Similar to applying to university, applying for your student visa is not necessarily difficult, but be ready to be organized, follow lots of steps and to wait.
First, let’s go over what kind of visa you need. The most common student visa is an F-1 visa. The majority of international students studying in the United States are here on F-1 visas. J-1 visas are primarily for exchange students who receive a majority of their funding (51 percent) from an institution or government sponsor. M-1 visas are for students entering vocational programs.
The biggest fear of most international students is being denied a visa to study in the USA. Here’s the good news, in 2014, 595,569 F-1 visas were issued!
Applying for anything life changing like university in another country or your student visa can be daunting and intimidating. Reading everything you need to provide, verify, fill out, etc. does not help if you’re anxious. So let’s break it down step-by-step! An important note: aside from the first and last step, the order of these steps may vary based on your U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
TIP: Begin the visa application process at least three months before you plan to enter the United States.
Step 1: Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into a university, college or English language program! Doesn’t that feel good?! This is the first step: be accepted by a SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) school or program. Keep your acceptance letter. You will need this for other forms and your visa interview.
Step 2: Your SEVP approved school will send you an I-20 form to complete. Make sure that your name and spelling is the same on your I-20 form, acceptance letter, and passport. This is very important! You will need to bring your completed I-20 form to your visa interview.
Step 3: Complete the online visa application: Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application – Form DS-160. Again, make sure the spelling of your name is the same on all your documents. Once you have completed the form, print out the confirmation page, because guess what, you need to bring it to your visa interview. Noticing a trend here? There will also be a processing fee to complete the application. There may be specific payment instructions depending on your U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
You will need to upload a photo of yourself to complete the Form DS-160.
Step 4: Some countries will allow you to schedule your visa interview now, while others will require you to pay the SEVIS fee. This fee supports the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) and SEVIS. Regardless, you will need to have paid this fee at least three days before your visa interview. The cost at this time is US$160. You can find payment instructions here. This won’t surprise you by now: you need to keep a copy of your receipt for your visa interview.
TIP: As you’ve noticed, copies of your documents are crucial to the visa application process. Losing them could cause major problems and lead to a visa denial. Take extra precautions and photocopy and/or scan them and save them to a hard drive.
Step 5: You’re almost there! Time to schedule your visa interview. Your U.S. Embassy or Consulate will have specific instructions on how to schedule your visa interview, as well as wait times.
Now, for the actual interview … Okay, I know this whole process probably makes you a little anxious and I’m about to make you more anxious: the success of your visa interview is crucial to obtaining your visa.
Like preparing for an important test, it’s normal to be a little anxious; in fact it’s good. Have you had your moment of being nervous? Now, dissolve that anxiety by being well prepared. Here are some important tips to prepare for your visa interview:
- Bring all of your documentation to your visa interview. Here is the list of documents you will need to bring; your embassy or consulate may require additional documents, so please check: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/study-exchange/student.html
- Unless you’re under the age of 18, do not bring family.
- Dress appropriately and respectfully. Business attire is recommended.
- Answer the visa officer’s questions clearly, concisely and quickly. I know you may be nervous, but it’s important to be confident and positive.
- Proof that you have adequate funds to support your education and cost of living in the United States.
- Intent to return home is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not you are issued a visa. You must have ties to home country, be familiar with the U.S. program to which you have been accepted and know how that fits into your career plans.
- The interview will be in English. If you can’t speak English, you may request an interpreter.
If your visa was approved you may only have to wait a few days to receive it. If your visa was denied, you may appeal the decision or reapply. You can find more information about visa denials here.
Remember, 595,569 international students were issued F-1 visas last year! Be prepared, be confident and be organized!
Jennifer Privette is the Editor and Assistant Publisher of Study in the USA magazines and StudyUSA.com. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Seattle University.