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The Student Visa Application: A Step by Step Guide

Following are the typical steps in the visa application process. As always, please verify with your local embassy or consulate for the latest information about how to obtain a student visa in your country.
By GPA Admin

The Student Visa Application: A Step by Step Guide

1) Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee that is required before requesting a visa appointment.  The fees are different according to the student visa status applied for.  F and M students and exchange visitors generally pay approximately US$200, which can be paid by one of several options, including an online option.  For more information on how to pay, visit https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/.

2) Submit an online visa application form also known as the DS-160 Form at the Consular Electronic Application Center. You need to print the bar code page after submission and bring with you to the visa interview later. 

3) Pay the visa application fee usually priced at $160 at least day before the appointment. Keep the receipts because you will be required to submit them at the interview.  For more information on how to pay this fee, contact the local U.S. Embassy near your area. If you're located in Hanoi, Vietnam, please see our article here.

4) Make sure that you have a valid I-20, I-20M-N or a DS2019 form These are official forms provided by the university or college stating that you have been accepted to the school and that you have shown the ability to pay your studies while in the U.S.  Depending on the visas being applied for, these necessary forms are:

  • F-1 visa      Form I-20
  • M-1 visa     Form I-20M-N
  • J-1 visa       Form DS2019

Check the validity and accuracy of the form when it arrives.  Make sure that:

  • Your name is spelled correctly and exactly as it is written on your passport.  Be sure to use the same name in your visa application.
  • Other pertinent information is correct, especially information regarding your date and country of birth, reporting and completion dates, degree program, and financial information.
  • It is signed by a college official.
  • The form is still valid.  If the reporting date has passed, then the form has already expired.  If it has expired, contact the Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Office (RO) to request another form.

5) Make sure you have all the required documents. Please see our list of required documents for more information.

6) After having determined that you have all the paperwork and submitted the DS-160, request a visa appointment at the nearest consulate.  

7) Prepare for your visa interview. 

  • Visa interviews tend to be only a few minutes long so be brief but convincing and do not hide any truths or tell a lie.  Consular officers can identify people who are not being truthful.  Simply tell “your story.” See our articles on visa interviews for more guidance.
  • To issue an applicant a visa, the officer will generally be looking into three things:

a)     Is the applicant a bona fide, committed student? The officer will likely look into your educational background and assess how likely it is that you will remain in school through graduation.  Therefore, be prepared to discuss why you have chosen your institution, your major and what your career objectives are.  To further demonstrate your commitment to your education, bring your school transcripts, national examination results and score reports to any required tests (SAT, ACT, TOEFL, etc.) by your chosen institution.

b)     Is the applicant able to fund his or her educationThe consular officer will want the assurance that you will not drop out of school or take a job illegally while studying in the U.S.  The I-20 form provided by your institution will indicate how you have shown the school that you will be covering your expenses for at least the first year of studies.  Be sure to have with you any grant or scholarship letters that you have as per the Get Proof of Funding section above; likewise, if you have family or sponsors funding your education, bring strong evidence and documentation of their ability and commitment to funding four years of your education in the U.S.

c)      Does the applicant have strong ties to home so that he or she will not want to remain permanently in the U.S.?  Because consular officers are required to consider all applicants for student and exchange program visas as intending immigrants, you must prove otherwise by showing that your reasons for returning home are stronger than those for remaining in the U.S.  Having significant economic, family and social ties to your country of residence indicate that your interest in studying in the U.S. is temporary and for educational purposes.  Economic ties include your family’s economic position locally, any properties or assets you own or will be inheriting, as well as your professional and economic potential by acquiring a U.S. education.  Social ties include your involvement in the community and your school and leadership roles you have taken locally in activities such as sports and other community events, all of which demonstrate your connection and commitment to coming home and contributing your part.  As for family ties, the officer will likely be asking about how many family members you have locally as opposed those living in the U.S.

If you are traveling on a J-1 visa, note that usually you will not be able to apply for immigrant status until after having spent two years in your home country after completing your studies in the U.S.

On Visa Refusals

If your visa application is refused, the officer is required to send you a written explanation.  However, this usually comes in a standardized letter and will probably not go into the details of your case.  You may apply a second time; if you do apply a second time, prepare very carefully as the consular officer will want to see new and fresh evidence that will overcome the reasons for the denial in the first application.

Give careful and realistic thought to your educational goals and career plans.  In having done so, you may find that the visa application process is an opportunity for you to show your commitment and that studying in the U.S. is the next big step in realizing your profession and career.


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