Non US citizens who want to study in the US  will need a student visa. Student visas come typically under the F1 Visa category (Student academic or language training program).

Applying for a US student visa can be a long process. So start preparing well in advance – at least three to five months before your course is due to start. The steps to apply for a student Visa can vary at each US embassy or consulate, so it’s important to follow the directions on the website of the embassy or consulate. While the process can be confusing and time consuming, note that hundreds of thousands of students are issued student visas every year.

F1 Visas issued by US Govt (source:

  • 2011     447,410
  • 2012     486,900
  • 2013     534,320
  • 2014     595,569
  • 2015     644,233

When you are accepted by the U.S. school you plan to attend for full time study, the school will send you U.S. school will provide you with a Form I-20 to present to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview. Make sure that the spelling of your name on your passport matches the application for acceptance to the school, and that the school has entered your name as it appears on your passport on the I-20 or DS-2019 Form.

Exchange Visitors require a separate visa called the J1 Visa.

All applicants’ names have to be submitted for a security clearance. Citizens of some countries have to undergo additional screenings that takes several additional weeks of processing.

  1. Apply and get accepted at an US accredited university
    • Apply to and be accepted by a SEVP approved school. Gradtrek recommendation engine uses only accredited Universities. You can visit the US Government site to confirm whether a particular school or university is accredited or not.
    • Once you have been accepted by an institution, the university will enroll you in the SEVIS system and you will be sent a SEVIS-generated document called Form I-20 if you are eligible for an F or M visa, or Form DS-2019 if you are eligible for a J visa.
  2. Apply for Visa

Online visa application: You will need to make an appointment for a visa interview and to pay some required fees. Under a revision in the regulations, Student Visas can be issued up to 120 days before the date on your form I-20. Exchange Visitor Visas can be issued anytime before the date on the DS-2019. You should apply as early as possible for your visa.

Many websites will offer help on getting student Visas, but the best and most accurate one is the US government page for Student visas, which goes into a good level of detail.

Complete the DS-160 form on line completely. Again, remember to use the exact same order and spelling of your names as they are found in your passport. Then you will print them out and bring them to the Embassy when you go for your your visa interview.

Photo: You will need to upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Photograph Requirements are detailed here:

Student Visa wait time
The Visa wait time for the various US embassies and consulates can be found here  

3. Visa interview

Prepare for your visa interview. Wear business formal. Speak loud and clear.   Give your information quickly as there will be little time to speak with the officer, who will often have only a few minutes to conduct the interview and make a decision. Visa officers like to hear honest, direct responses to questions. They generally react poorly to applicants who give vague answers, or memorize the answers.

The visa officer needs to know your specific objectives, both academic or professional, for studying in the United States. Be prepared to explain why it is better to study your specific field in the United States than to study at home.

You may be asked to explain where you would live, finance your stay, and why you chose to study at a specific school.

Grades do make a difference. If your grades are low, then be prepared to respond to it. Any supporting material from your college or teachers, or from the inviting University would help make your case.

Visa Application status:
The U.S. Department of State site shows the status of the Visa applications:


You must have adequate, demonstrable financial support to live and study in the United States. Visa applications are generally stronger if the financial support comes from family, employers, or other institutional sponsors located in the home country.

If your parents will pay for your education, be ready to document how your family gets its income. Bring a letter from your parents’ employers stating what they do, how long they have worked at those organizations, and how much they earn.

When visa officers see information that is contradictory or does not make sense, they do not grant visas. If your family can only show enough income to support you in the United States, the officer will become suspicious.

Large sums of money in bank accounts may not be sufficient proof of financial support. When providing information about your bank accounts, ask someone at your bank for a letter that states how long the account has existed, and what the average balance in the account has been. That should convince the visa officer that you and your family have a long and stable history of business at the bank.

“Intent to Return”

Most student and exchange visitor visa applications are approved. The most common reason for a student or exchange visitor application to be denied is that the person applying for the visa has not proven to the Visa Officer that they will return to their country when they complete their studies in the U.S.A. This rule is called Section 214.b.

To determine your “intent to return” home, the visa officer will ask you a series of questions about your connections to your home country and about your study plans. You will have to demonstrate to the officer that your family has the ability to pay for the first year of your proposed stay in the United States and that you have realistic plans to finance the remainder of your education.

You must have all of the required forms with you including your I-20 or DS-2019 and the SEVIS payment receipt. You should bring any financial documents to demonstrate how you will pay for your education and any documents that might help demonstrate why you will return to your country. Some examples of such documents are previous passports demonstrating travel abroad, bank or salary statements, family documents or student records.

Six Tips for Your Visa Interview

  • Wear a business suit or dress
  • Be specific when you answer questions
  • Bring bank statements or proof of employment
  • Provide details of your study plans
  • Stay calm and be professional
  • Tell the truth

A Student Visa in the USA was last modified: July 11th, 2016 by Sudhir Nayak