Getting Ready for College

You may be the first person in your family to attend college or may have attended college in a different country, but are finding the options and processes are very different in the United States. Regardless of your starting point, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Types of Institutions

There are many types of colleges and universities in the United States. Each has its own purpose and funding and certain schools may meet your needs better than others.

Two-Year versus Four-Year Colleges

Two-year colleges: The most common two-year schools are community colleges. These schools typically offer two pathways: programs that are more applied and career-training focused that award certificates or associate degrees, or programs that are strictly academic and prepare students to transfer to a four-year school. Community colleges are public schools but there are also private two-year schools.

Four-year colleges and universities: These schools typically offer programs that take four years of full-time enrollment to complete and award bachelor’s degrees (though some also offer associate degrees). There are both public and private colleges and universities.

Public versus Private Colleges

Public colleges: These schools, often referred to as state schools, are supported in part by public funding. As a result, tuition rates are typically lower for residents of that state than for students from out-of-state.

Private colleges: These schools are privately funded and tuition rates are the same for in-state versus out-of-state students.

Admissions Criteria

Each college uses its own criteria when deciding whether or not to offer admission to a student. Most schools are going to ask for grades from current or previous schools, and some will also ask for SAT or ACT scores. Depending on a student’s major, if English is a second language, students may be asked to take the TOEFL test. Check with the college’s admissions office or website to learn more about that school’s admissions criteria.

Special Programs to Support College-Going

There are many federal programs designed to help first-generation college students and/or those from low-income families prepare for college. Programs such as Upward Bound, TRIO, and GEAR UP are often available through high schools and local colleges and universities.

Home Country Degree Evaluation (Credentialing)

Do you have a degree or certificate from your home country? If so, you may be able to use it in the United States for work or schooling. However, not every degree or certificate is recognized in the United States.

You can have your degree or certificate reviewed by a third party to see which degree is similar when using United States standards. This is called Credential Evaluation. Whether or not you should have your credential evaluated depends on how you will use it.

Credential Evaluations

If you have a degree from another country, you will need to have an evaluation done to see how it compares to a U.S. degree. Download our Questions to Ask PDF for more information about Credential Evaluations. Credential Evaluations — When Are They Needed? Questions to Ask

Considerations Before Having a Degree Evaluated

Is credential evaluation necessary?
The value of a professional credential is highly job- and field-specific. In some fields, a credential is a basic requirement. In others, it is a “nice to have” that is not necessary for advancement. It is important to ask questions and understand which credentials are truly required in an individual’s field.

What is the purpose of the evaluation?
Knowing how you intend to use your credential is very important. The type of evaluation, as well as the organization that can complete it, may vary widely depending on its use. If instructions aren’t carefully followed, a skilled immigrant can end up paying for a legitimate evaluation that is not useful for the intended purpose.

Is there assistance to help pay for credentialing expenses?
The Foreign Credentialing and Skills Recognition Revolving Loan Program (Foreign Credentialing Loan) provides small loans to assist certain eligible immigrants living in Maine who are not yet eligible to work in the United States. Loans for up to $700 are available to help pay for the costs associated with translating credentials and other specific expenses involved in the process of becoming eligible to work in Maine.

Where can you find a reputable credential evaluation service?
There are unreliable and fraudulent services that advertise widely on the web. Immigrant professionals are advised to research credential evaluation companies to ensure they choose one that is reputable and ethical. One useful indicator is whether the company is a member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES).

Who Will Evaluate My Degree?

Schools have different requirements for credential evaluation. Start by talking with the school you want to attend. The school’s admissions or international students’ office should be able to offer more information about their requirements.

It may not be necessary to obtain a credential evaluation. Talk to people in your industry and employers to learn more about their requirements. Make sure your resumé clearly states whether or not you have a credential evaluation.

Professional licensing
License requirements vary from state to state. Before you have your degree or certificate reviewed for a professional license, confirm the requirements of the professional board in your state.

Degree Evaluation Resources

The University of Southern Maine accepts credentials that have been evaluated at the following companies:

Center for Educational Documentation
PO Box 199
Boston, MA 02117
Tel: 617-338-7171
Fax: 617-338-7101

World Education Services, Inc.
PO Box 5087
Bowling Green Station
New York, NY 10274-5087
Tel: 212-966-6311
Fax: 212-739-6100

International Education Research Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 3665
Culver City, CA 90231-3665
Tel: 310-258-9451
Fax: 310-342-7086

The New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education provides support to immigrants seeking to have credential translation and evaluation.

For more information, contact:
New Mainers Resource Center
14 Locust Street
Portland, ME 04101
Tel: 207-874-8155
Fax: 207-773-0151

Foreign Credentialing Loan Program

FAME’s Foreign Credentialing Loan Program provides small loans to assist eligible immigrants living in Maine who are not yet eligible to work in the United States.