Essential tips for study abroad aspirants are plenty. But to keep things a little positive in light of recent chaos, I will post few pointers to keep in mind so that you can look forward to Spring or Fall 2021:
Here is a list of some of the most essential tips for study abroad aspirants - Fall/Spring 2021:
1. Getting a phone service:
Getting a phone service is very important within the first two weeks. If you already have a phone from India, I would recommend using it instead of investing in a new phone. If you do have a relative, then you can request them to add you on their line. If not, all your roommates can combine and pick a plan to get more discount on the monthly bill. Phone service here is predominantly post-paid and unlimited phone and text with a 1GB plan will cost you around $40 on an average. Some of the service providers with good network coverage are: AT&T, Cricket (a cheaper version of AT&T with equally good coverage), Verizon, and Sprint. AT&T and Verizon can get little expensive.
2. Opening a Bank Account:
This is very crucial and you would require a lease agreement as an address proof and your passport at a minimum to apply for a bank account. It was fairly easy to open a checking account in Wells Fargo bank from my experience but ask around your seniors what banks are the most preferred ones around there. Certain banks have restrictions on maintaining minimum balance and hidden charges so be wary of it.
3. Finding a part-time position:
Try to get started on finding a part-time job inside your campus. Check with your department if there are opportunities for Teaching Assistance or Graduate Assistance as they are fairly well-paying and also help you gain some experience in your department. Students are allowed to work 20 hours maximum within the campus. Don't resort to finding positions outside the campus in grocery stores or Subways. Firstly, it's illegal to do that and there would be serious repercussion if caught. Second, it's not safe to work in a convenience store as you might have to confront lot of crazy patrons.
Having a part-time position in campus will help you apply for a social-security card which is very important to survive here. This brings me to my next point.
4. Social Security and Credit Card:
Once you obtain your social security number, you are eligible to obtain a credit card. Based on your history of credit card usage, you get a credit score. Since you are just starting out, there are very limited brands that offer credit cards to students. Discover is a very good brand to start out. Make sure that you never utilize more than 30% of your credit card limit and always keep using it. For example, if the limit on your account is $1000, don't use more than $300. Abusing the credit card and maintaining a delinquency in paying the credit card bills on time will severely damage your credit score which is checked in lot of major transactions (While renting an apartment, requesting a car loan, finding a full-time position, etc.) Remember to use it as a tool to build your credit score rather than a convenience at this point.
5. Getting familiar with your campus:
When you are approaching your class start date, I would recommend exploring the campus and getting familiar with department locations and all the amenities that are provided to the students. Try to utilize them if you can. Almost all universities charge you for fitness center, campus bus services etc. whether or not you want it, in your tuition fee.
6. Purchasing groceries:
Walmart was a go-to place for me to purchase groceries and other items when I was in college. You can book a uber with your roommates and combine your shopping twice a month. Although the quality of the products and crowd is questionable, you'll find almost all the items required for day-to-day usage there (groceries, toiletries, electronics, snacks, beverages etc.) for a fairly cheap price.
It's easy to get carried away in the first 2-3 months with the endless opportunities, distractions, and culture shock here. Mindful effort has to be made in order to focus on your assignments and exams. Request your seniors if they have any materials you can borrow for courses they might have taken in their previous semester. Do not plagiarize any assignment or take-home exam. It is taken seriously in the U.S. Seek help of others in terms of guidance but don't copy anyone else's work.
Also make sure if your department requires you to take certain number of credits in each specialization as a minimum in order to graduate.
When you don't have a personal mode of transportation, you have very limited options when it comes to entertainment. (Of course, you can always Uber but it can get expensive and you might have difficulty finding one at certain part of the day)
Occasional movies and pubs are fine, but try not to get carried away on that when you don't have your own car. There would be plenty of opportunity to lead that lifestyle once you graduate and get a secure, full-time position.
If you have any more questions pertaining to present condition and situation, let me know.
With all this craziness, you need to work on channeling your thoughts to something positive and keep it going.