Every year, tens of thousands of people from all around the world come to the United States to learn English. Some come to prepare to enter the country’s prestigious universities and colleges. Some come to further their employment opportunities in this booming economy. Others are simply here to experience the buzzing city life in New York or the laidback beaches on the west coast.
No matter what your reason for learning English in the U.S., there’s something for everyone in this land of opportunities!
ESL / EFL learners can study English in the United States in two ways: attend a private English language school or enroll in an ESL program at a college / university.
Private English Language School
Both franchised and independent English language schools are scattered throughout the United States. Though this option will have the most flexibility and offer courses for English learners of all ages and levels, the quality of them and courses offered varies from school to school.
Some are located in downtown areas in big cities while others are near college towns or universities in a rural area; some offer students the chance to stay with local host families, while others provide housing at a student dormitory on site or close to school, or leave housing up to the student (especially in major cities or with courses that are focused on adults). Some offer pure English language courses aiming to polish your language skills, while others offer Business English programs specifically targeted at mid-career professionals.
Private ESL schools usually have a flexible start date (the beginning of every week or every other week). Although courses could vary, please do note that you have to enroll in at least 18 hours of English classes per week to qualify for a language student visa.
ESL Programs at Colleges and Universities
The United States has many higher education institutions, including public universities, private universities, liberal art colleges, and community colleges. A good percentage of them offer English as Second Language programs for international students. Such programs allow students to polish their language skills and prepare them for a future academic setting. These types of programs are targeted towards high school and college aged English students.
Advantages of enrolling in these ESL programs include:
- It's easier to meet professors and other full-time students on campus
- You're able to audit university classes
- You can work campus jobs
- You're able to gain access to school utilities such as libraries, gyms, etc. all of which could better prepare students to officially apply for the college.
A disadvantage could be that, if though the university usually offers such intensive English program, it is usually not part of university’s official academic catalog. Therefore, students receive no academic credit for taking these classes—they won’t even be counted as “officially enrolled” in the institution. Students thus need to find out conditional admission requirements and plan their study plan from there.
ESL programs usually start on the same day that the schools start their academic calendar, which is the beginning of their semester/quarter/term. It is a less flexible start date, so language learners do need to plan ahead to enroll in these programs.
Where to Go
The continental United States—that is, America excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and all off-shore U.S. territories such as Guam—is roughly divided into four regions: The West, the Mid-West, the North East and the South. Each region is distinct in its own way. It’s up to you what part of America you would like to explore!
Most private language schools are located in busy, metropolitan cities such as Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C, Miami, or Boston. You will probably be within walking distance from world-famous tourist spots, shopping malls, music theaters, and other major attractions. The dynamic city culture will surround you, and you will probably meet many other international students too. But again, each city has a different feel -- from the fast paced energy of New York City to the laid back, outdoors loving vibes of San Francisco and Seattle, there's a city out there to meet your personality and interests.
ESL programs in universities and colleges are often (though not always) located in smaller towns. These places are usually quieter and have less international students, which enable you to truly immerse yourself into the local culture and improve your language skill.
The tuition to study English in the United States depends on a lot of factors: how long you will stay, what kind of schools/courses you choose, and which area you are in. Typical ESL students pay anywhere from $700 to $2,000 dollars a month. There is barely any school that charges less than $600 dollars a month, however, if cost is more of a concern than going through a recognized institution, there are plenty of free ESL classes run by churches and other non-profits in the United States.
The cost of living in the U.S. also varies widely from region to region. Major cities like New York and San Francisco are some of the most expensive in the world, whereas the cost of living in the Mid-West, south, and outside of major cities is pretty affordable. For example, rent in San Francisco could cost around $1,000 - $1,500 for a room in a shared place. The same room in Minneapolis or Portland would cost $300 - $600 per month. For that reason, it's definitely smart to look outside of just the United State's most famous cities -- who knows, maybe you'll discover that Portland is a city you love more than New York!
Travel costs in the U.S.
Unforutnately, public transportation in the United States isn't as good as other countries -- especially the government run stuff. To find the best deals on busses, trains, and other forms of transportation, we recommend looking at search engines like WanderU (busses / trains) and StudentUniverse (flights).