In the United States, a wide variety of institutions prepare people for technical and vocational occupations. Some schools train for a single job or industry; others offer programs for many different occupations. Programs can last from a few weeks to several years. Courses tend to stress application rather than theory.
Vocational studies are intended to lead to immediate employment. Hands-on training is often a component of the study program and the schools are often called "trade" schools. Vocational studies vary in length from a week to two years and lead to certificates of completion rather than degrees. Common fields of study include construction, automotive mechanics, drafting and secretarial services.
Technical education requires that the student learn concepts, theory and design in addition to practical training. Programs are offered at technical, community and junior colleges and some four-year colleges and universities. Two-year programs generally result in either associate of applied science degrees or pre-baccalaureate technical degrees. Common studies include: computer science, engineering technology, communication technology, allied health, nursing, accounting, business management, fire science, agribusiness, renewable natural resources and horticulture. To obtain a degree, students are required to successfully complete courses not only within their specialty but also courses in general education such as English, mathematics, sciences and history.
Technical and vocational schools, and community and junior colleges award certificates or diplomas upon successful completion of training. These credentials, however, are not equivalent to a four-year college or university degree. Check with officials of your home-country government or with prospective employers to find whether the training you are considering will be appropriate.
Technical and vocational schools usually do not offer English-language training, nor do they provide housing or support services for foreign students. However, such facilities are available at some community and junior colleges. Sometimes schools make arrangements with nearby housing units to rent to students; usually, however, students must find housing in the community after they arrive. Programming agencies may arrange these services for sponsored students.
Technical and vocational schools, and community and junior colleges often create special programs to meet the needs of groups of students. To arrange these programs, home-country governments or companies contract with U.S. educational or training institutions directly or through agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or private programming agencies. These programs often include English-language training followed by instruction at a technical or vocational school, or a community or junior college.
Technical and vocational schools are often called "trade" schools because they teach a trade or occupation rather than just theory. Trade schools generally offer training in only a few occupations, and sometimes only in one. As a result, they differ considerably from one another. A school for auto mechanics, for example, will be very different from a school for cooks. All of them, however, design their courses to meet the immediate requirements of training for a skill, rather than to provide general education. In most trade schools, the classroom will be similar to the workplace and will provide practice in the skill or trade being learned on the machines or equipment currently in use in the businesses of that particular trade.
Most schools require that students or trainees attend classes every day and be on time. If the job usually begins at 7:30 in the morning, classes will start at that time. Classes usually last about six hours a day, with appropriate time off for lunch.
Unless English training is provided through a special group-training program, the schools expect that students will be able to read, write, speak and understand English, and will know basic mathematics. Courses begin with basic lessons and build up to advanced skills. Throughout the course, the instructor tests each student. To continue in the course, each student must demonstrate mastery of the required skills. Instructors also enforce rules for behavior "on the job," and often they can be strict in their enforcement. However, the atmosphere is one of encouragement, not fear.
Community and junior colleges also offer training programs directed toward specific technical and vocational goals. Community and junior colleges differ, however, in that they combine technical-skills training with general education. Students who need additional work in English or mathematics can easily find help in a community or junior college, along with courses in business or other subjects that would be helpful in their field of choice.
Although technical classrooms and equipment in a community or junior college resemble the workplace as much as possible, classes meet one or two hours at a time rather than all day, as they do in an academic setting. The overall atmosphere reflects the classroom more than the actual workplace. Instructors offer help and encouragement, with an emphasis on practical skills rather than theory.
Before you choose a technical or vocational training program, you should find out as much information about it as possible. Seek advice from educational advising centers about appropriate types of training for your chosen career. Investigate opportunities for employment in your country in the career that you are considering, after your training is over.
It is very important to check that a school has met basic standards of educational performance. In the United States, there is not a Ministry of Education which directly supervises technical and vocational schools. Although many states require that technical and vocational schools be licensed, regulations are not the same from state to state, and may not be a reflection of educational quality.
Accreditation of a school is a primary key to educational quality. Accreditation of technical and vocational schools in the United States is done by such bodies as:
Community and junior colleges are accredited by regional accrediting bodies, including:
An annual publication for the American Council on Education, Accredited Institutions
of Postsecondary Education, gives a complete listing of all accredited institutions,
including all vocational and technical schools and community and junior colleges in the
United States. This book may be ordered from:
Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc. Front and Brown Sts. Riverside, NJ 08075 USA
For aviation-related fields such as pilot training, look for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
To select a technical or vocational training program:
The American Council on International Intercultural Education (ACIIE) is an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges. The member institutions of the ACIIE (listed below by location) have made a commitment to international education. Each of the institutions will accept admission from qualified foreign applicants. Many other institutions not listed are also actively involved in international education and accept foreign applications. Other institutions, for various reasons, do not accept applications from foreign students. If you are unable to determine from a school's catalog or other reference sources whether or not foreign students are eligible for admission, write directly to that school's office of admissions.
Most technical and vocational schools, and community and junior colleges admit applicants who have a desire to take the vocational course, aptitude for the skills required, funds to pay for the course and the equivalent of a U.S. high school diploma. In some cases, applicants can use the General Educational Development Test (G.E.D.) instead of a high school diploma. This test is sometimes available in your home country through the educational advising office.
After you have selected four or five appropriate institutions, write a letter of inquiry (on p. xx) to each one, giving basic information about your plans and qualifications.
