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Step-by-step US Student Visa Process

US Student Visa Application Checklist

Before we explain how to apply for a student visa, let’s briefly go over the specific items you should have in order. 

 #1: Passport

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 to make sure your passport will not expire during your stay in the US.

#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.

#3: Money

Finally, you’ll need to have a decent sum of money on hand so that you can pay the various visa-related fees. Here are the required fees for a US student visa:

· I-901 SEVIS fee: This fee is 200 USD for F-1/M-1 students and 180 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.

There are three types of US student visas:

  • 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 non-academic or vocational studies 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.


How to Get a Student Visa: 9-Step Guide

Now that you understand the types of student visas and the basic things you’ll need to have ready to apply for the same. Let’s walk through how to apply for a student visa.

NOTE: The application process for an F-1 visa is identical to that for an M-1 visa and similar to that for a J-1 visa. As a result, the visa process described below may be used for all three types of US student visas. If you have any questions about your visa type or how to apply for one, consult the US visas website.

Step 1: Apply and Get Accepted to a US University

The first step is to apply (and eventually gain admission) to a US school or university. 

The schools you apply to must be approved by SEVP. To find a SEVP-approved school or to confirm that the schools you’ve chosen are 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.

Step 2: Receive Form I-20 or DS-2019 From Your University

Once admitted to a school, you’ll receive one of two forms: F-1 and M-1 students will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status), and 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 (we explain the interview process more in step 8) and to pay certain fees (which we discuss next in step 3).

Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

Once you receive your I-20 or DS-2019 form from your school, go online and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. Once again, this fee is 200 USD for F-1/M-1 students and 180 USD for J-1 students. (Those participating in short-term J-1 visa programs will pay only 35 USD.)

The students can pay this fee online by credit card. Note that the I-901 SEVIS fee is separate from your visa application fee (which we explain more in step 7).

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.

Be aware 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 Form DS-160 Online

Next, complete the Online Non-immigrant 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)

Besides, you may need to supply:

· 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 - Which needs to be made carefully and we will help with this. 

· Additional information depending on your purpose for travel

On this application, you will also 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. 

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 Form DS-160, contact your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, the one you input on your online application) to schedule your visa interview.

Step 7: Pay Your Visa Application Fee

Next, pay the 160 USD application fee. This fee is the same price regardless of your country of origin and where you apply.

Step 8: Attend Your Visa Interview

The last big step in the visa process is the interview. This interview will be the deciding factor as to whether you will receive a US student visa or not.

Before attending your interview, gather the following items and information:

· 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)

· Printed DS-160 confirmation page

· Printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page

· 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. (To get your visa, you must leave your passport with your embassy.)

Step 9: Receive Your Visa

Once you’ve completed all of the steps above and have received approval for an international student visa to the US, your embassy will return your passport to you with your new visa in it. 

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Why study in


The USA boasts the most diverse and one of the biggest educational systems in the whole world, with 4,000 plus universities and colleges to choose from. About 800,000 international students from the world overcome to study in the US every year. America is a very popular premier student destination given its quality of education and tremendous opportunities.

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