How to get a US student visa

Read on to know the necessary information needed to get your US student visa easily.

In this article:

What is a US student visa?

A student visa is a document given by the US Government to authorise foreign national students to study in the country. 

What are the types of US student visas available?

The USA offers three student visas based on your course and its duration – F1 student visa, J1 student visa (Tier 4) and M1 student visa. 

  • F1 student visa

If your course requires more than 18 hours of study per week, you need an F1 student visa. All regular undergraduate and postgraduate degrees will fall under this category. If you want to bring along your spouse or your children you need to apply for a separate F2 visa for them. Your dependents can only accompany you and cannot work in the US while holding an F2 visa.  

  • J1 exchange visitor visa

If you are going to do a short vocational course with a duration of no more than ten months, you need to apply for a J1 Exchange Visitor Visa. In this case, your dependants can travel with you while holding a J2 visa and they can work in the USA after receiving prior permission from the authorities.

  • M1 student visa

If you are going to study a non-academic or a vocational course you need to get an M1 student visa. The visa will be time-stamped, and it is valid only for the duration of your course. 

When to apply for a US student visa?

There are a few processes you need to complete before getting your US student visa. Keeping this in mind, you need to start your visa application process at least 3–5 months before your intended departure date

This way, you will have some time to handle any mishaps if they occur.

What is the eligibility criteria to apply for a study permit?

The eligibility criteria can differ as it depends on the type of student visa. Please check with your university before starting the process and for more information check, J1 Exchange Visitor Visa guide, M1 Student Visa guide

Checklist of required documents to apply for a US student visa

  • A passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your planned stay in the USA. 
  • University I-20 form.
  • A print out of the visa application form you filled out online (DS-160).
  • Visa interview appointment letter.
  • Original mark sheets, certificates and transcripts.
  • Study abroad aptitude/language test (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, etc.) scorecard.
  • Bank statements for a minimum of three years. These documents will help the visa officers check if you can support yourself for the duration of your education. If your guardian is supporting you through your education, you can give his/her bank statements also. 

Note: depending on the type of visa, you might be required to submit additional documents.

What is the average cost of a US student visa?

The average cost of a student visa includes both the SEVIS fee and the visa processing charges. These charges change a bit based on the type of visa you are applying for.

  • The SEVIS Fee for an F1 Student Visa is $350, and the visa application fee is $160.
  • The SEVIS Fee for a J1 Exchange Visitor visa is $220, and the visa application fee is $160.
  • The SEVIS Fee for an M1 Student Visa is $350, and the visa application fee is $160.

Where to apply for a US student visa?

Go to the US Department of State Consular Electronic Application Centre website and start your application online. After submitting your application, you will have to go to the US Embassy in person for biometric (fingerprint and photograph) submission and your visa interview.

How to apply for a US student visa?

Step 1

Once your admission is confirmed, you need to register in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Your university will send you Form I-20. After receiving the form, pay the SEVIS I-901, register in SEVIS and get your receipt.

Step 2

Go to the US Department of State Consular Electronic Application Centre website and fill out the DS-160 form. Complete the application and take a print out of the application confirmation page.

Step 3

Pay your visa processing charges online through NEFT or at Axis/Citibank offices. Get the payment confirmation receipts.

Step 4

Book an appointment for your biometric submission and visa interview.

Step 5

When you go for the biometric submission and visa interview, you need to take a set of documents with you for verification.

Step 6

Get your documents together and attend the interview on the appointed date and time

Once the process is completed, the visa officers will collect your passport to stamp it and issue your visa. You will be told when you can collect your passport and your visa on a later date.

Note: The visa processing steps can vary slightly depending on its type.

What is asked in a US student visa interview?

A visa interviewer will interview you to understand the reasoning behind your decision to study in the USA, your choice of course and university.    

Sample questions:

  • Why did you choose the USA?
  • Why did you choose [university name]?
  • Will you be able to support yourself financially for the duration of your course? 
  • What are your plans after completing your course?

    Note that these are just sample questions, and your visa interview can include a different set of questions. But all the questions will revolve around you, your life, your choices and your intentions.  

    How to handle a US student visa Interview?

    Contrary to popular belief, visa interviews are not very tough. As discussed before all the questions are going to be about, so you already know the answers. You just need to listen to the question carefully and give short, clear and precise answers confidently.  

    Suggested reading: 'How to clear your US visa interview.'

    When can you come to the US after getting your visa

    If you plan and apply early, you can receive your visa even 120 days in advance, but you will be allowed to enter the country only 30 days before your course start date.

    How to shorten the processing time of a US student visa application

    The US offers a premium processing service where you can pay an extra fee to speed up your visa processing time. Unfortunately, that service is not available for student visas.