world.

Opportunity for Research, Teaching Experience and Practical Training

If you are a graduate student, you may be able to gain valuable experience in research or teaching while you help finance your education. This practical component of your education will prove useful in your future career and may give you insights into your own field that would not be possible through course study alone. International students are some of the most valued researchers and teachers in U.S. universities because they bring new skills and ideas to the classroom and laboratory. Many graduate programs in the United States offer training that enables students to become teaching or research assistants.

Billions of Dollars Available in Scholarships

US universities and colleges value the presence of foreign students in their classrooms, and often understand that not everyone can afford the price of education in the USA. Deserving foreign students, with outstanding academic and personal records, can qualify to receive financial aid, which can cover part or also sometimes all of their expenses.

Support Services for International Students

At most institutions, the services of the international student office help students from abroad to live and learn in their new environment. From orientation programs at the beginning of your degree program to assistance with resumes as you get ready to graduate, you will find people at the university and in the community who are interested in your success.

Campus Life

U.S. Universities provide a rich variety of academic, cultural and athletic activities that add new dimensions to your educational experience and help you make new friends.

Global Education

Experience in an international setting is a marketable commodity. Your long-term career prospects can be enhanced by an experience that develops self-confidence, independence, and cross-cultural skills – attributes that are in high demand with employers worldwide.

Mārtiņš Mašulis, Bates College, PhD candidate, Cornell University
I believe that colleges and universities in the USA offer more choice and flexibility than anywhere else. The diversity extends to the size and type of institution, to the degrees and majors offered, to geography and social milieu. Higher education enjoys much attention and prestige, which translates into solid funding for study programs and research. Universities and colleges are often able to provide scholarships and research funding to students from all kinds of backgrounds. Residential college campuses allow for an unusually rich array of activities and social interactions with peers.

Jānis Stībelis, Hollywood Musicians Institute, Musician
I tend to think that studies in the U.S. are more democratic and unconstrained. The methodology is focused on development of one’s skills, talents, courage and positive attitude. This really makes you believe and feel that you can do this!

Līga Bergvalde, University of Western Illinois
In my opinion, academic studies and sports support each other. In the U.S.A., there is a very good system of how these two interact. Instructors help out students who are into sports and came with a sports scholarship. Our coaches really push us hard to study. They realize that we came to school to study, not only to play basketball.

 

Academic Considerations

Area of Concentration: It is not essential to declare the area of concentration you plan to undertake when you enter a university. If you have a definite degree objective, however, identify universities offering that field. Many subjects are taught in every university, so choice of fields does not necessarily eliminate many institutions. In some fields, however, you may want to check out possible specialization (For example, many universities offer education but only a few offer physical education or special education).

Academic Emphasis: Get an idea of how the university emphasizes its curriculum. Is it pre-professional orientated or liberal arts? Do the undergraduates dominate the campus or do the postgraduates? Many liberal arts colleges emphasize teaching and professor/student interaction, so the teacher to student ratio is quite low. Some research centered campuses are postgraduate dominated and undergraduates are secondary; however, facilities are often state of the art and professors are world-renowned.

Courses: Study the course catalogue and course descriptions. Many international students choose the US system because of the flexibility it offers through the liberal arts framework. Some degrees, however, are highly structured and universities dictate exact course-work. Prescribed course-work does not allow for student athletes who want to take a lighter load “in season” or double major options for the motivated student.

Rate of Return: The rate of return of students who continue after their first year gives an indication of the program difficulty level and student satisfaction level, so try to get more information on this.

Accreditation: Check that any university you are considering is regionally accredited.

Cost

Study the fee structure printed in most university prospectuses carefully and incorporate into your calculations the cost of room, food, tuition, fees, travel and other expenses for the full four years.

Private vs. State-Supported: US universities are either private or state-supported. In general the tuition fees at state-supported universities are less expensive than private universities. International students, however, are considered non-state residents and are charged “out-of-state” tuition rates, which are higher than in-state rates. Some state universities are limited in the percentage of out-of-state students they can enroll.

