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World flags in the wind.

Here to Help: International Students and the Department of State

February 24, 2012

Once you decide to study in the United States, you will need to work with the Department of State. The Department of State issues visas at its U.S. Embassies and Consulates. The Department of State also provides a great free resource for international students to help prepare you for studying in the United States: EducationUSA.


The Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors this network of almost 400 advising centers in 170 countries. EducationUSA advisers provide guidance on the United States admissions process and can help you select a college or university. These advising centers provide information on SEVP-certified, accredited colleges and universities to over 14 million students and parents each year. You can go to the School Search page for the list of all SEVP-certified schools.

Student Visas

Once accepted to the U.S. school of your choice, you may apply for your student visa at the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. To attend an approved private elementary school, private or public academic high school, or an academic college or university, you will need an F visa; if you plan to attend a vocational school, you will need an M visa. If you have a doubt about which visa is appropriate for your intended program of study, your designated school official (DSO) can help you.

When an SEVP-certified school accepts you for enrollment, the DSO at that school will create a record for you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and you will receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” You must present your Form I-20 when you apply for a student visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Wait times for visa interviews vary, so it is important to apply for your visa as soon as possible; you may apply as early as 120 days before your school report date.

Before you attend the visa interview, you must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. You must also complete the Form DS-160, “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application,” and pay the visa application fee. Check the website of the embassy or consulate where you intend to apply for instructions on how to pay the non-refundable application fee and make a visa interview appointment. At the visa interview, be prepared to submit the following:

  • Form I-20
  • Form DS-160 confirmation sheet
  • Visa application fee payment receipt
  • Passport
  • One photograph – 2 inches by 2 inches (5.1 cm by 5.1 cm)
  • Form I-797, “Notice of Action” (this form is your SEVIS I-901 Fee payment receipt)


You can read more about the visa application process at

For information on what to expect when you first arrive in the United States, see Here to Help: International Students and CBP.

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