How to Apply For a Student Visa

The United States has thousands of top-quality schools and vocational institutions that attract scholars from all over the world. However, before prospective students can move here to begin their educational journey, they must first successfully apply for a student visa.

A student visa is a passport endorsement provided by the U.S. government that allows you to stay in the country while enrolled in school. Obtaining a visa is a multi-step procedure that varies from embassy to embassy, but some elements remain consistent for everyone. 

Do I Need an M-1 Visa or an F-1 Visa?

International students looking to attend an educational institution in the United States can use either an M-1 or an F-1 student visa. These are both considered nonimmigrant visas, which means they have an expiration date and become invalidated when you are no longer a student.

The M-1 and the F-1 visas require you to enroll in an institution authorized by the U.S. government for international students. The primary difference between these two visa categories is what type of institution you are registered in. 

  • The M-1 student visa is for students who have applied or enrolled in non-academic or vocational programs, not including language training programs.
  • The F-1 student visa is for applicants that want to study in an accredited college, university, or educational institution in the U.S. The educational institution you enroll in should end in a degree, certificate, or diploma after course completion.
group of international students holding american flags
A group of international students holding American flags. If you are enrolled in an approved program and meet other eligibility requirements, you may be able to obtain a nonimmigrant visa to study in the U.S. Learn how to apply for a student visa here.

What Are the Steps When Applying for a Student Visa?

To apply for either an M-1 or an F-1 student visa, you will need to meet specific eligibility requirements and satisfy the procedures established by the U.S. Department of State.

Check With Your Embassy

Since the process can vary depending on your country of origin, the first step is to check with your U.S. embassy for explicit instructions that may apply to you.

Verify Eligibility

Ensure that you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You are proficient in English or are enrolled in English courses.
  • You plan to attend an educational or vocational program full time.
  • You have a permanent residence abroad that you do not want to give up.
  • You can financially support yourself throughout your academic program and stay in the U.S. 

Apply for Enrollment

Before you petition for your visa, you will need to apply and be accepted into an academic or vocational program. The institution and program you choose must be approved by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). 

Receive Your I-20 Form

Once accepted into a program, the school will send you Form I-20 to document your enrollment and start date. This information will also be provided to the DHS’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a database of foreign students studying in the United States.

Pay Your I-901 Fee

By using the information on your I-20 form, you will be able to pay your I-901 fee. You must complete this step before you apply for your student visa. The current I-901 cost for an M-1 or F-1 student visa is $350. 

Also, you will need proof of payment when you apply for your visa, so be sure to print a copy of your receipt.

Apply for Your Student Visa Using Form DS-160

Next, apply for your nonimmigrant visa by filing Form DS-160 online at the Department of State’s website. For this application, you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • Your SEVIS ID
  • The address of the school or program where you intend to study 
  • A photo of yourself to upload

You may also be required to pay a non-refundable $160 visa application fee at this time. 

Schedule a Visa Interview

If you are between 14 and 79 years old, you’ll need to set up a visa interview at a local U.S. consulate or embassy. The wait times for this interview can be extensive depending on your location, so schedule it as soon as possible after filing your DS-160 application.

Be sure to bring all required documentation with you to your visa interview. The consular officer may ask about your eligibility for a visa and your plans after completing your studies. You may also be fingerprinted during your interview appointment. 

Receive Your Student Visa

After a successful interview, you will be issued your M-1 or F-1 student visa. You may have to pay an additional visa issuance fee, but this will depend on your country of origin.

You can then present your passport, Form I-120, and visa to apply for entry at a United States port-of-entry and begin your studies!

What Should I Do When My Student Visa Is About to Expire?

If you already have a student visa but it’s expiring soon, you can extend your stay in the U.S. using Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

FileRight can help you prepare your application quickly and accurately. Plus, we guarantee your success! Take the qualification quiz now to begin the process and find out if you’re eligible for a student visa extension.

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