Do you know How to Get a Student Visa in USA? Embarking on a journey to pursue education in the United States is an exciting endeavor, but it requires navigating the student visa application process and that is why we are here to guide you.
If you preparing to study in the US and you are not a US citizen, then you will need to obtain a US student visa.
Applying for a US student visa can sometimes be a very long process, so I'll advise that you start preparing very well in advance – at least 3 -5 months before your course is due to start.
There are several steps to applying for a US student visa and each application step may vary depending on the US embassy or consulate you are applying from, so it's important to consult the instructions on the website of the embassy or consulate where you intend to apply.
In general, prospective students will go through 5 stages when applying for a US student visa:
- Apply to and be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school in the US (six to twelve months prior to US study);
- Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee;
- Complete a US student visa application along with a recent photo(s);
- Pay the visa application fee;
- Schedule and attend a visa interview.
This student visa guide is designed to provide you with a detailed roadmap on how to obtain a student visa in the USA. From understanding the different visa categories to gathering the necessary documents and acing the interview, we've got you covered.
Different Types of USA Student Visa
To legally attend any school in the USA from another country as a student, you'll need to have a student visa. So, that being said, all international applicants — that is, those without US citizenship or permanent residence — must first obtain a US student visa.
This international student visa allows you the privilege to reside temporarily in the US in order to attend an approved school, language program, or academic exchange program.
Your student visa validity ends once you complete your program.
Once that happens, you are required to depart the US, except maybe you got a job in the USA with a work permit/work visa. You can also get a tourist visa if you have the finance for it.
There are 3 different types of US student visas, they include:
- F-1 visa: This visa is for high school or college/university (including language program) study in the US, applying to both undergraduate and graduate students.
- M-1 visa: This visa is for nonacademic or vocational study in the US. Such programs are usually short-term and career-focused. For example, you could attend a culinary school or a medical training program.
- J-1 visa: This visa is for exchange visitors, including study abroad students, scholars, interns, and au pairs.
In a more general sense, all international students who wish to study full-time in an undergraduate or graduate program will need an F-1 visa.
In any contrast, if you're interested in studying abroad for only a semester or two at a US institution (and want to receive credits that go toward your home institution), you'll need to apply for a J-1 visa.
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Requirements for USA Student Visa
Before you start your visa application, make sure to complete this checklist.
Every international student must possess a valid passport issued by his or her home country. This passport must also be valid until at least six months beyond the end date of your program in the US.
So any passport that will expire during your stay in the US or shortly after your program ends may not be used. Rather, you'll need to apply for a new passport and use that one instead.
Passport procedures and costs vary by country. Check your country's government website for details on obtaining or renewing a passport.
2. Passport-Style Photograph
As part of your application, you must submit a recent (within the past six months) passport-style photograph. This will be your visa photograph, which you will later upload and submit with your online visa application.
The US visas website offers specific instructions on how to take and upload a visa photograph, as well as examples of acceptable and unacceptable photographs. Be aware that as of November 2016, glasses are no longer allowed in visa photographs.
Finally, you'll need to have a decent sum of money on hand so that you can pay the various visa-related fees. We'll discuss in more detail what these fees are and how to pay them later. But as a brief overview, here are the required fees for a US student visa:
- I-901 SEVIS fee: This fee is 350 USD for F-1/M-1 students and 220 USD for J-1 students (or 35 USD for those entering short-term J-1 programs). All applicants must pay this fee.
- Visa application fee: This fee is 160 USD. All applicants must pay this fee.
- Visa issuance fee (if required): This fee is only required for applicants of certain nationalities. You can see whether you are required to pay a visa issuance fee by going to the US visas website.
How to Get a Student Visa in USA
Securing a student visa is a pivotal step towards realizing your academic aspirations in the USA. Here's a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the process successfully:
Step 1. Apply for Admission and Get Accepted to a US School
The first step here is to apply to a US school and eventually gain admission. Most full-time undergraduate and graduate programs in the US require applications to be submitted by December or January each year.
Schools typically send out admission notifications around March and April. So, take note.
