What you need to know about student visas

If you’re looking to come to the United States to study, congratulations! It is an exciting time in your educational career. To take this step, however, you will require a student visa. These visas give you the right to reside in the U.S. temporarily during your course of study, and the kind of degree or certificate you are undertaking will determine which visa you need.

The F-1 visa: Your most likely choice
People coming to the U.S. to study at a university, college, seminary, conservatory or any other academic institution (including a language training program) will need an F-1 visa. The only people who will need an M-1 visa are those who will be studying at a vocational school.

“To study in the U.S., you’ll need a visa.”

You can’t use a visitor visa or travel on the visa waiver program to study in the U.S.  The only exception to this rule is if your course of study is really short and part of a vacation. If you will be a student, you must have a student visa.

Getting an F-1 visa
First, you must be accepted to a school that is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Unless you are accepted, you can’t apply for a visa. Once this happens, you will have your information entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, and you will pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.

You will then need to complete the online nonimmigrant visa application, known also as Form DS-160, and print its confirmation page. You will also upload a photo of yourself to this form. Then, you will need to schedule an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you reside if you are between the ages of 14 and 79. Students who are younger or older than this range generally do not need to be interviewed.

The interview will require you to already have paid the visa application fee in most cases. You will also need to bring your documentation, including your passport, the confirmation page from Form DS-160, your application fee payment receipt, a photo if the upload failed and your certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status, which is form I-20A-B.

Your interview will mostly consist of determining whether you qualify for a visa and which category is the right one, and of you establishing that you meet the requirements for that visa. You will also have fingerprints taken.

Further information
You should keep in mind that completing these steps does not guarantee you will get a visa. Therefore, you shouldn’t make concrete travel plans until after you have received one. Furthermore, while it’s true you can apply for visas for your spouse and children, this is a different process that involves applying for F-2 visas for them.