Welcome! We are here to help your arrival to the United States and to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
This section contains information to help you prepare for coming to the U.S., orientation details, an introduction to the Troy area, a guide to understanding your immigration documents, and instructions for readmitted students (who took time off from Rensselaer and are coming back).
For immigration updates during the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, please see the ISSS COVID-19 INFO page.
This page was last updated on: July 16, 2021.
Here is information to help you prepare before you come to Rensselaer.
ISSS sends emails to new students leading up to the start of the semester. These messages are sent to students who have been issued an I-20 by the Office of Admissions.
Graduate Student Emails
- Message #1, sent June 17, 2021: https://rpi.box.com/v/FA21-email-GR-01
- Message #2, sent July 13, 2021: https://rpi.box.com/v/FA21-email-GR-02
Undergraduate Student Emails
- Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee
- Get your visa - see section in the Arrival Guide on 'Applying for your visa'
- Submit immunization records to Student Health Services
- Book your tickets - don't forget about arriving in time for your orientation dates
- What to carry when entering the U.S. [at the Port of Entry]
Here are 10 points to remember when applying for a student visa from NAFSA. NAFSA is the Association of International Educators, and is a great resource for international offices across the U.S.
- All international students in initial F-1 status are required to pay a $350 SEVIS I-901 fee before applying for their F-1 visa. Students should pay the fee at least 3 business days prior to the visa appointment and bring the receipt of payment to the visa interview. Students should keep this receipt of payment for their records and have it on-hand when initially entering the United States.
- Canadian students must pay the SEVIS fee and present proof of receipt at the border. Canadian students do not need to apply for a visa to enter the U.S.
- For more information on the F-1 SEVIS fee, go to: https://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/faq
- To pay the F-1 SEVIS fee online, go to: www.fmjfee.com
- The U.S. Department of State (DOS) maintains an area of their website dedicated to visa denials, Go here for more information: http://bit.ly/DOS-visadenial
- If you are denied during your visa application, please keep the paper they provide you with the reason for your denial and contact ISSS via email so we can try and provide additional guidance.
- Some visa applications are put under administrative processing. You will be advised of this requirement when you apply. For more details, go here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/administrative-processing-information.html
The Office of the Bursar manages student billing for tuition. For more information about The Bursar's Office, including how to access your bill and the tuition due date, please see this link: info.rpi.edu/bursar
The Bursar's Office has partnered with Flywire for international students to pay their bill. Please see the below link for instructions on how to make your payment.
Here is information to help you prepare for Orientation and starting at Rensselaer.
ISSS holds a mandatory new international student orientation, and this is separate from the orientation which will be held by either the First Year Experience office (for undergraduates) or the Office of Graduate Education (for graduates).
Fall 2021 Orientation
Graduate Students & Undergraduate Students
- ISSS Orientation is virtual.
- There will be a series of online modules that must be completed.
- All virtual modules must be completed by Sunday, September 05, 2021.
- A link to access the ISSS Orientation will be sent to you via your RPI email account in early August.
- You must set up your RCS account to access the ISSS Orientation.
Immigration regulations require you to check-in with your Designated School Official (DSO) to maintain your immigration status. All new international students and scholars are required to complete an Electronic Check-In with ISSS after arrival to the U.S.
This will require you to provide your U.S. address, U.S. phone number, and upload copies of your passport, visa, I-94 record and complete a form. This should be completed within two weeks after your arrival to the U.S.. Please note that you can only check-in after arriving in the United States.
Electronic Check-In is through a system called Terra Dotta. ISSS will send you an email link to log in and provide you with access to the Electronic Check-In site. You will need to set up your RCS account in order to log in to the Electronic Check-In.
Guide to American Academic Culture
The academic culture in America may be different from what you expect. Here are some tips to help you prepare:
- Expect that you will have period of time adjusting to something new or different.
- Participate in your class. You can do this by sharing your opinion during a discussion, being an active participant in group work and more. Ask questions if you do not understand.
- Prepare for your next class - make sure you have read the assigned reading or performed the required laboratory work so that you are ready for discussion.
- Be prepared for some informality. Every professor is different, and some may ask you to call them by their first name and others may prefer their formal title. It is not a sign of disrespect if you are asked to call your professor by their first name.
- Use the office hours for the professor or teaching assistant. If you are concerned that you need help or do not feel like you understand something, ask. You don't know if you don't ask.
Hear from other international students about their experience with American academic culture to get a first-person story: http://translatingsuccess.org/
Title IX, the 1972 Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Rensselaer has a specific website dedicated to Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Awareness, and you can go here to get help, talk to someone or report sexual misconduct. "Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy learning, living, and working environment in which no member of the Rensselaer community is, on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in any Institute program or activity. The Institute takes gender-based and sexual-based violence seriously, and provides support and information to all members of Rensselaer community."
