How to Get a Student Visa for the USA?

How to Get a Student Visa for the USA
December 1, 2023 6 min read Liaison

Master the student visa process for studying in the US with our guide, which includes insights into the application process, preparation steps, different types of student visas, and more.

Key Takeaways

Understand Visa Types: The F-1 visa is required for students who want to attend university, college, or high school in the United States. An M-1 visa is needed for vocational or other recognized nonacademic institutions. Exchange visitors require J-1 visas. Each type of visa comes with specific requirements for eligibility.

Start Preparing Early: Initiating the visa application process early, ideally three to five months before the program start date, is essential for a smooth experience and application process.

Gather the Required Documentation: Successful visa applications require comprehensive documentation, including academic records, proof of your financial ability to live in the US, passport-style photographs, and a valid passport.

Prepare for the Interview: Attending the visa interview with a clear understanding of your study plans and intent to return home after your studies is key to success.

How to Extend Your Visa: Understanding the process for a visa extension, including maintaining good academic standing and submitting a timely application through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is vital for students who need more time to complete their studies.


If you are an international student wishing to study in the United States, understanding the visa process is essential for obtaining a US student visa. The three main types of student visas that you can apply for include:

  • The F-1 visa, which is for students attending universities, colleges, high schools, and other academic institutions, including language-training programs.
  • The M-1 visa, which is for vocational or nonacademic studies in the US and is usually used for shorter-term programs that are career oriented.
  • The J-1 visa, which is for exchange visitors, including short-term scholars, interns, study-abroad students, and specialists.

Generally, international students who want to study full-time in undergraduate or graduate programs in the US will need an F-1 visa.

On the other hand, a J-1 visa​​ is available for students who are more interested in participating in studying abroad for a semester or two as part of an exchange program at a US institution.

Embarking on the journey of studying in the US is an exciting prospect for many international students. Preparing your visa application at least three to five months before your program’s start date is commonly recommended if you wish to study in the US.

With that in mind, the crucial first step in this adventure involves understanding how to get a US student visa. This guide covers US student visa requirements, the application process, and other considerations to keep in mind.

Types of Student Visas

F-1 Visa: Applying For Academic Studies

The F-1 visa is for students attending a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution, including language training programs.

Key Requirements:

Students must first be accepted into a SEVP-approved school to obtain an F-1 visa. After acceptance, the student must register in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. The school then provides the student with a Form I-20, which is necessary for the visa application process. The student must complete the online visa application (Form DS-160), schedule and attend a visa interview, and provide required documentation such as a valid passport, proof of financial support, academic records, and more. The F-1 visa enables students to enter the United States to study on a full-time​​ basis.

M-1 Visa: Applying For Vocational and Nonacademic Studies

M-1 visas are issued to international students who want to pursue vocational or nonacademic studies in the United States. This category includes students attending vocational schools, technical programs, or other nonacademic institutions, excluding language training programs.

Key Requirements:

The process to obtain an M-1 visa is similar to that of an F-1 visa. Students must be accepted by an SEVP-approved vocational or nonacademic institution, after which they must register in the SEVIS system and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. The institution then issues Form I-20. The student must complete the online visa application (Form DS-160), schedule and attend a visa interview, and provide the same general type of documentation required for the J-1.

How to Get a Student Visa for the USA

Gain Acceptance at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Approved School

If you want to apply for a US student visa, the first step is gaining acceptance at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) approved school in the United States. Once accepted, you will be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and the school will issue you a Form I-20. Then, you’ll need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and apply for a student visa at a US embassy or consulate.

Obtaining the Student Visa

Even if you receive a student visa, it's important to understand that the visa itself does not guarantee entry into the United States. The final decision on whether you’ll be allowed into the country is made by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port of entry.

During this step, students must present their passport, visa, and Form I-20. Once admitted, students must adhere to the conditions of their visa.

how to get a student visa for united states

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10-Step Checklist for Obtaining a US Student Visa

  1. Acceptance at a SEVP-Approved School: Gain admission to an institution certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Obtain the Form I-20, which is critical for the visa application.
  2. SEVIS Registration and I-901 Fee Payment: Upon acceptance, you need to register in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, which is $350 for F-1/M-1 students and $220 for J-1 students.
  3. Receive I-20 form: SEVP-approved schools will issue an I-20 after the SEVIS registration and I-901 fee payment. You need to present the form to the consular officer during an interview.
  4. Complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160): Fill out the online application form and have a printed version of the confirmation page available for the interview. You need to upload a digital photograph for the application, and it needs to match the photo requirements.
  5. Schedule a Visa Interview: Book an interview at your country's US embassy or consulate. Visa appointment wait times vary, so early scheduling is advised.
  6. Visa Application Fee Payment: Pay the non-refundable visa application fee of $185.
  7. Gather Required Documents for the Interview: This includes a passport valid for travel to the US, the Form DS-160 confirmation page, a passport-style photo that matches photo requirements, receipt of application fee payment, certificate of eligibility for F-1 or M-1 visas, respectively, Form I-20, and financial evidence showing your ability to cover all expenses during your stay in the US.
  8. Additional Documents for the Interview: The consular officer may request other documentation during the interview. Be sure to bring your transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from the schools you previously attended, standardized test scores that your US school requires, and documentation that states your intent to depart the US upon completion of your studies.
  9. Attend the Visa Interview: A consular officer will host the interview to determine your eligibility for a student visa. Be prompt and professional at your interview. Answer all questions truthfully, focusing on your educational goals and ties to your home country.
  10. Visa Issuance Fee (If Applicable): Depending on your nationality, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee upon visa approval.

Visa Extension Procedures

All international students must depart from the US based on the date of departure provided in Form I-94 that they received from CBP officials before entering the United States.

For international students on F-1 visas seeking a visa extension, the process involves several steps:

Applying for an Extension of Your Stay with USCIS:

You must apply for an extension through the USCIS website if you want to stay in the country for a longer period of time than your visa authorizes. It’s very important to complete the extension application before your current visa expires.

Maintain Status:

Maintaining student status during the period covered by your student visa involves fulfilling all academic requirements and adhering to any other visa-related rules (such as not working without authorization).

Request from School:

You must contact your academic institution to request an extension of your program. The school's international student office often manages this process.

Update in the SEVIS System:

The school will update the student's record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) with the new program end date.


Successfully obtaining a student visa to study in the United States requires thorough preparation and a complete understanding of the process. By methodically following each step and meeting all the requirements, your dream of studying abroad in the United States is well within reach. Start your preparation early in order to complete your application process with ease.


The complexity varies. Submitting a robust application with complete documentation and demonstrating a clear intent to return to your home country after your studies increases your likelihood of approval.

Processing times fluctuate, but initiating the process three to five months before your course start date is commonly recommended.

The core requirements include acceptance by a SEVP-certified institution as the first step, proof of financial stability during your stay in the US, a valid passport, a clear plan for your time in the US, the ability to provide documents such as academic records, and explaining what you plan to do after the completion of your studies.

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