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.

Form I-539, “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status”

A form students use to request a change to another nonimmigrant visa status (F-2 to F-1, F-1 to H-1B, etc.), or to request reinstatement if they have fallen out of student status. M students also use this form to request to remain in the United States for a longer period of time, to transfer to another Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school.

Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization”

An application for employment authorization, managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document”

A form sent by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to students who are authorized to work in the United States. Also known as an EAD, this form lists the dates your employment authorization begins and ends.

Form I-797A, “Notice of Action”

A notice of approval or receipt of a submission that students may receive from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in various circumstances, like approval of the Form I-539, “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.”

Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record”

An electronic Department of Homeland Security form issued to all nonimmigrants upon entry to the United States that is evidence of their admission and is used to document legal status in the United States, including length of stay.

Full Course of Study

The amount of credit or clock hours required for an F-1 or M-1 student to maintain nonimmigrant status during a school session.  Enrolling in a full course of study every academic term is a requirement for F and M students to maintain their student status.

In general, full-time for F students in an undergraduate program is 12 credit hours. In a graduate program, designated school officials certify a full course of study, which is typically six to nine credit hours. Full-time study for an F-1 student in an English as a Second Language or other non‑vocational program is 18 clock hours per week if most of the course is classroom instruction, or 22 clock hours per week if most of the course is laboratory instruction. Your DSO can provide more information.

Graduate Degree

A degree type for students following a bachelor’s degree program or its equivalent. Degree types include master’s or doctorate degrees.

H-1B cap gap

The period of time between the end of an individual’s F-1 student status and the beginning of the individual’s H-1B status.

Related terms: H-1B Status

H-1B Status

Temporary employment authorization for a nonimmigrant who performs services in a specialty occupation and has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Employers petition for H-1B status to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on a nonimmigrant’s behalf.


A best practice for students to keep all important documents, like their Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” or passport with them, instead of packing them in checked luggage.