Your Guide to Studying in the States
Based on the student type and education level you selected, below is an overview of important information for you to know. This guide includes information about every step in the international student process, from researching a program to graduating and departing the United States.
If you want to study in the United States, the first step is to research the school or program that most interests you. Visit the Programs of Study page to learn more about the options for M-1 international students.
- Visit EducationUSA
The U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA helps international students learn about the types of education available in the United States. To learn more about how EducationUSA can help you, visit the EducationUSA website or one of more than 400 EducationUSA advising centers around the world.
- Apply to an SEVP-Certified School
Only schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can accept international students. You can use the Study in the States School Search page to make sure the school you are interested in attending is SEVP certified. Using the page, you can search by school name, location, education or visa type.
Once you confirm that your school of choice is certified to accept international students, follow the instructions on the school’s website to apply for admission. Remember that it is common for postsecondary schools in the United States to require standardized tests for admission, so plan accordingly.
- Receive Your Form I-20
Once accepted into an SEVP-certified school, you will receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” from your designated school official (DSO). DSOs work at SEVP-certified schools and are there to help you understand and follow the rules for studying in the United States. It is important that you know who your DSO is and how to contact them.
The Form I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout the international student process. For more information about the Form I-20 and when you need it, please visit the What is the Form I-20? page on Study in the States.
- Bring Your Dependents
As an M-1 student, you may bring your spouse (for example, husband, wife, legal partner) and children with you while you study in the United States. However, they will also need to receive a Form I-20 from your DSO and follow specific rules while they are here. Visit the Dependents page for more information about bringing family to the United States.
Traveling to the United States requires that you take certain steps before your arrival. It is also necessary to be prepared and organized when you arrive at the U.S. port of entry. Additional travel information can be found on the Getting to the United States page.
- Pay Your I-901 SEVIS Fee
After you receive your Form I-20, the next step is to pay your I-901 SEVIS Fee. Regulation requires that all international students pay this fee before the Department of State issues them a visa. Visit the Paying the I-901 SEVIS Fee page on Study in the States and watch the I-901 SEVIS Fee payment tutorial to learn about each step of the payment process.
Remember to keep your I-901 SEVIS Fee payment receipt and be sure to check that the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) identification (ID) number on the receipt matches the SEVIS ID number that appears on your Form I-20. Please contact SEVP if the SEVIS ID number on these two documents does not match, or if you encounter other issues in the process.
- Apply for a U.S. Visa
After being accepted to an SEVP-certified school and getting a receipt for payment for the I-901 SEVIS Fee, you can apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for more information about applying for an M-1 visa. You can also find your nearest embassy or consulate by visiting the U.S. Embassy website.
Once you receive your visa, check to make sure that you received the right type of visa (M-1) and that your name and date of birth are correct and match the information in your passport. Remember that a student visa does not guarantee entrance into the country, but it does give you permission to arrive at a U.S. port of entry.
- Arrive at U.S. Port of Entry
You may enter the United States up to 30 days before your official program start date listed on your Form I-20. When you arrive at a U.S. port of entry, you will meet a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer who has the authority to admit or deny your entrance into the country. You must present the CBP officer with your Form I-20, as well as your valid visa and passport. It is also a good idea to have your acceptance letter from your SEVP-certified school, your evidence of financial support, and the name and telephone number of your DSO. Be sure to keep these documents and information in your carry-on luggage, as you will not be able to access any of your checked baggage until after you pass through the U.S. port of entry.
A CBP officer may direct you to secondary inspection and interview you further to determine if you may enter the United States. If you do not have all your documents or if the officer cannot verify your information, they may deny you entry into the country or issue you a Form I-515A, “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor.” If you receive a Form I-515A, you must work with your DSO to respond to it within 30 days. Visit the What is the Form I-515A? page for more information.
- Receive a form I-94
If CBP admits you into the country, they will give you an admission stamp in your passport and issue an electronic Form I-94, “Arrival and Departure Record.” The Form I-94 includes information about when you were admitted, what status you must maintain (M-1) and how long you can stay in the United States. The CBP officer will inform you where to find your electronic Form I-94.