Tuition: Note the cost of tuition and fees and be aware that tuition costs may rise each year.

Housing: Try to find out if housing is available for all four years of enrollment. If students are asked to find off-campus housing for one or two years, find out the cost of off-campus housing.

Meal Plan: Some universities mandate that first year students must purchase a meal plan, while other universities offer various options within the meal plan including the number of meals per week or the meal halls used etc.

Financial Aid: Some US universities offer financial aid for international students. Check the amount of the average award, the percentage of financial aid awarded and the nature of the awards, whether they are need-based or academically based. It is possible that a university will allow an international student to be on a payment plan so that they can pay the tuition in installments.

Admission Difficulty

Because the U.S. university system is so extensive, admission requirements vary greatly. This means that private universities and liberal arts colleges at the top of the selectivity indices receive enormous numbers of applications and accept only a small percentage, while other colleges can accept all applicants who meet their admission standards. Most directories will give information such as the average SAT score for the previous year’s accepted students. In addition, directories and many college prospectuses will list the percentage of students accepted the previous year. Selectivity assessments using this type of data, however, tend to put weight on test admission scores that are only one part of an application and not necessarily the most important part.

Size and Location

Size: Many international students do not realize that U.S. universities’ enrollment size can range from 20 – 60,000 or even more. Some universities resemble small cities with their own post offices, grocery stores and shopping centers. Size ranges offer different opportunities and academic climates for the undergraduate. Some large campuses are located in very small rural towns where the students and the universities dominate the local economy. Other schools may be in large, densely populated urban areas with a very small enrollment.

Location: The climate in the US varies considerably from one region to another. Every region offers both urban and rural settings. Some areas present more security concerns than others. The undergraduate student candidate should be informed about security risks and precautions. Some international students have relatives living in the US and this may be a major influence on the choice of universities.

Institution Personality

Social Life: Some U.S. universities have reputations as either social schools or very quiet academic schools. In addition, some schools may be known as “commuter schools,” meaning that most students live off-campus and commute into classes, which affects the campus atmosphere. Potential undergraduates will want to know what the atmosphere is like at weekends on campus; if most students have cars, they might leave to go on road trips or back home to visit family every weekend and vacate the campus.

International Students: Some US universities enroll a substantial number of international students while others may only enroll one or two students. You may either be considered a very special person to get to know or you may have a built in support group with people who can share your experiences.

Personality: All US universities will accept students of any race, color or creed. Many universities or colleges, however, were founded with a certain mission, whether to provide a religious atmosphere on campus, a single sex educational experience or a majority ethnic student population. Read university mission statements in college prospectuses carefully and decide if your goals match the goals of the campus.

Extracurricular Activities: US universities offer many opportunities for students to develop skills through extracurricular activities such as sports teams, academic clubs, university newspapers, drama productions and other rewarding programs.

Other Considerations

Student Services: US universities cater to the needs of the student through services such as international student advisers, counseling services, legal aid services, housing offices, varied meal plans, health centers, tutoring facilities, and many other helpful services. Prospective undergraduates can compare facilities among universities.

Academic Distinctions: Many US universities award academic distinctions to outstanding graduating seniors, which often provide an incentive for students.

Internship or Overseas Study Programs: Many US universities have incorporated into their curriculum internships or overseas study programs.

Graduates: The job-placement success of a university’s graduating seniors is one indication of the emphasis of the curriculum. Universities will tell prospective students how many of their graduates find professional positions and the number of graduates accepted to postgraduate programs.

Students with Disabilities: If you have special needs then you need to make sure that the college can accommodate you. Advise the admissions office of your disability early on in the process and obtain information about facilities offered from the college’s Office of Disabled Student Services. Find out what services are provided automatically and whether any extra costs will be incurred.

Mārtiņš Mašulis, Bates College, PhD candidate, Cornell University
I avoided the better-publicized paths of foundations and scholarship programs, favoring direct contact with colleges. I would suggest that students look into the option of small liberal arts colleges, since I benefited immensely from my own experience at Bates College. Large universities are great for research, and they will always remain an option for advanced studies!

