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U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Study in the States

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Use the Study in the States glossary to define key terms throughout the F and M student process in the United States. If you are a current or prospective student, select “students” to see terms that specifically relate to you—from visas, to forms, benefits, and more. School officials should select “schools” to find more information on certification, responsibilities, and how to help their F and M students. You can also sort terms by selecting the letter of the alphabet a term begins with.


An assurance from a Department of Education‑recognized regional or national organization that a school’s education meets an acceptable level of quality.


The process that SEVP uses to decide the outcome for schools petitioning for certification, submitting their recertification package or making updates to the Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Students.”

Annual Vacation

The period of time, the equivalent of one academic term, which an F student is eligible to take off from school. F students become eligible after completing one academic year and may then take one term of vacation each following year.

Associate's Degree

A degree typically offered at community or junior colleges that usually takes at least two but less than four years of full-time college work to complete.

Authorized Early Withdrawal

A designated school official-authorized temporary absence for F-1 students. Students with records placed in Terminated status for authorized early withdrawal have 15 days to depart the United States.

Bachelor's Degree

A degree offered in undergraduate programs at four-year colleges or universities.


An application, petition, motion, appeal, or other request relating to an immigration benefit, whether such request is filed on a paper form or submitted in an electronic format, provided such request is submitted in a manner prescribed by DHS for such purpose. Examples include workingdriving or obtaining a Social Security number.


The process of petitioning the Student and Exchange Visitor Program to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students. Approved schools can issue these students Forms I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”

Certification Expiration Date

The date two years from the date of a school’s previous Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification or recertification expiration date on which a school is required to file a completed petition for SEVP recertification.

Commission-Based Recruiter

A recruiter, broker, or agent who charges fees or receives a commission for such things as helping you obtain a student visa, housing, or other services. You do not need to use a recruiter in order to obtain a United States student visa.

Community College

A post-secondary, undergraduate educational institution offering lower-level (freshman and sophomore) classes. These schools gear their operations more toward commuting students and do not usually have on-campus living arrangements.


To follow all Department of Homeland Security regulations as a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school to enroll nonimmigrant students.


Department of State offices headed by a Consul General who reports to the U.S. ambassador, which carry out many of the same functions in provincial or regional capitals as the embassies do in national capitals. F and M students can visit a consulate to apply for their visa to enter the United States.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Training that an F-1 student participates in during a program of study; including alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum offered by a sponsoring employer through cooperative agreement with a school.


An F or M student’s spouse and/or minor child (who is unmarried and under 21 years old). Dependents may legally accompany you to the United States or join you in the country while you study. They must apply for either an F-2 or M-2 visa.

Designated School Official (DSO)

​A regularly-employed member of the school administration designated by the head of a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school to provide recommendations to F and/or M students enrolled at the school regarding maintenance of nonimmigrant status, and to support timely and complete record keeping and reporting to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

Doctorate Degree

The highest form of post-graduate degree that students can earn in the United States.


A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services web-based system that helps employers to determine whether their newly hired employees are authorized to work in the United States.


A Department of State-supported network with over 400 advising centers in 170 countries that provide students with information to help them select a school in the United States.


A Department of State office, usually located in a country’s capital city. F and M students visit embassies to apply for a visa to enter the United States.


Employment by starting and operating your own business. F-1 students are eligible for entrepreneurship as long as it relates to their program of study and they are approved for pre- or post-completion optional practical training.

Evidence of Financial Support

Proof that an individual seeking initial admission into the United States as an F-1 or M-1 student has the ability to finance their studies and meet living expenses in the United States.   

Exchange Visitor

A nonimmigrant in J-1 visa status. This classification is for individuals approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs. All J-1 nonimmigrants must be sponsored by an organization that is designated by the Department of State.

F-1 Status

A visa status for students eligible to enroll in academic programs in the United States including at colleges or universities awarding bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate or professional degrees, community or junior colleges awarding associates degrees, religious seminaries, fine arts conservatories, high school (grades 9-12), public or private, private elementary and/or middle school (K-8), or a language training school.