M-1 students are only admitted into the United States for the period of time that is needed to complete their course of study as indicated on their Form I-20, plus any practical training (PT) after they complete their program. However, this time cannot exceed one year. For more information about the Form I-94 and the arrival process in the United States, visit the CBP website.
While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your status which relates to the purpose or reason for why you want to come to the United States. As an M-1 student, your primary purpose for coming to the United States is to complete a full course of study at an SEVP-certified school. This means you must not take any action that detracts from fulfilling this purpose and follow the regulations associated with studying in the United States. Additional information can be found on the Maintaining Your Status page.
- Enroll in a Full Course of Study
The definition of a full course of study for an M-1 student at a postsecondary school depends on the type of school you attend and degree you seek. M-1 students at a community college or junior college must take at least 12 credit hours per term, while M-1 students at certain vocational or business schools must take at least 12 hours of instruction per week. M-1 students in vocational or other non-academic curricular programs must meet 18 clock hours per week if the majority is classroom instruction or 22 clock hours per week if the majority of the program instruction does not take place in the classroom, such as in the case of laboratory work or flight training.
If you are unsure if your class schedule meets the requirements for a full course of study, talk to your DSO. If meeting this full course load requirement is difficult for you, talk to your DSO immediately to discuss if you are eligible for a reduced course load. Learn more about this requirement by visiting the Full Course of Study page.
- Attend and Pass Your Classes
Attend and maintain normal academic progress, and do not drop classes without first speaking with your DSO. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately to figure out your options. If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
- Transfer to Another SEVP-Certified School
As an M-1 student, you are not permitted to change your course of study. However, under certain circumstances, you may be eligible to transfer to another SEVP-certified school to pursue the same learning objective. You are only eligible to transfer to another SEVP-certified program within six months after arrival, and you must receive approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by submitting a Form I-539, “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.”
More detailed information is available on the Instructions for Transferring to Another School as an M-1 Student page.
- Request an Extension of Stay
If you need more than one year to finish your program of study or any relevant PT, you may work with your DSO to request an extension of stay. After receiving approval from your DSO, you must also file a Form I-539 with all relevant materials with USCIS and receive approval. Please be advised that you are only eligible to request an extension of stay up to 60 days before the program end date listed on your Form I-20, but no later than 15 days before this program end date. For more information, review the M-1 Extensions of Stay page and talk with your DSO.
While studying in the United States, you can apply for certain benefits. These student benefits are not granted by SEVP and require students to apply to other U.S. government agencies to receive them.
- Apply for a Driver’s License
Driving a car without a driver’s license is illegal, but M-1 students are eligible to apply for such a license. To acquire a driver’s license, you must apply for one at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which can have a different name in some states. For more information about this process, please talk with your DSO and visit the Apply for A Driver’s License page.
- Participate in a Training Opportunity
You are only eligible to participate in one type of paid training with an employer, referred to as PT. PT allows you to gain training experience in your vocational field, and your PT must directly relate to your program of study. You may only participate in PT after your program of study, and you earn one month of PT eligibility for every four months of program enrollment. Learn more by reviewing the Training Opportunities in the United States page and talking to your DSO.
- Apply for a Social Security Number
If you participate in PT, you must apply for a Social Security number (SSN), and you will need your employment authorization document from USCIS to do so. For more information about this process, please visit the Obtaining a Social Security Number page.
If you receive non-wage income while in the United States (for example, scholarships, grants, interest on stocks, gambling/lottery winnings) and are not eligible for an SSN, you must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
You may not change to F or H status while you are in the United States. If you would like to attend school as an F-1 student, you will need to leave the United States, apply to an SEVP-certified school and start the process from the beginning.
If you wish to change to another category, you must file a request with USCIS on the appropriate form before your authorized stay expires. USCIS recommends that you apply as soon as you determine that you need to change to a different nonimmigrant category. If USCIS denies your application, be prepared to leave the United States when your current status expires. Additional information can be found on the Change of Status page.
If you have maintained your status and finished a program of study or your authorized period of PT, you have a 30-day grace period to depart from the United States. Failure to depart within this grace period could adversely impact your ability to re-enter the United States under a different nonimmigrant or immigrant classification.