To help clarify what is sexual assault, awareness of sexual assault and learn some cultural views on sexual assault, take a look at these videos courtesy of International Student Insurance:
- Sexual Assault Awareness for International Students: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/explained/sexual-assault-awareness-video.php
- Cultural Views on Sexual Assault — Student Stories: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/explained/cultural-views-sexual-assault-video.php
Website URL: https://sexualviolence.rpi.edu/
The higher education system in the U.S. has a focus on academic integrity. From the 2014-2016 Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights & Responsibilities, August 2014, this is because "Intellectual integrity and credibility are the foundation of all academic work. A violation of Academic Integrity policy is, by definition, considered a flagrant offense to the educational process." [URL: https://www.rpi.edu/dept/doso/resources/policies/Fillable2015-2016Version2AcademicIntegrityBrochure.pdf]
Your academic department is the best place to go if you have concerns or questions about what is academic integrity and how does it pertain to you. This is a topic which is also covered in your Orientation sessions, so it is very important to attend the session to learn about what is academic integrity at Rensselaer.
Health & Wellness
Student Health Services at Rensselaer has a mission: "to keep students healthy so that they may achieve their academic, personal, and athletic goals" (Website URL: https://studenthealth.rpi.edu/).
Health care in the U.S. can be very expensive, and that is where insurance enters the equation. All students are automatically enrolled with the health insurance provider at Rensselaer. As F-1 students are required to have health insurance coverage for routine and non-emergency care in the Troy area, students can either opt to continue enrollment with the health insurance provider at Rensselaer or waive the insurance if you hold valid insurance which meets the required standards. This is a process done entirely with the Student Health Center -- ISSS is not involved in this at all, but wants to make sure you know where to get the information.
For more details about the services offered by Student Health Services, please see their website here: https://studenthealth.rpi.edu/
RPI's current health insurance provider is CDPHP.
RPI Email Account
All students should set up their RCS Account as soon as possible. The RCS Account is what you use to access your email account, along with other elements of campus like the WiFi and printers. ISSS will send messages to your RPI email account, as will many other departments on campus, so you should be checking your email at least once per day to stay informed. To set up your RCS Account, see this guidance from DotCIO: https://itssc.rpi.edu/hc/en-us/articles/360008784432-RCS-Accounts
ISSS has developed guides to assist new students with frequently asked questions:
- Classroom Tips: https://rpi.box.com/v/ISSSnew-classroomtips
- Culture Guide: https://rpi.box.com/v/ISSSnew-cultureguide
- Immigration Resources: https://rpi.box.com/v/ISSSnew-immigrationresources
- SSN Guide: https://rpi.box.com/v/ISSSnew-ssnguide
You are responsible for making all of your travel arrangements. Rensselaer does not provide any pickup services to new students. We recommend you make your arrangements in advance to find the most affordable prices.
- The nearest airport to Rensselaer is the Albany International Airport (ALB). It is approximately 15 minutes from campus by car. For more information about this airport, see their website: http://www.albanyairport.com/
- Other major airports in New York State are John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA). If arriving at either of these airports, there is a transportation service you can pay to provide daily shuttle service between either JFK/LGA and Albany called Premiere Transportation. You can find more information about this service here: https://www.premierelimo.com/transportation-services/airport-shuttle/
- Other majors airports within 1-2 states of New York include Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey, Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Connecticut and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) in Massachusetts.
- Airport websites:
- There are a number of coach bus services from New York City and Boston to Albany, including Greyhound, Megabus, Trailways and Peter Pan bus lines.
- Bus websites:
- Amtrak is a national train service. The nearest station is the Albany-Rensselaer Train Station, which is approximately 15 minutes from campus by car. For more information about Amtrak, see their website: http://www.amtrak.com. Please be sure to review the baggage regulations before travelling.
Car Service - Taxi
- A taxi from the Albany International Airport or the Albany-Rensselaer Train Station to Rensselaer costs approximately $45. Carry a few extra dollars to tip the driver for your baggage. Always verify the total cost of your taxi before you go anywhere. If traveling in a group, make sure that you are not being overcharged for each additional person.
Car Service - Ride Share Apps
- There are two major services in upstate NY where you can use an app to hail a driver: Lyft and Uber. Both services require you to use your cell phone to request a driver and permit you to enter your final destination. There also may be surcharges if you are picked up at the airport or the train station.
The main address for the campus is 110 8th Street, Troy, NY -- but this might not be the best place to get dropped off because the campus is on a hill and this address places you and your luggage at the bottom of the hill.
Find out where you need to go in advance - to pick up a room key at Student Living and Learning or to go directly to a building for orientation - so that you don't have to walk uphill and carry your luggage.
