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The F-1 Visa Application Process: A Guide to Study in the United States

Updated: Apr 22

For an international student planning on studying in the United States, the visa process can feel draining! With several different types of student visas, all with different requirements, navigating the process can feel impossible. 

It doesn’t have to feel that way! Let’s take a look into a breakdown of the process for obtaining an F-1 Visa, the most popular for students coming to study in the U.S. 

What’s an F-1 visa? 

If you plan on attending an American university, college, seminary, conservatory, language training program, or other academic institution, you’ll need an F-1 visa. This visa allows you to be a full-time student at your institution, and even allows you to work on-campus. Under certain circumstances, off-campus employment opportunities are available too. 

How should I prepare for the application process? 

What do you want to study while you’re in the United States? Where in the U.S. do you want to study? These are important questions you need the answers to before you start this process. There are so many options! Make sure to pick a SEVIS approved institution that aligns with your academic and personal goals. The options are endless! This can range from learning English in the snowy mountains of Utah to attending graduate school in the desert of Arizona. 

Understanding the financial requirements is another important part of this process. The U.S. will require that you have enough money to cover the cost of tuition, books, living expenses, and other fees for the entire duration of your stay in the country.  

What is the F-1 application process? 

It’s important to note that while the F-1 application process is mostly standard, there are still differences from country to country. Check here for the exact process for the U.S. embassy nearest you.  

  1. Receive acceptance from a SEVP-approved Institution. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) manages schools, students with F-1 visas, and their dependents. Make sure your institution is SEVP approved!

  2. After your enrollment has been accepted, you will be registered for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This is where you will register and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. 

  3. Your school will issue you a Form I-20. This form is your “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”. Your Form I-20 is important for your entire student life in the United States. Make sure to keep track of it at all times. 

  4. Fill out your Online Nonimmigrant Visa application. This is called the Form DS-160. The link to this online form can be found here. A suitable photo will be one of the most important aspects of this form. Check here for photograph requirements. 

  5. After you receive your Form I-20 and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, you can apply at your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate for the student F-1 visa interview. You’ll need to bring your Form I-20 when you attend your visa interview. Find your local U.S. Embassy here. Apply for an interview early, as wait times can be long. 

  6. Gather the necessary documents for your interview: 

    1. Passport. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond how long you intend to stay in the United States. 

    2. Payment receipt for paying the SEVIS fee. 

    3. Confirmation page from completing the Form DS-160.

    4. Form I-20 provided by your SEVP-approved institution. 

    5. Academic transcripts, diplomas, and standardized test scores. 

    6. Proof of financial support during your entire stay in the United States. Including tuition, books, and all living expenses. This can be shown through bank statements, scholarship award letters, or letters of financial support from sponsors. 

  7. Attend your visa interview. On the day of your interview, arrive at the embassy or consulate on time and dressed appropriately. Be prepared to answer questions about your intended course of study, your ties to your home country, and your plans after completing your studies in the United States. You may also be asked to provide fingerprints and a photograph as part of the application process.

  8. After your interview, the consular officer will approve or deny your application. There’s also a chance they need to put your application through further administrative processing before a decision is made! 

  9. If the officer approves your application, you’ll need to pay a visa issuance fee and plan for the return of your passport and visa. This might require a wait.

What if my application is denied? 

Although a denial can be discouraging, don’t fret! You can reapply for an F-1 visa as early as 3 days later. However, this isn’t recommended. Before reapplying, make sure that you are aware of the exact reasons your application was denied so you can fix them. You’ll receive some information from your rejection notice, but make sure to take time to look over your application with trusted advisors! 

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