Columbia College has a growing international student population and the Office of Multicultural Affairs & Community Resources (OMACR) knows going to college in another country can be a big transition, but our staff is here to assist you!
Coming to America
What do you do after you have received your I-20 from Columbia College, paid your I-901 fee, and received a visa from an American embassy or consulate? You begin to prepare for your departure from your home country and your arrival to the United Staes of America.
- Look out for an email contact from your designated school official;
- Click Here to Access the Full Columbia College International Student Guide;
- Complete placement tests when instructed to do so;
- Schedule your arrival into the country no more than 30 days prior to your I-20 Program Start Date, and plan your arrival to campus no more than 2 days prior to your I-20 Program Start Date;
- Alert your designated school official of your arrival plans and verify that a staff member will be available to assist you with check-in;
- Make sure you have signed your I-20 and packed it in a carry on bag along with your passport – do NOT pack your documents in a checked bag or leave home without them;
- Record the contact information of your designated school official and transportation service in a quick and easy to access place, such as your mobile phone or personal address book.
Additional suggestions to assist with your transition
- Read the Welcome to the U.S.! guide for New Immigrants
- Visit http://www.welcometousa.gov/ for tips on moving to the U.S.
- Find out all about your F-1 visa status at https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students including this helpful study guide https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/guides/studyguidetothestates
- Message us in the New CC International Student Skype chat group
If you are living outside of the United States and wish to speak with current Columbia College students and staff familiar with the needs of international students, post in our New CC International Student Chat* at https://join.skype.com/CAA0nUgfInXS.
*Our chats are available through Skype, a free online service to speak, see, and instant message people around the world. Parents and family members are welcome to participate too!
Remaining In Status
Once you are a student at Columbia College it is important that you remain “in status” by following these guidelines:
- Never change your program, degree, or school without getting authorization from the Designated School Official (DSO)
- Other changes in information shown on your I-20 should be reported to the DSO immediately (e.g. change in address, change in funding sources, change in anticipated graduation date, etc.)
- Maintain a legal passport (it should always be valid for at least 6 more months). Speak with the DSO about renewing your passport if it’s going to expire soon.
- Take a full course load each semester (at least 12 credit hours)
- Do not work off-campus without authorization from the DSO
- Work no more than 20 hrs a week maximum while school is in session and 40 hrs a week on official school breaks
Failure to adhere to these guidelines can result in strict disciplinary action from the school or the federal government including the loss of your ability to be employed, the ability to remain in the United States on an F-1 visa, or even the ability to re-enter the United States.
Checking-in each semester
- Immigration regulations require all colleges and universities to verify the status of their international students within 30 days of the beginning of each semester. To do so, we ask all international students to complete a brief check-in process each semester. This process enables us to verify your status and gather the information we need to fulfill our regulatory obligations.
- At the beginning of each new semester, simply stop by or set up an appointment with the office of Multicultural Affairs and Community Resources (Harrelson 210) to complete the check-in process. If you have traveled outside the U.S. since your last check-in, please bring your I-94 card, I-20, and your passport. Please note that the Designated School Official (DSO) will be unable to register you on SEVIS until you have checked-in, which could prevent you from being “in-status.”
- When you check-in for the first time you will be given a new I-20 that reflects you have arrived and are currently attending classes at Columbia College. Hold on to both your original I-20 and the new one you receive at check-in.
Because an F-1 visa is considered a “student visa” there are strict rules that govern the types of employment international students are able to participate in. Here are some of the most common types of approved employment for F-1 visa holders:
1. On-campus employment – International Students are permitted to work up to 20 hours a week in on-campus positions (40 hrs on official school breaks). Students do not need permission from the DSO to work on-campus. Visit Student Employment for more information about working on campus.
2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – Students may participate in a paid internship, practicum, or work/study position that coincides with their program of study.
- You must have completed one full academic year at Columbia College to be authorized to participate in CPT
- You must fill out the required paperwork with your DSO and your advisor prior to being approved for CPT
3. Optional Practical Training (OPT) – In order to receive OPT authorization you must complete an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). OPT provides you the opportunity to gain a maximum of 12 months (or 29 months for certain majors) of professional experience in your field of study. OPT’s can occur while you are a student or immediately after you graduate.
- You must have completed one full academic year at Columbia College to be authorized to participate in OPT
- You must fill out the required paperwork with your DSO and your advisor prior to submitting your OPT application to USCIS.
- You must receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS before you can participate in OPT
- If you participate in OPT or 12 months of full-time CPT while you are still in school you may be eligible for less than 12 months of OPT upon graduation or program completion
- OPT start date must begin within 60 days following the completion of your studies. It is highly recommended that that you apply early because of long processing times.
4. Severe Economic Hardship Employment – If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request employment authorization with USCIS based on severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.
- You must have completed one full academic year at Columbia College to be authorized to participate Severe Economic Hardship Employment
- You must fill out the required paperwork with your DSO prior to submitting your OPT application to USCIS.
- You must receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS before you can participate in Severe Economic Hardship Employment
- Severe Economic Hardship Employment is valid for 12 months
Please note that just because you may be eligible for employment does not guarantee you a work position or internship on or off campus. It is each student’s responsibility to seek and obtain his or her own employment opportunities.
Also note, most employers will require you to have a social security number prior to the start of your employment. Your DSO can provide you with information about applying for a social security number.
International Studies Association
The International Studies Association (ISA) is an organization for students of different nationalities to come together and interact with one another, learn about each other’s cultures, and build lasting friendships.
ISA has regular meetings every other week but also host social and educational events (e.g. International Night) and offers multiple off-campus excursions each year.