RPI Shuttle Service
- Rensselaer has a shuttle service that is free for RPI students to use and provides safe transportation around the campus grounds and to downtown Troy.
- To find more information about the shuttle, including hours of operation, break schedules, and the schedule, please go here: https://info.rpi.edu/rensselaer-shuttle
- The Safe Ride program provides students with a safe and free evening/late-night transportation option within a specified service area from 7:00 p.m.–3:00 a.m.
- To find more information about Safe Ride, including the service area and how to request a ride, please go here: https://info.rpi.edu/safe-ride
State Identification/Driver's License
- You are able to apply for a New York State License, Permit or Non-Driver ID through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYS DMV).
- However, for students who are attending RPI for the first time or have been issued an Initial or Transfer Pending I-20, you must wait until 10 days after ISSS has completed your SEVIS registration, which is required reporting to the federal government that you have arrived and checked in with ISSS. This process will be completed within the first 30 days after the semester begins and you will get an email from ISSS when it is done. You should not go to the DMV before ISSS tells you because you will be turned away.
Owning a car
- For information on owning a vehicle, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles website at https://www.dmv.org/ny-new-york/
- RPI Parking: For information on on-campus parking, visit the RPI Parking and Transportation website at https://www.rpi.edu/dept/parking/
CDTA Bus Service [free for RPI students]
- All RPI students are able to use the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) bus service for free using your RPI ID. Note that for new students, you need to wait at least two business days after receiving your RPI ID card to use it on the bus. For more details about the CDTA service around campus, please go here: https://info.rpi.edu/parking-and-transportation/cdta-bus-service
Taxis & Ride Share Services
- There are a number of taxi services you can call to request a car pick you up and take you to your final destination. In the area near Troy, some commonly seen companies are Black & White Taxi, Capitaland Taxi, and Fast Taxi. Make sure you are getting into a taxi which has a sign on it that says it is a taxi, rather than appearing to be a private car.
- Ride share services are also commonly used for transportation. Apps such as Lyft and Uber require you to use your cell phone to request a driver and permit you to enter your final destination to obtain a fare estimate in advance. There also may be surcharges if you are picked up at the airport or the train station. Make sure to check that the license plate of the driver listed on your app and picture match the person who picks you up, as in the New York City airports there are known scammers who pose as Lyft or Uber drivers.
The First-Year Experience Office at Rensselaer has compiled a list of banks in the area based on their distance to campus. To view this list, go here: https://studentlife.rpi.edu/fye/beyond-campus/banking
You may be asked to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) when trying to open a bank account. If you are a new student and do not have an on-campus job, you are not eligible to apply for a SSN. In that case, ask the bank what other documentation they need from you in order to open an account.
Living on-campus? You will work with the Student Living & Learning Office to get assistance with how and when you can first access your residence hall or apartment, as well as any other matters related to your on-campus housing. Check out their website for more information: https://sll.rpi.edu/
Living off-campus? According to the Off-Campus Commons website, "Off-campus" refers to apartments and other dwellings for Rensselaer students not directly managed by Residential Commons or Greek Life Organizations." For more information, check out this area of the Student Living & Learning website: https://sll.rpi.edu/off-campus-commons
The Arch has compiled a great list of international fare located in the Troy area. Please see this link for a downloadable list: https://rpi.box.com/v/troy-international-fare
The First-Year Experience Office at Rensselaer has compiled a list with information about the Troy area. To view this list, go here: https://studentlife.rpi.edu/fye/beyond-campus/troy-rensselaer-county
The Department of Public Safety works to maintain a safe and secure environment for all, and they are responsible for 24-hour campus patrols, the emergency call boxes (or commonly known as blue lights) and more. You can find more information on their website here: https://publicsafety.rpi.edu/
There are emergency call boxes or emergency telephones located in all residential and academic areas, so look around on campus to be aware of where they are located if you need one.
The Department of Public Safety offers personal safety guidance for all students, regardless of if you live on or off-campus. For more information, go here: https://publicsafety.rpi.edu/personal-safety
Cell phones & SIM card
- ISSS partners with a cell phone provider called StudentSIMS to offer you a free SIM card and plans with low rates. You can find out more about this company and the plans they offer here: https://www.studentsims.com/
- A great benefit to this is that you can order the free SIM card and have it shipped to you directly -- wherever you are, free of charge -- so that when you land and step off the plane, you can already have the SIM card ready and activated.
- Please make sure to set up your RCS account and check your emails daily. The Institute will primarily communicate with you via email and it is expected that you will be regularly viewing and responding to your messages.
This section will explain what are the important immigration documents you have.
What is it?