Aleksejs Požarskis, Naples Air Center, Inc.
I have found most of the information on the internet. As I am going to study to become a professional pilot and work in Europe, it was very important for me to get the European Pilot License. In order to obtain it, the school should be listed as Flight Training Organization approved by the European authority. The flight school where I am going is approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, so there should be no problems to get the European License.

Lt Ērika Neimane, United States Air Force Academy, Airspace Management Coordinator, Latvian Civil Aviation Administration
Since early in school I wanted to learn more about airplanes and military aviation fascinated me. While a senior in high school I read an article in “Rīgas Balss” about the possibility of studying in a US military academy. My decision was quick and clear: first choice USAFA, second choice Annapolis I’ve met some US military officers before, and had an insight into the US military through the different books. While gathering info about USAFA I learned about the USAF core values, academic and aviation programs it offers and decided that USAFA would be right the place for me. I contacted the US embassy, and so it started…

 

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Considering that it can cost from $15,000 to $60,000 or more to study in the USA, it is essential for the majority of students to get some kind of financial aid before traveling to the US. Financial aid may cover all your costs or it may only cover a fraction of it. Keep in mind that the application process for scholarships and other financial aid programs may begin as early as 18 months before your planned date of enrollment. Financial aid for international students in the USA includes:

Scholarships and Grants

It is a good idea to investigate sources of financial aid in your own country first. Some organizations, which offer scholarships or grants or loans, the Fulbright program and others.

Most US universities offer their own scholarships. When writing to various universities to ask for information and application form, it is absolutely essential that you ask them about their scholarships. Universities will sometimes offer full-scholarships (that will cover all your costs) or a fee waiver (that will exempt you from paying tuition). More often however, university scholarships will only cover a part of your costs. Additionally, some departments will offer scholarships independently from the university.

You can consult the books at the “Education USA Information and Testing Center” for sources of funding for international students in the USA. Most of these books list private or governmental organizations, which offer scholarships of varying amounts. The scholarships usually have specific requirements, such as financial need, citizenship, or a particular field and level of study .

Loans

It is possible to get loans from some banks, with interest payments.

Jobs

It is to be remembered that international students studying in the USA are on a special visa, which does not allow them to seek employment outside of the college or university campus. Students can, however, work on campus, but there are limitations. Students who have successfully completed a full year of academic study are sometimes eligible for limited employment. However, if employment is included in the financial aid package, students can also work during their first year of study on the college or university campus. Permission from the college or university, as well as from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, must be received before a student is allowed to work off-campus part-time.

At the Master’s or doctorate level, universities will often offer teaching or research assistantships to their international students. These part-time jobs require up to 20 hours a week of work.

Part-time work off-campus can also be a possible source of additional income while in the United-States. This is only possible if you have already successfully completed at least one year of academic study in the USA and if you receive the permission from the college or university and the USA Immigration and Naturalization Services.

Scholarships for 11th Grade Students

The Education USA Foundation will conduct an annual USAP (United States Student Achievers Program) scholarship competition for studies in U.S. universities. The competition is open to 11th grade students.

There are various costs apart from tuition and living expenses that high school students have to cover before being admitted to an American college or university, such as fees for tests, preparation classes, consultations, postage, admissions, and subsequently costs of visa processing and airline tickets. The objective of the foundation is to support talented students who would not be able even to start the application process without financial aid.

Candidates should have:

  • Good English language skills
  • An average mark above 7 for grades 9 through 11
  • Leadership skills
  • Be active in school and social life
  • Come from a low-income family

The USAP selects its finalists while they are in grade 11, as the deadlines for applying to U.S. universities and scholarships are very early. The “Education USA Information and Testing Center” staff consults and devotes special attention to the finalists throughout the year to increase their chances of getting admitted and receiving a scholarship in a prestigious college or university.

The competition is announced in the beginning of a year with a deadline in the middle of February. Consult http://www.educationusa.lv, or look for information in your school and the press.

