ISPaSO Success Series:

The first day of classes in a new college in a new country can feel like jumping on the deep end of a swimming pool, but you don’t have to do it alone. For the first five weeks of your first semester, we get together once a week to continue from where we left off at Pre-Orientation, getting you on firmer ground as you embark on your Principia journey. Although there are some predetermined topics to be covered during each session, please feel free to bring any questions you may have – someone else likely has the same question!

Session 1: Financial Aid, Prinbill, Prin & Bills

The key take-aways in this session are:

  • Financial aid at Principia is applied to three costs: tuition, room (accommodation), and board (food)
  • Fees (athletic, communication, student activity, and technology fees) amount to $930/year and are not covered by financial aid
  • Other charges on your Prinbill not covered by financial aid may include break house rent, international tax, and health insurance
  • Prinbill cycles include ultimate deadlines in July and January; failing to clear your bill by these ultimate deadlines may result in financial suspension
  • You are charged a processing fee if you pay your PrinBill using a debit/credit card; no processing fee if you use an electronic check (ACH)
  • Plan ahead: use the Prin & Bills budgeting tool by ISPaSO to take control of your personal finances
By this first session, we expect that you will have received your bank account information so this is a good opportunity to fill out your direct deposit. This is submitted to payroll, instructing them to send your paycheck (if you are working on campus) directly to your bank account.

Session 2: Healthcare and Health Insurance

The key take-aways during this second session are:
  • Urgent Care is different from Emergency Room; Urgent Care facilities are suitable for non-severe illnesses and injuries; Emergency Room services typically cost more
  • 911 is the medical emergency number in the U.S.
  • All Principia students are required to have health insurance; unless you have coverage that qualifies for waiver, you are automatically enrolled in the health insurance plan provided through Principia.
  • It is important to check your insurance documents to understand what is covered by your health insurance.
  • Deductibles, copay, and co-insurance are costs that you cover when utilizing health insurance.
  • Dental and vision are usually not covered by general health insurance

The key take-aways during this session are:

  • Your taxable income typically includes wages from student employment and the part of your financial aid grant applied to room (accommodation) and board (food)
  • You are taxed by the federal government and the state (typically the state in which you live and the state where you earn money)
  • The amount of income tax you should pay is based on your annual income. Your annual income is a sum total of all taxable income earned from January 1 to December 31 of each year.
  • Your employer typically withholds taxes from each paycheck. At the end of the tax year, the sum total of your tax withholdings are what you will have paid in taxes for that year
  • At the beginning of each year, people file tax returns for the previous year. The purpose of this process is to determine whether you underpaid or overpaid taxes during the particular tax year. If you underpaid, then you pay the government; if you overpaid, you get a refund
  • F-1 visa students fall under either of two categories for tax purposes:
    • Non-resident alien
    • Resident alien (usually after 5 years on an F-1 status)
  • In the U.S., your credit history and credit score affect areas of your life beyond acquiring loans, e.g. applying for a rental apartment. Learn more about credit in the U.S.

Session 3: Income Taxes and Credit

During this session, it is expected that you will have received your Social Security card. Please make a copy for payroll and Human Resources and update your Glacier account with your new social security number. Glacier is the platform used by Principia for Nonresident Alien tax compliance.

Session 4: State ID and Driver’s License

By the end of this session, you should know that:

  • Driver’s licenses and state IDs are issued by the particular states; you must establish and provide proof of residency in a particular state to qualify for an ID from the state

  • A driver’s license can be used as an ID; an ID, however, cannot be used as a driver’s license

  • Proof of residency, social security card, and form I-20 are among the required documents for someone on an F-1 status to acquire a state ID or driver’s license

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is where you go for these documents. The closest one to Principia College is in Jerseyville – about 20 minutes from the campus. The fees for acquiring a driver’s license or ID can be found here
  • You can use your ID to travel by air within the U.S.
  • The process of getting a driver’s license includes a written test and a driving test. If you pass the written test, you get a learner’s permit, which allows you to drive under the supervision of a licensed driver; the written test and the driving test can be done on the same day. This booklet helps you prepare for the written test.
ISPaSO offers several rides to the DMV per semester. The timing of this session is such that you now likely have all the documents required for a state ID. Please look out for an email with a signup link.

Session 5: Life on an F-1 Visa

Living in the U.S. on an F-1 visa is perhaps the thing that most significantly distinguishes an international student from a domestic student. One of ISPaSO’s top priority is to help you navigate the regulations of an F-1 status and to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with it to be well-prepared for success beyond Principia. The key take-aways from this session are:

  • Students on an F-1 status operate under many regulations and it is prudent to plan intentionally in order to navigate regulations and benefit the most from opportunities of an F-1 status

  • When school is in session, undergraduate students on an F-1 status are required to maintain a course-load of at least 12 semester hours. There are a few exceptions to this rule.

  • International students on an F-1 visa can work up to 20 hours per week when school is in session, and full time during breaks

  • Off-campus work is allowed under Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). We explain what CPT and OPT are during the session.

  • Undergraduate students on an F-1 visa can take remote classes, as long as at least 9 semester hours constitute in-person courses.

  • When traveling internationally, you need a valid visa and a current I-20 to re-enter the U.S.
During this session, we also go over common terminologies and concepts you will encounter while on an F-1 status:
  1. Form I-20: also commonly known as “the I-20.” Your school issues you with this form to certify that you are an enrolled student there. This is the main document you need when applying for an F-1 visa. You also need a valid and up-to-date I-20 alongside your visa when you are entering the U.S. as a student on an F-1 visa

  2. SEVIS: You have probably heard this acronym in reference to SEVIS ID, SEVIS record, or SEVIS fee. SEVIS simply stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a government portal that houses, among other things, immigration records of students on an F-1 visa. Each international student has a SEVIS ID, which can be found on your I-20.

  3. DSO: That is short for “Designated School Official.” To enroll international students on an F-1 visa, every college is required to have at least one employee who is responsible for maintaining the school’s SEVIS portal and ensuring compliance with F-1 visa regulations. It is the DSO that issues your signed form I-20.

  4. CPT and OPT: CPT is “Curricular Practical Training” and OPT stands for “Optional Practical Training.” Both of these are types of authorization that a student on an F-1 visa can get in order to engage in off-campus employment. There are important details to pay attention to when considering CPT and OPT. The main difference we would like to highlight is that CPT can only be used before graduating, and it is typically how international students do off-campus internships.

  5. Status: If you are in the U.S. and your visa expires, you are still in good legal status as long as your form I-20 is current and valid. Similarly, if your I-20 is no longer valid (for example, if you are no longer enrolled in school when you’re supposed to be), you may be out of good legal status even if the visa on your passport has not expired. The point here is: once you are in the U.S., the visa on your passport is simply a travel document, not a proof of status. Sometimes the words “visa” and “status” are used interchangeably. If you got an F-1 visa, traveled to the United States, and are now enrolled in a U.S. college, you are in an “F-1 status.” Let’s say a few years from now you graduate and you are employed under OPT. You are still on an F-1 status. Let’s say your employer wants to continue with you and sponsors you for a “work visa.” At that point you will likely undergo what is referred to as change of status from F-1 to, say, H-1B.