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Student Life

U.S. Life for Iranian Students

How many international students are in the United States? How many students from Iran?

Open Doors, a survey published annually by the nonprofit Institute for International Education, reported that approximately 723,277 international students were enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education in 2010-2011. According to the same survey, over 5,600 of these students were from Iran.

What types of support services will be available to me on campus?

Your college or university international student adviser will be your first stop for many types of questions. Part of this adviser’s job is to serve as a liaison between international students and other resources in the campus and community—if your adviser can’t answer a particular question themselves, they can probably refer you to someone who can.

At most U.S. colleges and universities, you will also be assigned an academic adviser. This person will generally have expertise in the field that you are planning to study and will provide guidance on your institution’s requirements as well as responding to other questions you may have about your course of study. If you want to change your academic adviser for any reason (maybe you find the person you are assigned to difficult to talk with, or you have decided to change majors), that is very common—usually you can choose a professor who you like or think would be helpful and ask them if they would be your adviser.

Many universities have counseling centers designed to help students with a variety of more personal problems, from working out family difficulties to diagnosing learning disabilities. You don’t have to have a “serious” problem to visit these centers—they offer a chance to get some professional, confidential support and guidance if you, for instance, are stressed out over exams or homesick. Different institutions offer different levels of support and organize it differently—this should be covered during orientation.

For academic problems, tutoring centers or services on campus can help, providing support from one-on-one help with particular classes to workshops on writing or research skills.

Some other common campus resources include centers or courses providing English language training, housing support offices, offices that arrange support for students with disabilities, student groups including groups of international students; career centers that may provide help writing resumes and finding internships and other professional opportunities…the list goes on. Attend campus orientation programs and talk with your international student adviser so you’ll learn exactly what your particular campus and the community around it have to offer you as well as how to access these resources.

Can I keep a halal diet in the United States?

Yes. Some universities provide meal plan options for students with special diets, including halal diets—you will need to check with your university to learn what your on-campus options are. One good Web site to help you in locating stores and restaurants selling halal food is

What kinds of housing do international students live in?

It varies. Students may choose to live off-campus or on (some universities require undergraduate students to live on campus the first year). Types of on-campus housing also differ widely: there may be a special dormitory for international students and/or individuals with international interests, dormitories that are single-sex or have single-sex areas; special housing for married students; and other options. When you first come to the United States, you may want to look into opportunities to take part in a “homestay”—this is not permanent housing but provides the chance to live with a U.S. family for a short time, which can provide a good introduction to U.S. culture.

What are U.S. teaching methods? What will my professors expect from me?

Different classes may have different structures at your university. While some classes, especially beginning courses in the sciences, may be large and structured primarily around a professor lecturing to students, other classes will take a “seminar” approach, with much smaller enrollment and a focus on discussion among students and the professor on assigned reading or other class-related subjects. Large lecture courses also often include smaller “discussion groups,” often led by a graduate student teaching assistant, which meet in more of a seminar format to talk about the class and address student concerns. Especially in science and language classes, “lab” sessions allow for hands-on practice of skills being taught, speaking and listening or conducting experiments.

Even in large lecture courses, you are expected to attend all classes. In seminars, “class participation” is usually an important factor in calculating grades. This means not only attending classes but actively taking part in them, asking questions and contributing to discussions.

Classes may be less formal than you are used to—students may address a professor by his or her first name; some people may bring food to class or arrive late. Don’t make any assumptions, however—the professor is still in charge and different classes may be conducted differently. Watch and get a feeling for what the situation is in the particular class that you are attending.

U.S. education emphasizes original, critical thinking and analysis. Rather than simply learning the ideas of great thinkers or memorizing formulas and vocabulary, you will often be expected to apply theory to new situations, give your own opinion and interpretations, even develop and test your own theories. It is not considered disrespectful to question or to (politely) disagree with someone else’s ideas, even your professor’s.

When you quote someone else or even paraphrase someone else’s ideas, you always need to acknowledge the source. Otherwise, you may be accused of plagiarism, “stealing someone else’s ideas,” which is a very serious offense that can lead even to expulsion from school. Your university orientation programs should cover plagiarism as well as the specifics of how to cite sources in greater depth.

What if I find I need help with my English?

Many colleges and universities have on-campus English language centers where you can study, or offer individual English as a second language courses. Your university’s international student adviser can also direct you to language classes and resources in the community as well as tutoring services where fellow students may be able to provide you with one-to-one assistance.

What types of health costs can I expect (with insurance)? What can I do to minimize them?

Health insurance is required for international students because of high U.S. health costs. Discuss with your international student adviser and be sure you have enough both for yourself and for any family members who may be accompanying you.

Insurance plans typically do not cover routine eye care or dental services. Depending on university arrangements with the insurance company, plans may or may not cover “preexisting conditions.” If you have an already diagnosed health condition for which you expect you may need continuing coverage, talk with your university international student adviser about whether and how you should purchase additional coverage.

Even with insurance, you can expect to have some health costs, such as co-payments on doctors’ fees and prescriptions (you pay part of the cost—often a small amount such as or —the insurance pays the rest). Read your plan and be aware in advance what your insurance covers.

Where you go for care will make a difference in cost—most universities and colleges with students living on campus also have health care facilities on campus, and these can provide an affordable source of quality care, but extent of services available varies and often this type of care is available for students only and not their families. Your international student adviser should be able to provide you with information on other sources of medical care in the community, including private physicians, group plans, and urgent care centers. Hospital emergency rooms should be resorted to only in a true emergency when you may have to be admitted to the hospital—care there tends to cost far more than an appointment with a doctor or urgent care clinic, and insurance may not cover costs if the insurance company does not authorize such care in advance or judge the health problem to have been a sufficient, urgent threat to merit waiving such authorization.

Details and advice on U.S. health care and insurance can be found in two booklets published by NAFSA: Association of International Educators—To Your Health: Health and Wellness for International Students, Scholars, and Their Families and To Your Health: Medical Insurance for International Students, Scholars, and Their Families. Order information and on-line copies of these booklets can be found at

How can I find a mosque in the United States?

The number of mosques in the United States grew by more than 42 percent between 1990 and 2000 and there are now approximately 2,000 mosques around the country. Your university’s international student adviser should be able to give you information on local mosques and prayer facilities (many universities will have on-campus facilities of some kind).