Misha Belokur from Ukraine knows a thing or two about the kinds of mistakes to avoid when starting out as a freshman at an American university. His experience thus far as a first-year physics major at Princeton University in New Jersey has made him a more independent and resourceful international student.
Stand up for yourself, Bellocour says. “Whether it’s a lady in the dining hall trying to charge you for re-entry into the dining hall after your bathroom break or the registrant’s office confirming that you have to retake your placement test due to a year in-between, you will be amazed how powerful a friendly explanation or polite email can be.”
Mistakes happen and are expected, but a little knowledge and preparation can go a long way for an international student. Here are 10 common mistakes prospective international students can avoid when starting their first year at an American college or university.
Mistake #1: Not booking flights To orientate, move inward
Some colleges offer orientation only a few days in advance for international students to settle in and contact the International Students Office.
“Early directions sometimes also include a light tour of the area around the college to help new students familiarize themselves with their new surroundings,” says Gina Welner, college planning advisor for Advantage College Planning.
She says the orientation is designed to help new students socialize and learn how to navigate their new home, such as finding classrooms, a health center, and computer labs.
“To make a smooth transition into the academic side of college, it’s very important to have a basic foundation in place,” Wellner says. “Once your college sends out letters with orientation dates, be sure to book your travel.”
Mistake 2: Forgetting to call home when you arrived
The students may be excited to start their new life in the United States, but the family back home wants to know that their loved ones have arrived safely.
says Sarah Lopolito, associate dean for international educational programming and director of the American Institute for Language and Culture at Clark University in Massachusetts. “This could lead to a frantic call to university police and other offices as parents try to track down their children.”
She says it’s important to contact family when landing since there will be Wi-Fi at the airport, a convenience that may not yet be set up when you arrive at your new accommodation.
“Checking in during those first few days will help calm their nerves and hopefully you’ll feel connected during this transition period as well,” Wellner says.
Mistake #3: Not changing money
Experts say it’s wise to travel with some cash and change that money into US dollars, especially since some places only take cash.
“Cash tipping is a common practice, especially if you’re taking a taxi…from the airport to school,” Lopolito says.
Aside from changing money, Bellocor recommends getting a credit card.
“If your wallet is stolen, your money will be completely safe because most credit card owners are not responsible for fraudulent charges. It also quietly builds your credit score if you pay on time,” Bellocor says.
Mistake #4: Letting jet lag overwhelm you
Jet lag is to be expected as students make their way to a new country, but experts suggest planning accordingly.
“If possible, plan your arrival to allow some time to adjust to a new time zone,” Lopolito says. “Feeling tired and fatigued is normal, so expect the adjustment process to take some time. Students can reduce the effects of jet lag by eating at regular meal times and drinking plenty of water.”
Error 5: Missed session registration
Classes can fill up quickly, and failure to enroll in a course may result in a student missing out on a desired or desired class.
“Most of the time, freshmen get the worst dates and most courses are already full by the time they sign up,” says Paraguay’s Diana Viszar, a second-year cognitive science student at Pitzer College in California.
To make the most of your opportunity, Vicezar recommends getting a list of all the classes you’d like to take and at least five additional classes, and “share it with your academic advisor for feedback.”
Ethan Sawyer, founder of the College Essay Guy website, recommends taking a range of classes in a variety of majors and majors in your first year. “You never know if the right subject or professor might inspire you for a new major or career path, or at least toward a new focus,” Sawyer says.
Mistake 6: Buying all the books from the school library
“University books in the US can be expensive!” Wellner says. College libraries offer a few different options for obtaining the materials required for each course. This can include buying brand new books, buying used ones, or renting books for the classroom.”
She says students can borrow textbooks from the school library or buy books online.
“Students can shop for the best price,” Lopolito says. “Just be sure to check the ISBN to avoid buying the wrong version.”
Vicezar recommends that you do not purchase paperback books if your professors have not requested them. “Ask seniors if you can borrow their copies, or see if the library has free copies.”
Mistake 7: Make friends only with new students or students from your country
In her first semester of college, Vicezar said she didn’t talk to anyone in her classes because she thought others would laugh at her accent or think she wasn’t ready for college.
“It turned out that all the students were very kind and understanding,” says Weissar.
Lopolito says US universities are known for their diversity and that students from other countries offer fresh perspectives.
“Second-year, junior high, or senior students have more experience and can provide great advice and insights to first-year students about navigating the school,” says Lopolito.
Willner recommends that international students push themselves to connect with other students.
“Establishing relationships with students who are from the United States will give you a broader view of our country’s culture and help broaden your perspective,” says Wellner.
Mistake 8: Not Addressing Financial Issues
Vicezar says she didn’t know how to open a bank account or get her Social Security number when she first arrived.
She advises “don’t waste time”. “Ask your Designated School Official (DSO) or someone in the International Student Office to help you with all requirements once you arrive on campus. Don’t wait for others to do it for you. Ask questions.”
To avoid excessive stress and anxiety, Lopolito says, it’s important that international students make a plan to cover all of their expenses, such as tuition, housing, food, transportation, clothing, and entertainment.
“International student visas do not allow for off-campus work in most cases, so students may not be able to earn their own money while they are in school,” Lopolito says.
Mistake #9: Taking advice only from international students
Experts say the school’s International Student Desk is the best resource for all the questions an international student might have.
“Students may receive incorrect information from their peers about important aspects of maintaining their visa status,” Lopolito says. “Students should always check with the school official for questions regarding employment, full-time course load, and travel.”
Mistake 10: Not Interfering or Over Interfering
Failure to participate can prevent a student from gaining the full international student experience, but experts recommend not to overdo it either. Instead, create a balance when it comes to participating in school-related activities.
“Over-scheduling yourself so much in the first year and not creating space in your life and calendar for initiatives, conversations, classes, or ideas that may come up that you might not have time to enjoy” can be a mistake, says Sawyer.
Vicezar says she joined six clubs in her first semester and was very upset trying to manage her time between classes, work and family, especially since she was at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“At the end of the semester I decided to prioritize my mental health and left organizations that I couldn’t commit to due to lack of time,” Weisssar says. “I’m currently an active member of two clubs and I couldn’t be happier.”