TOEFL

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required by almost all English speaking universities in order to determine whether your level of English is proficient enough to study in an English speaking institution. The test lasts for about four hours and consists of four parts – reading, listening, speaking, and writing. (http://www.ets.org/toefl)

SAT I and SAT II

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is designed to verify the general knowledge of students applying to the first year of an undergraduate program in a US university. The SAT I test includes a language and a mathematics section.

The SAT II subject tests (rarely required) evaluate a student’s knowledge of specific fields, such as: Writing, Literature, Math level IC, Math level IIC, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, American History and Social Studies, World History, French, German, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Please note that if you have already studied in any university, you are not required to take the SAT I or II, unless it is specifically requested. (http://www.collegeboard.com)

GRE

The Graduate Requirement Examination (GRE) is designed to evaluate a student’s knowledge and logical thinking before entering a graduate program (except the MBA, see GMAT) in a US university. It contains mathematics, verbal reasoning (English language) and essay writing. (http://www.ets.org/gre)

GRE Subject Tests

The GRE subject tests (rarely required) are designed to test a candidate’s knowledge in a specific field before entering a graduate program in a US university. The subjects include Biochemistry, Cell and molecular Biology; Biology; Chemistry; Computer sciences; Economics; Engineering; Geology; History; Literature in English; Mathematics; Music; Physics; Psychology; and Sociology. (http://www.ets.org/gre)

GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) measures general verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills of students applying to Business and Management master’s and doctoral programs in a US university. (https://www.gmac.com)

TOEIC

TOEIC (Test of English For International Communication) is used by institutions, companies, and government agencies worldwide to measure the English proficiency of non-native English-speaking people. With more than 4 million test takers per year, the TOEIC test is the standard for workplace English language proficiency worldwide. (http://www.ets.org/toeic)

Visvaldis Valtenbergs, Fulbright Fellowship Alumnus, Master’s degree in political science, New School University, PhD candidate and Research Project Manager, Vidzeme University
Firstly, even before you apply – be well rounded in the field you want to pursue. Talk to people, exchange business cards, build a network of friends and acquaintances. Be sure to get some practical work done – volunteer, be active in an NGO, and your community. This network will help you feel welcome when you come back in a year or two. This is very important because re-integration is very difficult for some people. Secondly, be willing to see yourself back home after you finish with your studies in the U.S. Ask yourself – how will I be able to contribute?

Applying to American Universities for Undergraduate Study

About American Degrees

American undergraduate degrees are based on a Liberal Arts philosophy, which requires students to take a wide variety of courses in the arts and sciences before concentrating in one academic area, creating a well-rounded education.

The Associate degree: normally lasts two years and is designed to meet the requirements of the first two years of a bachelor degree. Associate Degrees are offered by Community Colleges.

The Bachelor’s degree: consists of 1) general education courses in a wide range of subjects; 2) a major, which is a concentrated field of study; and 3) electives which are a student’s free choice. Although Bachelor degrees are designed to be completed in four years, there is no fixed completion timeline. Instead, a degree is awarded after a student has completed a required amount of course-work expressed in terms known as credits/units or semester hours. Usually a student will need to accumulate approximately 130 – 180 credits in order to graduate, with each course on average earning 3-4 credits. Continuous assessment is a feature and each course (class) per term is graded and then converted into a numeric equivalency called a Grade Point Average (GPA) on a scale of 0 – 4.0, which indicates the quality of a student’s performance. Both colleges and universities award undergraduate degrees. The difference between a college and university is that a university awards masters degrees and doctoral degrees. While some colleges do award higher degrees, they focus on undergraduate education. As spoken English does not differentiate between the two, we will use the terms “colleges” and “universities” interchangeably in this section.

Qualifications You Will Need

Students from Latvia are expected to have a high-school diploma.

When to Apply?

Ideally one should begin the process 12 – 18 months in advance. Application forms for the Fall term (beginning August or September) are available in August of the previous year. Each university has its own deadline, which may be as early as November or December. Allow six months for processing the application. Some universities will accept students for January admission. Remember, the later you apply, the narrower your choice will be.