As we've mentioned earlier, the schools you are applying to must be approved by SEVP. To find a SEVP-approved school or to confirm that the schools you've chosen are in fact certified by SEVP, use the SEVP school search tool.
J-1 students will most likely apply for exchange programs through their home institutions. You may also look for designated sponsor organizations online at the official J-1 visa website.
Understand the Different Visa Categories
Before applying for a student visa, it's crucial to understand the different visa categories available. The most common type is the F-1 visa, which is meant for academic and language studies.
Another category, the J-1 visa, is for exchange programs, while the M-1 visa is for vocational and non-academic studies.
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Step 2. Receive the Form I-20 or DS-2019 From Your School
Once you are admitted to a school in the USA, you'll receive one of two forms:
- F-1 and M-1 students will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status),
- J-1 students will receive Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status).
Your school will mail the appropriate form to you. On your form will be your SEVIS ID, your school's address, and other critical information concerning your program.
You will need this form for your visa interview.
Step 3. Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee
Once you've received your form I-20 or DS-2019 form from your school, you are expected to go online and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
Once again, this fee is $350 USD for F-1/M-1 students and 220 USD for J-1 students. (Those participating in short-term J-1 visa programs will pay only 35 USD.)
Most students from other countries (except students from Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, or Nigeria) can pay this fee online by credit card.
Note that the I-901 SEVIS fee is separate from your visa application fee. So, once you've paid this fee, print out your confirmation page, as you'll need to bring it to your visa interview.
Step 4. Find Your Nearest US Embassy or Consulate
You must apply for your international student visa through your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, in the city or region in which you live).
You can search for US embassies and consulates online through the US Department of State.
Please note that US student visa processes may differ slightly depending on the embassy through which you apply. This means that at some embassies, you may need to submit additional documentation with your visa application.
For more details on what you'll need to submit, go to your embassy's official website or contact your embassy directly.
Step 5. Complete Your Form DS-160 Online
You'll need to complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, also known as Form DS-160. To successfully fill out this form, be sure you have the following items on hand:
- Your passport
- A visa photograph (to upload)
- Form I-20 or DS-2019 (remember, which form you receive depends on whether you are an F-1/M-1 or J-1 student)
Additionally, you may need to supply the following:
- A travel itinerary (if you've already made travel plans to the US)
- The dates of your last five visits to the US (if applicable) and/or evidence of your international travel history within the past five years
- A resume or CV
- Additional information depending on your purpose for travel
On the application portal, you will also be required to select the US embassy at which you intend to interview for your visa.
Note that you must fill out the entire form in English, except when asked to input your full name in your native alphabet. Translations are available on the form for those who have difficulty understanding the English instructions.
If you have any additional questions about how to fill out this form, go to the official DS-160 FAQ page.
Once you've completed this form and submitted it online, print out your confirmation page to bring to your visa interview.
Step 6. Schedule Your Visa Interview
Once you've submitted your Form DS-160, the next thing to do is to contact your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, the one you input on your online application) to schedule your visa interview.
Wait times for interviews vary depending on the embassy. For more accurate knowledge of your interview time, it's wise to go to the US visas website to see the wait times for your embassy.
Step 7. Pay Your Visa Application Fee
After scheduling your interview with the nearest US embassy, you should go ahead and pay the $160 USD application fee. Please note that this fee is the same price regardless of your country of origin and where you apply.
Note that when you pay this fee will vary depending on your embassy. Although many embassies require applicants to pay the application fee before their interviews, not all do.
Your embassy should instruct you as to when and how you'll need to pay your visa application fee. If your embassy requires you to pay this fee before your interview, be sure to bring your receipt as proof of payment to your interview.
Step 8. Attend Your Visa Interview
The visa interview is the very last step in the visa process. The outcome of your visa interview will be the deciding factor as to whether you will receive a US student visa or not.
Before attending your interview, make sure you have the following items and information:
- Your passport
- One copy of your visa photograph (this may be required by certain embassies, particularly if you were unable to upload your visa photograph to your online visa application)
- Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
- Your printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page
- Your visa application fee payment receipt (this is only required if you paid the application fee before your interview)
- Form I-20 for F-1/M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 for J-1 students (make sure to bring the original form — not a copy!)
