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Studying in the USA for Au Pairs

By Gap 360

Last updated: 12th January 2015

One of the brilliant things about the Au Pair USA programme is that you get a chance to study whilst you are working in America!

Your host family will give you $500 and your local coordinator will help you to find a course nearby and show you how to enrol. You can start planning before you go as you’ll receive lots of information about colleges in your area from your local coordinator. You’ll get to study for about 60 hours (which gives you six credits) over the year, going into college for about an hour a week and doing about two hours of homework in between. You need to get the lingo right here, you won’t be going to college and writing essays, you’ll be going to ‘school’ and ‘turning in papers’. Nobody will tell you you’re ‘clever’, but as soon as you start to talk loads of people are going to comment on how ‘smart’ you are and they won’t be talking about your outfit.

Ok, so don’t think you’re going to be throwing your motar board in the air and running through the grass barefoot in a black gown at the end, you won’t be getting a degree – you’re not on the right visa for that and you’ll have children to look after 45 hours a week, remember? But you will get to earn six American university credits. An undergraduate degree in the USA has to be made up of about 110 – 140 credits, so you can see that six credits is a relatively small part of what it would take to graduate. But those six credits will be yours and you will have earned them with the sweat of your brain. You’ll probably have made some new mates along the way, drunk a lot of coffee and maybe sat on the bleachers watching a college football game too. It’ll be like an episode of Scooby Doo, with no masks, but a little bit of mystery to solve here and there, I reckon.

When you get back to the UK, you probably won’t be able to argue that these credits should count directly as part of your degree, but just having studied at a US college will look brilliant on any application for study or work.  Apart from that, it’s really good fun being an International Student, even if it is only for an hour a week. In my experience, in the US as soon as you open your mouth, people automatically assume you are tremendously brainy. You can make it your duty to prove them wrong, but it’s a great starting point. Even if you don’t ever plan on studying again, or have your British degree safely under your British belt, imagine all those anecdotes you’ll be able to share that start ‘When I was at college in the USofA…”

So what can you study? Traditionally, when au pairs were first invented, they came to the UK from other countries in Europe with the goal of learning English whilst they took care of children. Living with a family was considered a really good way of learning English. ‘Au pair’ literally means ‘equal to’ or ‘on a par with’ which meant that the au pair gave her time and expertise in return for living very cheaply with a family and learning English – a fair trade that left both sides feeling they gained equally from the set up.  Well that’s all well and good, but as you probably don’t need to learn English, the good news is you’ll have a certain amount of choice in what to study.

Colleges and courses vary state to state but in theory you could study Spanish, Fashion, Creative Writing, Marketing, Computer Science, Drama, American History, Philosophy…in fact anything that is considered ‘academic’ and is offered by an accredited institution. So you couldn’t do a course in pole dancing or bar tending (they do exist) nor could you train to be a barista (well you could but it wouldn’t count towards your six credits). It’s a great chance to dabble in a subject, or to carry on learning about something you know a bit about already, but see it from an American perspective. Or just a way to learn the history of your local area. You have to keep things in perspective though, you might not get to study brain surgery or rocket science – but you might be able to find something scientific if that’s your thing.

If that all sounds a bit lofty and makes your palms sweaty at the thought of being back at school, there are other things you can do. In New York for example, there are courses at some public institutions that you can take over a few weekends, which have been devised specifically for people on J1 visas. You learn about local history or get to explore the local area. If you are in the New York/New Jersey area you could do a course that involves a trip up to Niagara Falls and there’s another one that includes travel to Boston, including a hotel room for a night! Both are less than $500 and give you 4.5 credits.

The best thing to do is to talk to your Local Coordinator before you leave the UK, to get an idea of what au pairs have done previously. You need to plan for having to top up the $500 your host family are going to give you, just in case you can’t find anything in budget. You should plan to have some extra cash available anyway just in case of emergencies. I have heard of au pairs having to pay an extra $500 for their courses, but I have also heard of families offering to give their au pairs more cash if they can’t find a cheap enough course. Host families are not allowed to pay a bonus, but this is one way they could reward you or help you. Or look at it this way, you could aim to save just $10 a week from your pay and you’d have $520 to put towards a course, that doesn’t sound too hard to do. What’s that, two or three caramel frappucinos a week? Starbucks’ loss is your intellectual gain!

If the thought of having to pay out of your own pocket is making you pull a face, try to consider the value and not just the cost. You’ll have been a college student in America, you’ll have learnt something and you’ll have it in writing, you’ll have a certificate – it’s yours for ever (all of the above, not just the certificate!) and what about this:  ‘a mind that has been stretched never returns to its original shape’ I saw that on a poster on the NY subway, on an ad for a NY college, so there you go.

Before you go, you’ll receive information about local colleges in your pre-arrival pack. You can have a look at their web sites and see what’s available to you. The time you arrive might influence what and when you study. If you arrive in October, you might have to wait until the spring to enrol for example.

Here’s what our American partners InterExchange tell us about courses available for au pairs:

“There are lots of options for our au pairs across the country to complete the education component using the stipend, with only a small additional financial investment from their part. Most of the options below can be done over a few short weekends and may only cost an additional $50-100 for the full six credits to be achieved. 

Au pairs need to check that the course they want to do is accepted by InterExchange by checking here:

We review the class and the institution to make sure that it meets program requirements, and then approve it and often will add it to that cluster’s education list.”

In the Chicago area, classes are about $550. Have a look here:

Courses cost between $350 and $800 depending on the tour destination. Each course is 4.5 credits/45 hours, or 75% of the requirement.

At Long Island University in New York, Courses cost $285 and are three credits, or 50% of the requirement:

Sojourner Douglass offers courses across the United States. They offer things like 1-2 weekend courses, language courses and cultural/tour courses. Price depends on the course and when the au pair registers:

Here are the experiences of two au pairs that have recently arrived in the USA:

The courses are varied! And you have to kind of independently find them, you’ll probably need a little more over the $500 if you wanna either do 2 courses or a good course, I’ve just signed up for a Fashion course in Long Island, it’s a weekend course, you stay there and food is provided, it’s worth 4 credits and it’s $350 so in order to get the 6 credits you may need a little more but not a huge amount extra

Fern, Connecticut

For the educational credits in my area the colleges are very expensive so I’m going to have to pay for 3 credits by myself as the $500 only covers one course that gives me 3 credits

Amy, Massachusetts


Whatever you do, it’s going to really add to the whole Au Pair USA experience that is waiting for you over there!

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