If you want to study in the United States, the first step is to research the school or program that most interests you. The United States has several postsecondary options for F-1 international students, including community colleges and undergraduate- and graduate-level programs. (An F1 visa is issued to international students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program at a US college or university)
The U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA helps international students learn about the types of education available in the United States, including community colleges, bachelor’s degree programs, master’s degree programs and more. EducationUSA also has resources about financial aid and even has a Find Financial Aid tool for undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking international students.
Apply to an SEVP-Certified School
Only schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can accept international students. You can use the Study in the States School Search page to make sure the school you are interested in attending is SEVP certified. Using the page, you can search by school name, location, education or visa type.
Once you confirm that your school of choice is certified to accept international students, follow the instructions on the school’s website to apply for admission. Remember that it is common for postsecondary schools in the United States to require standardized tests for admission, so plan accordingly.
Receive Your Form I-20
Once accepted into an SEVP-certified school, you will receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” from your designated school official (DSO). DSOs work at SEVP-certified schools and are there to help you understand and follow the rules for studying in the United States. It is important that you know who your DSO is and how to contact them.
The Form I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout the international student process.
Traveling to the United States requires that you take certain steps before your arrival. It is also necessary to be prepared and organized when you arrive at the U.S. port of entry.
Pay Your I-901 SEVIS Fee
After you receive your Form I-20, the next step is to pay your I-901 SEVIS Fee. Regulation requires that all international students pay this fee before the Department of State issues them a visa. Remember to keep your I-901 SEVIS Fee payment receipt and be sure to check that the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) identification (ID) number on the receipt matches the SEVIS ID number that appears on your Form I-20.
Apply for a U.S. Visa
After being accepted to an SEVP-certified school and getting a receipt for payment for the I-901 SEVIS Fee, you can apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Once you receive your visa, check to make sure that you received the right type of visa (F-1) and that your name and date of birth are correct and match the information in your passport. Remember that a student visa does not guarantee entrance into the country, but it does give you permission to arrive at a U.S. port of entry.
Arrive at U.S. Port of Entry
You may enter the United States up to 30 days before your official program start date listed on your Form I-20. When you arrive at the U.S. port of entry, you will meet a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer who has the authority to admit or deny your entrance into the country. You must present the CBP officer with your Form I-20, as well as your valid visa and passport. It is also a good idea to have your acceptance letter from your SEVP-certified school, your evidence of financial support, and the name and telephone number of your DSO.
Receive a form I-94
If CBP admits you into the country, they will give you an admission stamp in your passport and issue an electronic Form I-94, “Arrival and Departure Record.” The Form I-94 includes information about when you were admitted, what status you must maintain (F-1) and how long you can stay in the United States.
While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your status which relates to the purpose or reason for why you want to come to the United States. As an F-1 student, your primary purpose for coming to the United States is to complete a full course of study at an SEVP-certified school. This means you must not take any action that detracts from fulfilling this purpose and follow the regulations associated with studying in the United States.
Enroll in a Full Course of Study
The definition of a full course of study for an F-1 student at a postsecondary school depends on the type of school you attend and the degree you seek. F-1 undergraduate students at a college or university must take at least 12 credit hours per term, while F-1 undergraduate students at a conservatory or seminary and F-1 graduate students must take a full course of study as certified by the institution.
Attend and Pass Your Classes
Attend all your classes, and make normal academic progress. Do not drop classes without first speaking with your DSO. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately to figure out your options. If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
Take an Annual Vacation
You are eligible to take an annual vacation after completing an academic year at an SEVP-certified school, and once every year after that if you maintain your status and register for classes in the academic term following your annual vacation. Talk to your DSO to learn when you are eligible for your annual vacation.
Transfer to Another SEVP-Certified School
You may transfer to a new school if you decide that you would like to attend another SEVP-certified school.
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