Your particular embassy may require additional forms and documentation, such as:
- Official transcripts from colleges/universities you've attended
- Diplomas/degrees from high schools/colleges/universities you've attended
- Standardized test scores (if required by your US school)
- Proof of sufficient funds
- Proof of your intent to depart the US at the end of your program
You will undergo a security check and provide digital, ink-free fingerprints, usually right after you arrive at your interview.
During the interview, you will be asked a range of questions in English. These questions will mostly focus on why you want to study at the school you've selected and what you intend to do after the program finishes.
It is important to clearly state that you do not intend to remain in the US once you complete your program.
If your interview is successful, your embassy will then inform you when and how it will return your passport (with your new visa) to you.
Step 9. Pay the Visa Issuance Fee (If Required)
This step is actually optional, but some students may be required to pay a visa issuance fee once they have been approved for a US student visa.
Whether this fee is required or not depends on your nationality and your country's reciprocity agreement with the US.
The US visas website offers a chart you can use to see whether you must pay a visa issuance fee.
Step 10. Receive Your Visa
Now that you've completed all of the necessary steps listed above, you should receive an approval notice for an international student visa to the US.
At this point, your embassy will return your passport to you with your new visa in it.
Note that some embassies will require you to come in person to pick it up, whereas others will mail it directly back to you.
Visa processing times will vary depending on your embassy. You can get an estimate as to how long your visa will take to process by going to the US visas website.
Can You be Denied a US Student Visa?
Yes, it's possible, but according to the US visas website, most applications for US visas are approved. That said, in rare cases, you may be denied an international student visa.
This only happens when you fail to fulfill a certain requirement before or during your interview.
Here are some examples of problems likely to make you ineligible for a US student visa:
- You do not provide proof of sufficient funds. This is said to be one of the main reasons students are often denied student visas to the US. Although you aren't necessarily expected to have enough money to last you the entire duration of your program, you should possess proof of sufficient funds (in liquid assets) for at least one academic year.
- You do not provide proof of your intent to leave the US once your program ends. The US government needs to ensure that you will not (intentionally or accidentally) overstay your visa. Therefore, you must provide adequate proof of your intent to return to your home country once you finish your program.
- You do not pass the security check. Though this may be obvious, committing certain crimes can make you ineligible for a US visa.
- You do not bring all required items to your interview. Failure to bring all required items, such as your passport, receipts, and official visa-related documents, may result in a visa rejection.
- You fail to show up to your interview. If you are late to your interview or simply fail to show up, your application for a visa may be rejected.
- You apply for a US student visa too late. Applying for your visa with too little time before your program starts will most likely make you ineligible for a student visa. This is mainly because your visa won't become available to you until after your program start date.
This list highlights some of the many reasons international students are denied US visas. If your application for a student visa is rejected, your embassy will tell you why.
Unfortunately, you cannot get your money back in the case of a rejection.
Moreover, embassies will not reevaluate visa applications, so if you are rejected, you must repeat the process above in order to reapply for a student visa.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I apply for a student visa before being accepted by a U.S. institution?
It's recommended to have an acceptance from a U.S. institution before applying for a student visa.
What documents do I need for the visa interview?
You'll need the Form I-20, DS-160 confirmation, valid passport, MRV fee receipt, and financial documents.
How early should I schedule my visa interview?
It's advisable to schedule your interview well in advance, as appointment slots can fill up quickly.
Can I work while on a student visa in the USA?
F-1 visa holders can work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week during the academic year and full-time during breaks.
Is there an age limit for applying for a student visa?
There's no specific age limit, but you must have a valid academic purpose for pursuing studies in the USA.
Can I extend my student visa if my program is extended?
Yes, you can apply for an extension through your designated school official (DSO).
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There you have it, the 10 steps on How to Get a Student Visa in USA. On the bright side, acquiring a student visa to study in the USA is a significant achievement that opens doors to educational and personal growth.
By following the steps outlined in this guide, you'll be well-prepared to tackle the application process with confidence. Remember, each journey is unique, and with determination and the right resources, your dream of studying in the USA can become a reality.
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