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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.


A government-issued travel document that certifies the identity and nationality of its holder for the purpose of international travel.

Port of Entry

An arrival point at a U.S. international airport, seaport or land border crossing, where a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will determine whether students can enter the United States.

Primary Inspection

The process every F and M student goes through at the port of entry with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. Students will present documents and the CBP officer will determine if they can enter the United States by verifying the information and purpose for their visit.

Principal Designated School Official (PDSO)

A designated school official (DSO) with added responsibilities to:

  • Serve as the primary point of contact with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program on any issues that relate to school bona fides or compliance with regulations.
  • Administer the F/M program at the school, keeping the school information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) up-to-date, manage DSOs, oversee the management of student records and respond to SEVIS-generated alerts.
  • Submit school certification and recertification packages.
Private School

A school controlled by a private individual(s) or by a nongovernmental agency, usually supported primarily by other than public funds, and operated by other than publicly elected or appointed officials.

Program End Date

The date listed on a student’s Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” when they or are expected to complete their program of study and must either transfer to another school, apply to change education level, apply to change to another nonimmigrant status or depart the United States within 60 days.

Program Start Date

​The date listed on a student’s Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” when they must enroll in an academic or vocational program of study. Students can enter the United States no more than 30 days before this date and need to contact their designated school official no later than this date to inform them they are in the country.

Public School

A school whose programs and activities are operated by publicly elected or appointed school officials and which is supported primarily by public funds.