Q & A for International Nursing Students in the U.S.

Learn about opportunities available to international nursing students in the U.S. in this Q & A.

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There are opportunities for international nursing students as the nation struggles to replace nurses who have retired. If you are thinking about going to nursing school in the U.S. and have a few questions about the process or the type of prerequisites you many need as a foreign exchange student, read the question and answer below for in-depth international nursing student information.

Will poor English skills keep me from a nursing program?

It is critical to have strong English language skills, particularly if you wish to enroll in an advanced degree program, such as a Master's in Nursing (MSN) program. Poor English skills may jeopardize your ability to excel at the required NCLEX examination.

If you need additional preparation, several options exist. If you are admitted to a U.S. college or university, it may offer part- or full-time intensive English as a Second Language (ESL) courses for international students. There are also many private language institutions in the U.S., but approach these with caution: Some universities may not accept credits from institutions that are not accredited by a national accreditation organization like the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation.

With a degree from my home country, can I enter an MSN program or practice international nursing in the U.S.?

Because nursing requirements differ from country to country, you may be required to go back to school for additional international nursing training. The most important thing to do is to contact schools and universities to find out who evaluates international nursing student applications. Some schools have hired staff members with special training to evaluate academic credentials of overseas applicants, and others refer students to outside agencies like the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions' Officers.

Some international nursing schools prefer to have credentials evaluated by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools. Check with the admissions department to find out if the school accepts CGFNS evaluations, or if you need to have other organizations review your transcripts as well.

If you received training at the secondary level, like many programs in Russia and Latin America, you will not be eligible to be a licensed nurse in the U.S. You can be admitted to school nursing programs, however, and your experience may enable you to fulfill some degree requirements. You may need to complete the Foreign Educated Nurses (FEN) course, which consists of 120 classroom hours as well as 120 clinical hours under the supervision of a licensed RN.

Are there application tips for international nursing students?

There are several things you can do:

  • Plan to contact prospective nursing schools for international students approximately one year before you intend to apply.
  • Apply to several institutions, including a few where you feel fairly certain that you will be accepted.
  • Apply to international nursing schools in different locations—applying to several in the same area may make the U.S. consulate in your country think that you are coming to America for reasons other than education.
  • Find out what range of test scores each school prefers and take all required exams well ahead of time.
  • Be sure to have documentation that proves you will be able to fund the duration of your stay in the U.S.
  • If you are accepted, send in your deposit immediately to contend for nursing school financial aid packages and on-campus housing.

Will I need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)?

Yes—whether you are an entering freshman or a nurse who wants to receive additional education, the TOEFL will be required by almost all international nursing colleges and universities. Your TOEFL scores are valid for two years. You may take the TOEIC or IELTS exam instead though most nurse recruiters prefer you take either the TOEFL or IELTS. Nurses who plan to become practicing residents in the U.S. will also need to take the TSE and TWE, which test written and spoken English, or the MELAB battery, another English language proficiency test.

What if I graduated from a non-American secondary school?

You will need to send original copies of your secondary school diploma and transcripts, as well as any university-level academic records. These need to be accompanied by word-for-word English translations that follow the format of the original document.

Some nursing schools for international students may also require you to have your school send an explanation of their grading system. If there is a branch in your country, you can contact the United States Information Services (USIS) for additional advice.

My school closed. What can I do?

If your school closed, you need to contact the institution or agency (like the ministry of health) authorized to hold documents for your school. You must find out who has the authority to validate your records, since many schools will not accept copies of school transcripts, only official documents.

I have been accepted! What steps should I take to obtain a visa?

As a full time international nursing college or university student, you need to apply for an F-1 visa. Upon acceptance, your school should send you an I-20 application form. You should take this and your passport to a United States Embassy or Consulate, where an official who oversees non-immigrant visas will assist you. At this point, you will need to fill out the "Affidavit of Support" form to prove that you have the finances to fund the length of your stay in the U.S. After you submit all of these forms, your visa application will be processed.

To avoid any problems, fill out your paperwork as soon as you are accepted. Many nursing school admissions offices have confirmed that they will work with international students to adjust to new deadlines and requirements as the government enacts additional security measures.

Can I fund part of my education by working in the U.S.?

Working in the U.S. can be challenging. If you arrive on an F-1 student visa, you are NOT allowed to accept any employment outside the campus for a period of 9 months. Moreover, you will not be allowed to work more than 20 hours per week if you have a job on-campus. In most cases, you will not be able to work full time during your initial year.

Will my status as an international nursing student affect financial aid eligibility?

International nursing students are ineligible for United States government funded loans, grants, or aid programs. Your selected schools will be able to tell you if there are any loans or aid packages open to international students. You should consult with individual school financial aid offices to determine what financial information needs to be provided: requirements for non-citizens often differ from those of citizens.

What types of housing options can I expect to find?

Most nursing schools for international students have a housing office that addresses student living concerns. Graduate students often have several housing options, including graduate dormitories and graduate floors within dorms.

You can also choose to live off campus, although finding an apartment, room, or shared housing arrangement may require greater preparation ahead of your arrival. Again, talk to each individual school to determine what options best fits your needs. Many admissions offices have staff members who can assist you during the transition to an American university.

Can I work in the U.S. after completing my degree?

Yes. All foreign nursing students must apply for a Visa Screen Certificate, which is issued by The International Commission on Healthcare Professionals, under section 343 of the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), if they plan to work permanently in the United States of America. You must also take a medical exam and a visa interview and take an accredited Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Basic Life Support, or a Pediatric Life Support course in order to earn your certificate.