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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.

Master's Degree

A graduate degree that requires the successful completion of the full-time equivalent of one but not more than two academic years of work beyond the bachelor's degree.

Material Change

A significant change in SEVIS school information, sufficient to alter the legal meaning of the Form I-17 (i.e., bona fides for SEVP-certification). A material change includes all of the following:

  • From 8 CFR 214.3(h)(3)(i) Out-of-cycle review and oversight of SEVP-certified schools.

(A) Approval for attendance of students (F/M/both);
(B) Name of school system; name of main campus;
(C) Mailing address of the school;
(D) Location of the school;
(E) School type;
(F) Public/private school indicator;
(G) Private school owner name;
(H) The school is engaged in;
(I) The school operates under the following Federal, State, Local or other authorization;
(J) The school has been approved by the following national, regional, or state accrediting association or agency;
(K) Areas of study;
(L) Degrees available from the school;
(M) If the school is engaged in elementary or secondary education;
(N) If the school is engaged in higher education;
(O) If the school is engaged in vocational or technical education;
(P) If the school is engaged in English language training;
(Q) Adding or deleting campuses;
(R) Campus name;
(S) Campus mailing address; and
(T) Campus location address. 

  • Any addition or deletion of a designated school official (DSO), including principal designated school official.
  • Any change to an SEVP-certified school’s average annual number of classes, students, teachers, or instructors and non-teaching employees.


Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI)

Please note, the Department of Defense is revising its MAVNI implementation plan for FY 17 and is currently not accepting MAVNI applications for FY 17. After its implementation plan is completed and approved, the U.S. Army will begin processing new applicants for FY 2017 who meet MAVNI program eligibility requirements for enlistment. For more information, please visit

A program that allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States to join the U.S. military and apply immediately for U.S. citizenship without first obtaining lawful permanent residence. The program is only available to legal aliens holding critical skills—physicians, nurses and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds.


An alien who is admitted to the United States for a specific temporary period of time.

Online/Distance Learning

Courses without physical attendance requirements that have specific rules F and M students must follow. If an online or distance course has no physical attendance requirements, F students (besides those in English language programs) may count one course towards their full course of study. F students in English language programs and M students may not count any online or distance courses towards their full course of study.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Employment authorization that must relate to a student’s major or course of study. To participate, students must receive approval from their designated school official and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. OPT may occur before or after the program end date, but participants may only work for 20 hours per week while school is in session.

OPT is not an integral part of the established curriculum. Optional practical training (OPT) does not fulfill requirements of an F-1 student's program of study and successful program completion is not contingent on participation in OPT. OPT may include the following:

  • Pre-completion OPT.
  • Post-completion OPT.
  • 24‑month extension of post-completion OPT.
  • H-1B Cap‑Gap.
Out of Cycle Review

A review conducted of any SEVP-certified school when evidence indicates that a school is no longer eligible for SEVP certification or is not complying with regulations and requirements.


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.


The process a school must go through every two years to re-establish its eligibility and compliance with regulations in order to maintain authorization from SEVP to enroll F‑1 and/or M-1 students.

Request for Evidence

A request from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program to a school during the certification or recertification process for additional information to supplement their petition.


The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Web-based service that helps some agencies determine the immigration status of benefit applicants.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

Science, technology, engineering, and math programs, which are important to innovation and job creation in the United States.

Secondary Inspection

If the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at primary inspection at a port of entry cannot verify a student’s information, or if they do not have all of the required documentation, a CBP officer may direct them to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.


An internet-based application that facilitates timely electronic reporting and monitoring of international students and exchange visitors, as well as their dependents, in the United States. This application enables schools and program sponsors to transmit electronic information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State throughout a student's or exchange visitor's program in the United States.

Site visit

A step during the Student and Exchange Visitor Program certification process where an inspector will tour the school’s facilities, interview designated school officials, and review records systems.

Social Security number

A nine-digit number assigned by the Social Security Administration to approved F and M students that are eligible to apply for employment in the United States.

STEM 17-Month Extension

F-1 graduates with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees designated as eligible by DHS may be eligible to work in the United States for an additional 17 months beyond the original 12-month limit of a period of optional practical training (OPT).