In the meantime, apply to take the Test of English As A Foreign Language (TOEFL). Because English is the language of instruction, foreign students must show that they can speak and understand -- and often read and write -- English. Usually technical and vocational schools, and community and junior colleges require a TOEFL score of 450 to 550.
|Sample Letter Of Inquiry For Information and Application Forms
(Please type or print very carefully)
Office of Admissions or Director of Admissions
Name of School
City and State (Zip Code)
Please send information and application forms about training in (job/occupation skill) to me at the address below:
Other schools, particularly computer training institutes, may ask that an applicant also take an aptitude examination. Occasionally, schools may request a personal interview.
Allow at least four months from registration to receipt of the score by the institutions you have chosen. When application forms arrive, complete them neatly, completely and carefully, and return them, together with any required application fee, by airmail. If you are accepted, you will receive a letter of acceptance and the appropriate certificate of eligibility with which to apply for a non-immigrant visa. That certificate will be a Form I-20 M-N, Form I-20 A-B or Form IAP-66.
If you are accepted at a "proprietary" (private) trade school, the school will probably require a deposit and will ask you to sign a binding contract listing a schedule of payments, a tuition refund policy and a cancellation policy. Be sure that you understand the contract before you sign it.
Most foreign students attend U.S. schools and other educational institutions as F-1 non-immigrants, including students attending community, technical and junior colleges. Some students and trainees attending technical, trade and vocational institutions, or non-academic schools will attend as M-1 non-immigrants. If a foreign student or trainee is participating in a formal exchange program or with the financial sponsorship of the U.S. or a foreign government, international organization or certain other sponsors, he or she will attend as a J-1 non-immigrant.
To apply for one of these non-immigrant visas, go to the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest you. It is best to consult the U.S. diplomatic post for the hours it is open, when it accepts non-immigrant visa applications, and what if any special documentation requirements may be imposed at that facility. If there is more than one U.S. consular post in your country, it is also best to ascertain which post you are required to visit in order to apply for a visa.
When you go to the U.S. embassy or consulate, take the following items with you:
Some consular posts require the use of a visa application form and in certain cases there is a fee for the visa issuance. Consult the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country regarding these and other local arrangements.
Present all documents to a U.S. consular officer. Generally, a consular officer will personally interview you, examine your documents and review your plans for training in the United States.
Before going to the interview, be sure that you complete all required portions of the
certificate of eligibility (Forms I-20 M-N, I-20 A-B and IAP-66). The statements that you
will be asked to sign will include:
Please note that the certificate of eligibility is not a visa; nor does it guarantee that a visa will be issued. The determination to issue a visa rests solely with the consular officer.
If you are granted a visa, the consular officer will stamp it into your passport, noting the name of the institution issuing the certificate of eligibility. This indicates your intention to pursue a full course of study at that institution. For entry into the United States, the institution noted on your visa must correspond with the certificate of eligibility you are carrying and the institution you plan on attending.
If you decide to attend a different institution than the one noted on the visa stamped in your passport and you have received a certificate of eligibility from that institution, contact the U.S. consular post prior to your departure for the United States to attempt to have the change reflected on your visa.
Spouses and dependents of M-1, F-1 and J-1 non-immigrants may apply for M-2, F-2 and J-2 visas in order to accompany you during your temporary stay in the United States. Applications for these derivative visas may be made at the same time that you seek to get a visa, or these visas may be applied for separately. If spouses or dependents will be applying and/or traveling separately, they will need separate copies for the certificate of eligibility in order to get a visa and enter the United States. Please note that spouses and dependents of M-1 and F-1 students are not allowed to accept employment or engage in business while in the United States. In certain cases, J-2 non-immigrants may seek employment permission. For more information about this, consult the sponsoring organization that issued the Form IAP-66.
INS regulations controlling the admission of M-1 and F-1 students are similar. However,
M-1 students (students enrolled in a full-time program at an authorized vocational,
technical or non-academic institution) have certain additional restrictions, including:
Regulations controlling J-1 students and trainees are substantially different than those controlling M-1 and F-1 students. For more details about the specific requirements of a program you may participate in as a J-1 Exchange Visitor, contact the sponsoring organization.
Finally, it is important to note that, under no circumstances should there be an attempt to enter the United States on a B-1 "business" or B-2 "tourist" visa with the intention of changing your non-immigrant status once in the United States to M-1, F-1 or J-1 non-immigrant status. Such attempts are grounds for denial of the change of status request and could result in deportation and prosecution for visa fraud.
Trainees sponsored by U.S. government-funded programs or by certain other sponsors enter the U.S. as J-1 sponsored students. Regulations governing J-1 sponsored students differ; information will be furnished by the sponsoring agency.
The following references may be available in your advising center or USIS library. This is only a sampling of available resources and does not imply endorsement.
The five-pamphlet series published under the title, If You Want to Study in the United States, was produced by the United States Information Agency, Office of Academic Programs. In addition to the pamphlet series, If You Want to Study in the United States is also available on videotape.
USIA wishes to thank the series' author, Dr. Martina S. Davies, former director of AMIDEAST-West Bank and Gaza; the editor of this revised edition, Marjorie Peace Lenn, executive director of the Center for Quality Assurance in International Education; and Yukie Tokuyama (formerly of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges) for their contributions to the revision of this pamphlet, and the many others both in the United States and abroad whose invaluable assistance made the revision of this series possible.
United States Information Agency