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Advice to International Students about American Online Degrees

written by: ThomasTrzyna•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 11/29/2009

What should international students know before they sign up for an American online degree? What should students know if they hope to come to the US on a work visa?

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    America and the Global Village

    Brighthub is privileged to use writers from around the world and to have an international audience. American higher education is respected throughout the world because of the extraordinary productivity of American researchers. In a typical year, 17 of the top 20 research universities in the world, as they are rated by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University assessment of research, are American universities.

    American universities maintain high quality for many reasons. One is the way that we encourage creativity by providing general education, allowing students to change fields of study, and permitting students who fail to start over. Another reason for the quality of US universities is our system of regional accreditation.

    In the US, the federal government does not directly license universities. Instead, the government approves private agencies that carry out studies of colleges and confer accreditation. There are many such agencies, and the system can be confusing to experts. So what is an international student to do?

    The answer is very important, because if you think that someday you would like to work in the United States on an H1-B visa or one of the other visas for foreign workers, you need to choose your university carefully.

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    The American Visa Process

    Like accreditation, the American visa process involves both private and public agencies. The US has a federal government, meaning that the country is a combination of states. Our tradition, therefore, is to divide and distribute activities that would be centralized in other nations. This can be confusing to people from other nations.

    If you want to work in the United States, you need a work visa. To get an H1-B visa for expert workers, you must have a corporate sponsor and show that your education is at least the equivalent of an American bachelor's degree. But not any American bachelor's degree.

    A company that offers you a job will hire a law firm that specializes in this work. The law firm, in turn, will hire an agency that specializes in assessing educational credentials, such as the Foundation for International Services. The first step will be to look up your foreign degrees to see if they are respected around the world. US baccalaureates are four year degrees, so if you want to meet the standard, you need to present what in India, South Africa, or Commonwealth nations would be an honors degree.

    If you have earned a degree from an American university, especially an online American degree, a US expert will be hired to review your credentials and determine equivalency. At this point, there will be one key question: does the US university from which you graduated have regional accreditation. Not just any accreditation, but regional accreditation.

    Of course there are exceptions to these general rules. In some cases, but not all, work experience can be added to a 3 year foreign baccalaureate to make it the equivalent of a four year degree. The usual rule of thumb is three years of work experience for one year of education. The rules have been getting tighter, however.

    So what is regional accreditation, and how does it differ from other accreditations?

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    US Regional Accreditation

    Now we have come to the heart of the matter.

    The US Department of Education has approved many accreditation agencies. Some of them accredit trade schools. Others accredit religious schools. Six of those agencies are called regional accrediting agencies: Middle States, Southern, Northwest, Western, North Central, and New England. These represent the gold standard in American higher education.

    The problem that faces consumers today is that there now exist trade schools that offer not only certificates in subjects like medical coding and electrical technology, but also bachelor's and master's degrees. So you must read the fine print.

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    Coming to the US for Graduate School

    The same rules apply if you want to come to the United States to do graduate study. American universities will assess your credentials. They will consult standard international manuals that describe the qualities of your undergraduate institution.

    If by chance you earned an online degree in the US, top American grad schools--those accredited by the regional accrediting agencies--will want to be sure that your undergraduate degree is regionally accredited.

    In the end, your choices are not that difficult. Look for regional accreditation and accept nothing else.

    Why is this important? Unfortunately, there are many schools not only in the United States but also in other nations that prey on international students by offering quick and cheap routes to BA's, MA's, MBA's, Ph.D's and other degrees.

    Brighthub is here to help you choose wisely.