K-12 Schools in the United States
In the United States, students begin formal education around age five or six. Generally, elementary and secondary school grades kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) are required, after which a student may choose to attend college or university. There are two types of kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools in the United States: public and private. Laws regarding compulsory education vary by state. They address starting and ending ages, as well as level of participation. These laws apply to both public and private K-12 schools. For a better understanding of these requirements, please visit our Kindergarten to Grade 12 Schools page and talk to school officials in the state where the student plans to live.
SEVP can certify a private school for F-1 or M-1 student enrollment in any or all of its K-12 programs. SEVP can certify a public school for F-1 or M-1 student enrollment in grades 9-12, which is limited to a maximum of 12 months.
Prospective international students who wish to study in the United States must be able to prove their ability to pay for their educational program, a place to stay and other applicable living expenses while in the United States. Determination of the living expenses figure is an institutional decision and schools must receive a student’s financial evidence and report the student’s assets before issuing the Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status."
While F-1 and M-1 students are not eligible for U.S. government-funded financial aid, private schools may decide to award financial aid or scholarships to a student. This ability to award financial aid is dependent on the school’s financial aid policies and governing regulations. Prospective international students can use government tools and information, such as EducationUSA’s Find Financial Aid tool, to access financial aid resources designed specifically for international students.
Attending Public Secondary Schools
Local, state and federal tax revenue funds public schools. An F-1 or M-1 student may attend a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified public secondary school (i.e., high school; grades 9-12), with certain restrictions:
- For a maximum period of 12 months—This time limit includes all public schools the student attends. An F-1 or M-1 student cannot spend a year at one public high school and then transfer to another public high school; however, you can transfer to an SEVP-certified private school to continue toward a diploma.
- Must pay the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of attending the school district. Payment of this fee must occur before the student applies for an F-1 or M-1 visa. You must be able to present proof of this payment at the visa interview and at the port of entry when applying for admission into the United States.
For more information, contact the school’s designated school official (DSO).
An F-1 or M-1 student may not attend a public school for grades kindergarten through eight because those schools cannot be SEVP-certified.
For more information concerning the SEVP rules and regulations for public high schools, please visit our Grade 9 to Grade 12 Public Schools page.
Attending Private K-12 Schools
Unlike public schools that are primarily funded by local, state and federal tax revenue, tuition funds private schools. International students may apply for F-1 or M-1 status to attend a private, SEVP-certified school for grades K-12. Unlike public schools, regulations place no limit on the length of time an F-1 student may attend a private, SEVP-certified school.
For more information concerning the SEVP rules and regulations for private K-12 schools, please visit our Kindergarten to Grade 12 Private Schools page.
After Grade 12
A graduating F-1 high school student, whether at a public or a private school, who would like to continue studying in the United States, may apply to an SEVP-certified college or university. As with graduating domestic high school students, it is in your best interest to initiate the application and approval for college in the United States well in advance of high school graduation.
F-1 student SEVIS records will need to be transferred to the accepting college or university. For information about transferring, please visit Transfer for F-1 Students on ICE.gov/SEVP. If you are an F-2 or M-2 dependent who wants to continue studying in the United States, you can learn more on the Change of Status page.
Special notes for minor children of F-1 and M-1 students
- A minor F-2 or M-2 dependent of an F-1 or M-1 student may attend public K-12 school at the appropriate grade level without any additional permission or documentation from SEVP.
- State education laws may require that F-2 and M-2 students attend the appropriate grade level until a certain age.
- The elementary or secondary school an F-2 or M-2 student attends does not need to be SEVP-certified.
- For a minor F-2 or M-2 dependent to transfer from a public school to a private school, the F-1 or M-1 student and/or F-2 spouse, if applicable, should talk to the school’s DSO.
- If you are an F-2 or M-2 dependent who wants to continue studying in the United States, you can learn more on the Change of Status page.