How to Apply?

Step 1 – Choose your colleges

American students consider the whole institution rather than a single department due to the broad approach of the undergraduate degree. Please note that MEDICINE and LAW are not subjects studied at the undergraduate level in the United States.

There are over 3,600 colleges and universities in the US. The staff at the Education USA Information and Testing Center can help you select the colleges and universities that are right for you, and help you work through all of this information.

Step 2 – Obtain application forms

Almost all American colleges and universities now have their application forms on their web-page. Admission officers nowadays prefer to receive as many application materials as possible on-line, since it saves time and resources. Remember that applying on-line may require you to use a credit card to pay any university application fees. If you are unable to apply on-line, or if you prefer to do it on paper, that option is also available. In this case, you simply print out the application forms from the webpage and send them to the college or university by mail.

Step 3 – Register to take the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)

The SAT is a 4-hour primarily multiple-choice aptitude test measuring verbal, mathematical and writing skills. Most institutions will require the SAT in addition to your school qualifications. Some institutions may also require from 1 to 3 SAT II Subject Tests which measure the candidate’s knowledge in a specific subject. Registration bulletins and free Sample Questions for the SAT I or II can be obtained from the Education USA Information and Testing Center. You can also register for the SAT on-line and register to take mock SAT exams.

If English is NOT your native language you will need to register for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Registration forms and test preparation material can be obtained from the Education USA Information and Testing Center.

Step 4 – Return the application forms

You must return your completed application forms directly to each individual college. American colleges and universities charge an application fee, which can be from $20 to $100 or more. There is no limit to the number of colleges you can apply to; however, most students apply to between 3 and 8 colleges to keep costs down. Read everything thoroughly and make sure you are sending the college or university all the required materials! Incomplete applications will only cause delays in receiving a decision. The information accompanying the application forms will give you the college’s deadline for admission, required tests, documents (such as school records), possible essay questions and the application fee (non-refundable) for processing the application. Deadlines are usually firm.

Colleges usually notify their applicants of acceptance or rejection between March and June. Note the deadlines by which you have to reply if you are accepted. If you are accepted by more than one institution, write to the one you decide to accept (pay a deposit if required) and also write to those whose offers you wish to decline.

Costs & Financial Aid

Costs: Each individual college sets its own fees; consequently they vary widely. Generally, tuition for state universities ranges from $5,000-$25,000. Private universities generally charge between $15,000-$40,000. Living expenses also vary and are highest in big cities. They range from $5,000 to $15,000 per academic year (9 months) which is in addition to tuition costs.

Financial aid: After family resources, US colleges or universities are the primary sources of funding for undergraduate study. Private universities are more likely to provide financial aid to international students than state universities. At the undergraduate level, full scholarships, which cover total expenses, are rare. Most university financial aid is based on academic merit, although some will give funding based on need. Other forms of university funding include athletic scholarships, scholarships based on minority status, performing arts scholarships, or other miscellaneous criteria. Non-university funding is less common but still available from independent funding bodies, corporations, or private individuals.

Talented athletes should inquire about Athletic Scholarships in their chosen college or university. Athletic teams are usually recruited very early in the application process, so make sure to inform your college or university of your interest in athletics as soon as possible.

Visas

Most international students will enter the US on a non-immigrant student visa. To qualify for a visa, you must have proof of university acceptance for full-time study. Once you accept the university offer and show proof of sufficient funding, the university will send you either an I-20 or an IAP-66 government document, which proves university acceptance. You can then apply for your visa. Inquire at the American Embassy in Riga for a visa application form.

Complete and return this form together with the payment slip, I-20 or IAP-66, passport, an extra passport photograph, proof of finances and evidence that you plan to return to your country of residence upon completion of your education.

Laura Belevica, Washington University in St. Louis
If your documents arrive early, you have a higher chance of being noticed among all the other applications. Build a strong and unique presentation of yourself. Consult your instructors, friends, and family to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses. Look online for resources that might guide you through the preparation process. When the time has come to write your statement of intent, reevaluate your past experiences and present yourself from the best yet a realistic point of view.

