How to Apply for Student Visa Status in the U.S.
Our step-by-step guide for how to apply for student visa status
Once you pick the right school for you, it will be time to apply for student visa status. Securing your student visa can be a daunting task, with many steps to follow, but with proper preparation and research, you can join over 1 million students currently in the United States on F-1 visas.
To help you out, we developed this guide on how to apply for student visas. Here is where to start.
Step 1: Get your I-20 and pay your SEVIS fee
Form I-20: Official Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status
Why do you need it? This form is a prerequisite to studying abroad in the U.S., without it, you can’t get a visa. It’s also necessary if you plan on applying for a driver’s license or a social security number while you are in the U.S.
Where do you get it? The school you’ve chosen to attend will send it to you.
When should you get it done? The earliest you can get your F-1 visa is 120 days in advance of your course study start date. Give yourself as much time as possible to account for any errors or changes to your application.
What do you need? You may need bank statements and proof your school is SEVP accredited.
How much does it cost? As an F-1 visa student, you have to pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee before the Department of State will accept your 1-20 or issue your F-1 visa. The SEVIS fee is $350 USD for students from most countries. You can pay through the U.S. Immigration and Customs website.
Once you are accepted at a university and have funding for at least one year of study, your admitting university sends you an I-20 form. This document records the following information into the U.S. government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS):
• Your intended program of study
• Your program start date
• The cost of attendance at your school of choice
• Your funding sources
• Other personal information
As soon as you receive your I-20, make sure to check the form for accuracy.
An unchecked error can cause significant delays in processing your visa application. Contact your international advisor from the U.S. university you plan to attend to receive a corrected version before taking the next steps to secure a student visa.
After paying the SEVIS fee, you will get an electronic receipt that is required to enter the United States legally. Next up is applying for a student visa.
Step 2: Submit your DS-160 visa application
What is the DS-160 form? Official Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form
Why do you need it? This form supplies the necessary information to the Department of State consular officers so they can process your F-1 visa. This paperwork, in combination with your interview, will determine your eligibility to study in the U.S.
Where do you get it? You can submit your application on the Department of State website.
When should you get it? As with your I-20, as early as possible to prevent unforeseen delays.
What do you need? Make sure you have your 1-20, your passport, your proposed travel itinerary and a visa photo.
How much does it cost? $160 USD
The next step to studying in the U.S. for international students is to apply for your student visa through the U.S. Department of State website.
All intending F-1 students must complete the DS-160 visa application form. The fee to submit your application is $160, but there may be additional costs depending on your U.S. embassy and consulate.
After you successfully submit your DS-160, you will receive a print-out confirmation with a barcode on it. You can now schedule your interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy.
Step 3: Schedule your visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate
Why do I have to get interviewed? To confirm you are coming to the United States to study.
How do I schedule my interview? Contact
your closest embassy or consulate.
What do I need to bring?
• Your passport
• A copy of your visa photo
• Your DS-160 and I-901 SEVIS payment confirmation pages
• Your I-20
• Your school transcript and the official test scores you used on your university application
• Your diploma if applicable
• The bank statements you used on your I-20, if applicable
When should I schedule it? A useful State Department site provides real-time updates on how long student visa applicants will have to wait for an interview.
How should I prepare? Review this article on common visa mistakes by Richard O’Rourke, Associate Director, Office of Admissions, Recruitment and Outreach at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
How much does it cost? Your DS-160 payment covers the costs.
After completing the DS-160 form and paying the necessary fees, you can schedule a visa interview at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. You must meet the following criteria to receive your F-1 visa:
1. You must prove you are a legitimate, serious student.
2. You must show you have the financial resources required to pay for your studies.
3. You must prove you have a plan to return home after completing your degree.
Preparing for your interview
Meeting with a consul officer is often the most intimidating part of the visa application process. Read through our tips for preparing for your visa interviewand you should be prepared.
O’Rourke also recommends starting with EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of over 425 advising centers in 178 countries. These centers provide visa sessions with the same consular officers who also conduct some of the interviews, which can help demystify the process.
If students cannot get to an informational event at an advising center, many consulates around the world offer recorded videos or Facebook Live sessions.
In the United States, NAFSA (The Association of International Educators) has produced a useful resource list of 10 points to remember when applying for a student visa. This list includes links to many of the videos recorded by U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.
Be prepared and your interview will go fine
Even with all your preparation, you may still feel nervous on your interview day. Keep mind the advice you’ve researched, and the work you have completed, and you will do fine.
“Do not stress out,” O’Rourke said. “If you worked hard for your college admissions, considered your future goals, researched your options and found the right personal and financial (college) fit, you should have no problems completing your visa interview.”
Need help? Find an education counselor to guide you through the F-1 visa application process.