There are 3 ways in which Vietnamese students can study in the USA although the state college option applies only to one state.


1. A 1 - year Cultural Exchange program on a J1 visa (from Year 10 or 11 in Vietnam)

  1. Very low cost, state schools.
  2. Students stay with a host family.
  3. They cannot choose the school or region.
  4. They must return after 1 year or change to an F1 visa to continue.
  5. They may not be able to graduate from High School on a J1 Visa.


2. Private High Schools (F1 visa)

  1. Students can go at any age from around 12.
  2. Schools available all over the country.
  3. Prices start at around $25,000 per year for tuition and accommodation but the average price is around $32,000.
  4. Most are day schools with host families. Few have boarding.
  5. Not all offer ESL.
  6. Specialist university preparation schools also available with boarding (age 15+).


3. Public High Schools (F visa)

  1. Offers grades from 9 – 12 (age 15-18).
  2. Schools available all over the country.
  3. Host family accommodation.
  4. Cheaper than private schools.
  5. Students have the same benefits as American students.


4. Community Colleges (Washington State only)

  1. A few colleges offer special 1 year high school graduation programmes to international students aged under 18.
  2. Students may apply to university or take their 2 year Diploma at the College as well.



A “pathway” is a special programme designed for international students to allow them to prepare for and enter mainstream education. In the US this is still quite a new concept. There are 2 types of pathway programmes: on-campus pathways, offered within universities, and special degree transfer programmes offered by Community Colleges.


On-Campus Pathways: these are alternative Year One programmes designed for international students who need to improve their English, Study Skills and also sometimes their academics before joining the mainstream Year 2 at a US 4-year university.

Pathways are mostly provided by private companies working in cooperation with the universities, which allow them to teach on their campus. In some cases, the pathway is taught on one campus but gives access to a wide range of universities within that state university system or in that area.

Undergraduate pathways can be joined directly by students who have completed 12 years of schooling in their own country and do not require SAT scores or the Common Application system.

A few universities are now running their own international pathway courses in parallel with the regular programmes.

Some universities/pathway providers  also offer a Masters pathway, which may be a pre-Masters preparation programmes or an international pathway designed to replace part of the regular 2 year programme. These are accessible to students who have completed at least a 3 year university or College programmes in Vietnam, although the specific entry criteria will depend on each university.

Pre-sessional English courses are available for all students who do not yet meet the English requirements of their pathway programme.

The main private on-campus pathway providers in the US are INTO, Navitas, Kaplan and the Cambridge Education Group’s OnCampus system, but new providers are appearing all the time.


Degree Transfer Programmes:

It has always been possible and popular for both US and international students to attend 1 or 2 year Community College Diplomas / Associate degrees and then transfer to a 4 year university. The main difficulty, however, for international students has been in working out their best route through the College system in order to apply to their preferred university, and getting a guarantee of admission.


There are now a number of guided Degree Transfer programmes which do the hard work for them and guarantee admission to certain partner universities. The main advantages of these programmes are:

  1. Students can apply directly from Vietnam and do not need SATs.
  2. They have a dedicated tutor who will make sure they study the right number of credits and work towards a specific goal.
  3. They can enter even Top 100 universities from these programmes.
  4. Accommodation is provided in special residences on or close to the campus with free transportation.
  5. Students have a range of guaranteed options for progression, or they can apply to any university at all in the US.
  6. Fees are lower than at 4 year universities so they can save money on the first 1 or 2 years.


The main degree transfer providers for Vietnamese students are American Honors and University Bridge. Students must meet the academic and English requirements of these programmes before they can apply.


US degrees are highly regarded all over the world, but with around 4,500  institutions to choose from, there is an enormous variety on offer. To break this down, there are several categories of higher education in the US:


1. Community College 2 Year Programme: students can study the first 2 years of a 4 year degree programme here and earn an Associate degree. After this they may work or transfer to a 4 year university to complete their Bachelors degree.

2. 4 Year University or College Undergraduate Programme: students achieve a BA (Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science) on completion of their programme.

3. Graduate, Masters or Professional Programme: this is a 1, 2 or 3 year course leading to a higher degree. (Master of Arts, Master of Science, MBA, for example, or a professional degree such as JD – Doctor of Jurisprudence or MD – Medical Doctor).

4. Doctoral program – PhD, a research program which can take from 3 to 6 years  to complete.


In terms of choice of institution, students can attend:

  1. Community College
  2. 4 year Public University
  3. 4 year Private University
  4. 4 year Liberal Arts College
  5. Smaller Specialized Institution


Universities in the USA are decentralized, this is to say they are not managed by the federal government, but by the state where they are located. Some of the richest and most highly ranked universities (such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell etc.) are private and endowed with both state funds for research as well as private donations. However, some of the largest state university systems are just as famous and well endowed with funds.


In terms of rankings, there are 150 US universities in the Times Higher World University Rankings. Almost all of the states are represented in the best US universities list. In total, 128 different cities appear in the ranking, but the top 5 US universities are in California, Massachussetts and New Jersey.


Vietnamese students can enter 4 year universities directly from Vietnam, but need to take specific tests (SATs or ACTs) and to apply through the centralized application systems to be accepted. For this reason, many students prefer to go first to a Community College before transferring to a 4 year university.


Financial assistance (scholarships) is available in the US but it is not easily accessed by students outside the system. Students who are already attending a Community College can more easily apply for financial assistance to fund their last 2 years of study.


Students who wish to enter a 4 year university directly but don’t yet have a sufficient level of English, or who would prefer to avoid taking SATs, may choose from one of the many pathway routes now available at an increasingly wide range of universities.


All Colleges and Universities have their own English language centres to help international students meet the entrance requirements for their courses and to support their studies. These programmes can be applied for together with the main course and entrance to the main course is guaranteed once the student passes the English programme and achieves the required score.


In addition to these, there are many different, private language centres in the US which provide a wide range of courses for different needs:

  1. Short summer language and activity courses for children, teens and adults.
  2. Short language courses for working people (eg Business English).
  3. Examination preparation courses (for example TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT etc).
  4. English Language Teacher Training courses (eg CELTA, DELTA).
  5. Pre-sessional English courses with university placement (for students who have not yet decided on their main course of study).


Vietnamese students and working people can attend summer courses during their annual vacation time, and they can take their pre-sessional English courses with university placement at recognized language schools in the US which have partnerships with local universities. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a US student visa just to study English, especially for a single person with no other study plan.


Generally, for all except summer or short business courses, students should have a clear study plan for the period after they complete their English course and should get an offer letter for their next course or proof that the language school will guarantee a university placement for them in order to get a visa. Many US language schools have a range of partnerships to help students move forward to the next stage of their study plan, offering  university placements or pathway programmes with articulation to universities.

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