Visvaldis Valtenbergs, Fulbright Fellowship Alumnus, Master’s degree in political science, New School University, PhD candidate and Research Project Manager, Vidzeme University
Firstly, even before you apply – be well rounded in the field you want to pursue. Talk to people, exchange business cards, build a network of friends and acquaintances. Be sure to get some practical work done – volunteer, be active in an NGO, and your community. This network will help you feel welcome when you come back in a year or two. This is very important because re-integration is very difficult for some people. Secondly, be willing to see yourself back home after you finish with your studies in the U.S. Ask yourself – how will I be able to contribute?

 

How Do I Get A Student Visa?

Please consult relevant links on the left or visit the EducationUSA website at http://educationusa.state.gov/ to learn about educational opportunities in the United States for undergraduate and graduate study, opportunities for scholars, financial aid, testing, admissions, and much more.

After you are accepted for enrollment in a SEVP certified school and have received form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, you will need to apply for a student visa. See section Visas / Applying for of Renewing U.S. Visas for information on the visa application procedure in force at the embassy in Riga.

General information about F and M category student visas you may read also here: http://travel.state.gov/.

The Advantages Of U.S. Higher Education

Mārtiņš Mašulis, Bates College, PhD candidate, Cornell University
I believe that colleges and universities in the USA offer more choice and flexibility than anywhere else. The diversity extends to the size and type of institution, to the degrees and majors offered, to geography and social milieu. Higher education enjoys much attention and prestige, which translates into solid funding for study programs and research. Universities and colleges are often able to provide scholarships and research funding to students from all kinds of backgrounds. Residential college campuses allow for an unusually rich array of activities and social interactions with peers.

Līga Bergvalde, University of Western Illinois
In my opinion, academic studies and sports support each other. In the U.S.A., there is a very good system of how these two interact. Instructors help out students who are into sports and came with a sports scholarship. Our coaches really push us hard to study. They realize that we came to school to study, not only to play basketball.

Laura Belēviča, Washington University in St. Louis
After several months of research I discovered special graduate programs that are available only in the U.S. They are designed for people who wish to do their graduate degree in a field other than their undergraduate one. This meant that I could apply to Master’s degree in, let’s say, architecture, while my undergraduate study was on a completely different subject. In my case, this was a crucial discovery.

Jānis Stībelis, Hollywood Musicians Institute, Musician
I tend to think that studies in the U.S. are more democratic and unconstrained. The methodology is focused on development of one’s skills, talents, courage and positive attitude. This really makes you believe and feel that you can do this!

Toms Kreicbergs, Reed College:
The liberal arts system does not tie you down to a particular subject immediately – good for me, since I started college with expectations of studying creative writing and instead became a physics major.

Lt Ērika Neimane, United States Air Force Academy, Airspace Management Coordinator, Latvian Civil Aviation Administration
USAFA has a very individual instructor to student approach. It also has a different, more creative approach in teaching the subject. Less number crunching, more concepts, more educated estimated guesses, opportunities to work on real life programs (NASA, USAF etc.). More hands-on and personal initiative. A lot of colleges cooperate with companies to do research for them. It’s a great advantage when you have industry coming to the school with their projects and also their employees as instructors. Some of them are very experienced professors and doctors, and have very rich biographies. My aviation experiences and the people I met are what I value the most. Not too often one can speak to an astronaut, a Vietnam or Korea vet, or a Gulf War I veteran who participated in the initial Baghdad bombing with F-117, the engineers from legendary Lockheed and Boeing… And the F-15 D fighter ride was the best!

How to Prepare?

Laura Belevica, Washington University in St. Louis
If your documents arrive early, you have a higher chance of being noticed among all the other applications. Build a strong and unique presentation of yourself. Consult your instructors, friends, and family to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses. Look online for resources that might guide you through the preparation process. When the time has come to write your statement of intent, reevaluate your past experiences and present yourself from the best yet a realistic point of view.