- The I-20 is technically called the "Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status". This title is listed in small letters at the top of your I-20.
- This is a document which is issued by the Office of Admissions at Rensselaer. It certifies that Rensselaer has admitted you to the institution, states your program of study and the length of your program, provides information about the financial documentation you showed, and much more.
- You should keep all of your I-20s forever. You never know when you will be asked to provide a copy and your institution is only required to maintain documents for a certain period of time.
- To learn more about what you can do with the I-20, see this link from Study in the States: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students-and-the-form-i-20
What if I lose my I-20?
- You should contact ISSS as soon as this happens to get guidance on what you should do. Please do not wait until the next time you need your I-20 to request a new one.
What if I get a new I-20?
- Keep copies of all previous I-20s for ever and ever and ever! You may be asked to provide a copy or original in the future
What is it?
- Your F-1 visa is a sticker put into your passport after you attend an interview at the U.S. Consulate/Embassy outside the U.S. and are approved to seek entry into the U.S.
- The sticker is what you will show the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the border when you enter, along with your I-20, to indicate you are here to study as a F-1 student.
- You can only obtain a F-1 visa outside of the U.S.. The purpose of the F-1 visa is to permit you to enter the U.S.
What if it expires?
- If you are inside the U.S. and your F-1 visa has expired, that is okay. You can remain in the U.S. with an expired visa.
- The purpose of your F-1 visa is to let you enter the U.S., and if you are already here you do not need to be permitted to enter the U.S. If you travel outside of the U.S., you must have an unexpired visa to enter the U.S..
What it is?
- Your I-94 Record is formally known as the Form I-94, "Arrival/Departure Record". It shows the terms of your admission to the U.S.
- If you enter the U.S. via an air or sea port of entry, you will be issued an electronic document which you can access online. If you enter the U.S. via a land port of entry, you will be issued a paper I-94 in your passport (and do not remove it).
- The I-94 Record proves your legal F-1 status in the U.S., so it is important for you to check it every time after you enter the U.S., especially if you hold another visa in your passport, so that if something is wrong you can get it fixed immediately. Your I-94 record is only updated after you have entered the U.S..
- For more information about your I-94, see this link from Study in the States: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/2014/08/what-is-the-form-i-94
How do I get it?
- If you entered via an air or sea port of entry, you can access your Most Recent I-94 Record online from the Customs and Border Protection website here: http://bit.ly/formI94
- You will need your passport information to access the document.
- Please check to make sure that your Class of Admission lists F1 and the Admit Until Date lists D/S. If anything else is listed, contact ISSS immediately.
- If there is incorrect information on your Most Recent I-94 Record or your Travel History, please save the document and email it to ISSS along with your RIN and explain what was incorrect for us to provide you with guidance.
What if I lose my passport or it is stolen?
- If you lose your passport, you need to immediately contact the Consulate/Embassy for your country of citizenship to report it is lost and to get instructions on how to apply for a new passport. If your passport is stolen, please notify the local authorities and file a police report, then immediately contact the Consulate/Embassy for your country of citizenship to report it is lost and to get instructions on how to apply for a new passport.
- Your passport does not impact your I-20, so you do not need to report to ISSS if you receive a new passport.
What if it expires?
- Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months into the future at all times as a part of maintaining your F-1 status.
- You can renew your passport inside of the U.S.. For guidance on how to do this, contact the Consulate/Embassy for your country of citizenship to get instructions on how to apply for a new passport.
For you to return to RPI, you must first apply for readmission with the appropriate office.
The process to return to RPI has two parts:
- You are readmitted by the appropriate office to return to Rensselaer (either Student Success or OGE); and
- You apply for a new I-20 from ISSS.
You should complete the readmission application first, and then submit the I-20 application documents to ISSS. ISSS cannot issue the I-20 until you provide us with proof of your readmission, but we can review your documentation in advance and notify you of any adjustments which might be needed.
Note that international students are required to enroll in a full-time course load for the semester they return to RPI. Please keep this in mind if you will return in the summer semester, as you must be enrolled full-time to maintain your F-1 status.
- For undergraduate students, the immigration requirement is 12 credits.
- For graduate students, the immigration requirement is 9 credits.
Readmitted international students typically must return on a new, initial I-20. This means that the student will have a new SEVIS number, must pay a new SEVIS fee, and must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to school. It also means that the student cannot return more than 30 days before the start date on the new I-20. In addition, all readmitted international students are required to submit new proof of financial support.
Readmitted international students are also required by law to check-in with the ISSS Office upon return to RPI. ISSS will send you an email within two weeks before the start of your the semester you return with instructions on how to complete this process.
To apply for a new I-20, please complete the Readmit I-20 Request Form found here: https://rpi.box.com/v/readmitI20request