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.

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. 

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.   

Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student”

The form of a petition submitted and maintained by school officials electronically in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program certification of the school to enroll F-1 and/or M-1 students.

Related terms: SEVIS, Certification

Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”

A form issued to accepted nonimmigrant students from their Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is required in order to pay their I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System fee, apply for a visa, enter the United States, apply for benefits, and use for employment authorization or travel.

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.”

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.

Leave of Absence

A DSO authorized absence from class that allows a student to suspend enrollment in a program of study and leave the United States, but the student intends to return and resume the program of study within five months.

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.

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.

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.