Mārtiņš Mašulis, Bates College, PhD candidate, Cornell University
I avoided the better-publicized paths of foundations and scholarship programs, favoring direct contact with colleges. I would suggest that students look into the option of small liberal arts colleges, since I benefited immensely from my own experience at Bates College. Large universities are great for research, and they will always remain an option for advanced studies!

Aleksejs Požarskis, Naples Air Center, Inc.
I have found most of the information on the internet. As I am going to study to become a professional pilot and work in Europe, it was very important for me to get the European Pilot License. In order to obtain it, the school should be listed as Flight Training Organization approved by the European authority. The flight school where I am going is approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, so there should be no problems to get the European License.

Jānis Stībelis, Hollywood Musicians Institute, Musician
I decided to study in the U.S. as there are no higher education institutions specializing in popular music in Latvia. I found out about the school from an advertisement in the magazine „Keyboard”. When preparing for studies in the U.S., it is important to do a thorough research on the school. Determine what is interesting and unique about this college or university. Of course, one should also use the advantages offered by the local educational institutions. For example, it is possible to learn piano playing and classical theory here in Latvia. However, there are subjects not taught in Latvia, and the U.S. multicultural experience in music lets you widen your horizons.

Visvaldis Valtenbergs, Fulbright Fellowship Alumnus, Master’s degree in political science, New School University, PhD candidate and Research Project Manager, Vidzeme University
Firstly, even before you apply – be well rounded in the field you want to pursue. Talk to people, exchange business cards, build a network of friends and acquaintances. Be sure to get some practical work done – volunteer, be active in an NGO, and your community. This network will help you feel welcome when you come back in a year or two. This is very important because re-integration is very difficult for some people. Secondly, be willing to see yourself back home after you finish with your studies in the U.S. Ask yourself – how will I be able to contribute?

Toms Kreicbergs, Reed College
If you’re starting early: read a lot of English, fiction in particular. (Over the years I read several hundred volumes of science fiction from the foreign language library in Kongresu Nams). First and foremost, this will make your personal statement much easier and (hopefully) impressive reading. Also, if you get better SAT Verbal scores than 97% of Americans, the admissions staff will notice – few foreigners score higher than average on Verbal, whereas in math the competition is much tougher. Make sure you’ve a good grasp of basic math and algebra for the SATs – a little bit of effort at school will pay off, later on as well as when testing. And do a lot of practice on SATs, get used to the format. Remain on good terms with your teachers at school – they’ll be the ones who end up writing your recommendations. Most importantly, work hard at school. Academic success is very important. You certainly need some extracurricular activities that you can mention in your application as well, but don’t consider that as an excuse to slack off.

Lt Ērika Neimane, United States Air Force Academy, Airspace Management Coordinator, Latvian Civil Aviation Administration
Since early in school I wanted to learn more about airplanes and military aviation fascinated me. While a senior in high school I read an article in “Rīgas Balss” about the possibility of studying in a US military academy. My decision was quick and clear: first choice USAFA, second choice Annapolis I’ve met some US military officers before, and had an insight into the US military through the different books. While gathering info about USAFA I learned about the USAF core values, academic and aviation programs it offers and decided that USAFA would be right the place for me. I contacted the US embassy, and so it started…

How to Apply?

Valērijs Jakovļevs, Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Marketing analyst, Mediju Nams
Excellent motivation letter is “a must”. Send your papers with courier companies like DHL or UPS. It will be slightly more expensive but you can track your package on the internet and you will know for sure that school has got your documents on time.

Visvaldis Valtenbergs, Fulbright Fellowship Alumnus, Master’s degree in political science, New School University, PhD candidate and Research Project Manager, Vidzeme University
You might want to explore ins and outs of Higher Education System, because some universities can offer rich support to graduate students, others cannot. Consider your living expenses and your personal tastes. New York City can satisfy your tastes but living there is quite expensive. Talk to Alumni Fulbrighters. If University has hosted a Fulbrighter from Latvia before you, it is likely to continue doing so. It would help if you made some connections before applying to schools. Get to know someone in the department, or at least get familiar with the work they are doing.

