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10 Steps to Get a US Student Visa: Full Application Guide

Student visa | US | Application  | Indore | Admivo

Each year, many international students apply to US schools in order to study full-time in the US. But to attend school in the States, you need more than just good grades — you need a US student visa. Unfortunately, the process for obtaining a visa can be complicated, which is why we’re here to help.

In this guide, we’ll go over the basics of visas and how to get a student visa to the US. We’ll also give you a handful of tips and resources you can use to ensure your visa application process proceeds smoothly.

What Is a US Student Visa? Do You Need One?

In order to legally attend school in the US, 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 to reside temporarily in the US in order to attend an approved school, language program, or academic exchange program.

Your student visa ends once you complete your program. At that time, you must depart the US. (However, you may later return to the US as a tourist or on another visa, such as a work visa.)

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. 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.

#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. 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 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.

  • 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: 10-Step Guide

Step 1: Apply and Get Accepted to a US School

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

As I mentioned previously, the schools you apply to must be approved by SEVP. To find an SEVP-approved school or to confirm that the schools you’ve chosen are in fact certified by SEVP

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

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 Nonimmigrant 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

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.)

Most students (except those 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 (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 (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.

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 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)

In addition, 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

  • 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.

Step 6: Schedule Your Visa Interview

After 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.

Wait times for interviews vary depending on the embassy.

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:

  • 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 feebefore 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.

Step 9: Pay the Visa Issuance Fee (If Required)

Some students must 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 tool you can use to see whether you must pay a visa issuance fee.

Step 10: 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. Note that some embassies will require you to come in person to pick it up, whereas others will mail it directly back to you

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