How to Get a Student Visa?

Līga Bergvalde, University of Western Illinois
Applying for a student visa was very easy. As long as one has the necessary documentation and financial resources (in case you pay on your own), the process is very efficient.

Laura Belevica, Washington University in St. Louis
The application process in the beginning was very straight-forward. However, I was anxious to go to the visa interview. I brought a variety of different additional materials (my portfolio, for instance) just in case it might be necessary. At the end, it was actually a very simple and straight-forward procedure.

Valērijs Jakovļevs, Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Marketing analyst, Mediju Nams
I thought that it will be long and hard procedure, because I have heard such rumors. For me it was smooth and quick. Actually I was wondering how easy it was. I had to answer a few questions about reasons why I am going to United States, had to show my financial statement and that’s it. I got my student visa in minutes.

Dāvis Puksts, Professional Golfers Career College
If you don’t do everything at the last moment, then it is OK, but you have to be really careful in filling out all the documents!

Studying & Living in the U.S.

Māra Zālīte, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, Account Manager, DDB Latvia
It’s a lifetime experience. It’s worth every penny and every day invested. Studying in a country different than yours is an excellent challenge for one’s personality. When you are faced with different culture and different values, you start to compare and analyze your own. And then you learn a lot – about yourself, about your beloved ones, and your country.

Mārtiņš Mašulis, Bates College, PhD candidate, Cornell University
It is a very dynamic environment, a kind of fantasy setting, unencumbered by quotidian worries. Being thus divorced from the “real world” was actually a great pleasure for me. I find the northeastern United States to be wonderful also. I have enjoyed greatly the landscape, the coastline, the food (lobster!), and the cities (Boston and New York), among other things.

Juris Pupčenoks, State Fair Community College, Westminster College, PhD candidate, University of Delaware
During my stay in the U.S., I was able to interact with people from all over the world, access to voluminous and high quality educational aids (books, movies etc.), attend an institution with a rich student life–numerous student clubs, two newspapers, student organizations, honor societies. However, probably the best thing was obtaining a quality education and the further development of my character and personality.

Rolands Krēgers, State University of New York at Buffalo
I would suggest new students to live on campus for the first academic year; even though it is a bit more expensive than living off-campus. By living on-campus, new students can get more used to American English and other things necessary for living and studying in the US.

Valērijs Jakovļevs, Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Marketing analyst, Mediju Nams
For the first time in my life I was happy to go to school every day. I also got to know American people in school and I was sharing apartment with Americans. I had a chance to travel around California (San Francisco, Yosemite National Park) and enjoyed Hollywood with its specific vibrant lifestyle. Somehow I feel that it was one of the best experiences I have had in my life thus far.

Visvaldis Valtenbergs, Fulbright Fellowship Alumnus, Master’s degree in political science, New School University, PhD candidate and Research Project Manager, Vidzeme University
In the U.S., I discovered an ability to appreciate differences in world cultures, races, religions, life-styles, and most notably – cuisine. In a way, this enrichment of personal experiences became a part of my regular study schedule. Other universities may offer special programs on these things, but in New York it is the part of everyday life that runs on and off-campus. I loved living in the New York City. I was there during the September 11, and a year after. Be ready to discover the qualities in yourself that you never think existed. Be ready to embrace them.

Lt Ērika Neimane, United States Air Force Academy, Airspace Management Coordinator, Latvian Civil Aviation Administration
Travel around! You can go hiking in national parks, see nature and aerospace museums, historical sites… If you are lucky to have a good sponsor family, you might be able to do some traveling around with them. You can join your friends for a road trip (fun thing to do!), or if your finances allow, you can buy a cheap car. Get a U.S. drivers license. You won’t be able to get around in the States without a car. A car is not a luxury; it’s a basic necessity, if you want to get away from campus. Also, get a cell phone while in the States. The rates are much cheaper than in Latvia. Arrange the right paperwork if you wish to travel to Canada or Mexico.