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I20 form: What is it, and how can it help secure your US F1 visa?

Katie Schenk - October 28, 2019

Get your I-20 form to get your US F-1 visa

Off to the United States for your masters? You’re in for an amazing experience.

But first, you need to get there. As an international student, you’ll need to secure an F-1 visa for the duration of your studies. This isn’t an ordinary stamp in your passport, and you should expect to spend time gathering documents before scheduling a visa appointment.

The American F1 visa for international students

An F-1 visa is required for all international students pursuing a degree. These visas may be issued up to 120 days prior the course starting date, although you may not enter the US more than 30 days prior to this date.

What you'll need to apply for an F1 visa

  • Your passport (valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in the US)
  • The DS-160 confirmation page (having completed the DS-160 application form online)
  • Application fee payment receipt
  • I20 form from your university

You will also need a host of supporting documents that prove you are qualified to undertake the degree programme you’ve been accepted into, that you’re able to fund said education, and that you plan to return to your home country after graduation. 

These documents can include:

  • Undergraduate degrees and reports
  • TOEFL (or similar) certificates plus GRE or GMAT results
  • Your acceptance letter
  • Scholarship or loan letters
  • Bank statements
  • Statement of intent to return (or at least leave)
  • Documents from your parents or anyone else supporting your studies

This isn’t an exhaustive list; you should bring original or certified copies of any and all documents recommended by your university and the US embassy or consulate.

Once you have everything in order, you can make an appointment for your visa interview.

The I20 form is critical for your F-1 visa

Before you can even think about scheduling that appointment, however, you'll need an American I20 form from your university.

The importance of an I20 form cannot be underestimated. You will need it to secure your visa and you will need to have it on you when entering the United States. Even with the F-1 visa in your passport, you must show this form to immigration officials at the port of entry.

How do you secure a US I20 form?

  • The US I20 form includes your particulars (name, identity or passport numbers, date and place of birth, etc), information about the programme you’re attending (duration, degree level, start and end date, etc), and how you’ll pay for the cost of attendance (which is determined by the university).
  • The school and international office will handle the first and second parts with little or no additional input from you, as they have that information to hand. However, if you plan to travel with your spouse or any dependents, you'll need to provide their information to the university.

It is the financial section that requires some information from your end. The left-hand column of this section outlines the Cost of Attendance (for the first year) in 4 parts:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Living expenses
  • Expenses of dependents
  • Other expenses

Your calculations do not matter here; the university provides these figures regardless of your actual costs. Whatever the total, you'll need to demonstrate your ability to meet or exceed this figure in the right column. 

Proving financial ability for the US I-20 form

Any source of funding you have towards your education will go into the right-hand column. Most students focus on personal funds, scholarships, and funds from another source (such as loans).

Sources of funding for an I20 form

  • The teaching assistant and campus employment processes work differently at just about every university, and it may be that you’re not guaranteed either. You may want to explore your options by speaking to the relevant departments, but keep in mind that master’s programmes are demanding and you'll have limited time to commit.
  • Bank statements (yours or anyone that directly supports you, such as your parents) typically suffice to prove personal funds. The international office will provide you with the format and duration specifics of the bank statement for the I20 form.
  • Any scholarships or financial aid packages given by the university will automatically be entered into the calculations, but you'll need to provide details of external scholarships. Again, you'll need to inquire as to what suffices as I20 proof of funds for this (an original letter, a certified copy, etc).
  • And then there are the funds from other sources. This includes educational loans (from any source), employer sponsorship, and any private funds not coming from your own bank account. You may be asked to complete a particular form if your company or an extended family member is providing you with a personal loan.

Using your Prodigy Finance loan sanction letter for the I20 form to prove financial ability

If you accept a Prodigy Finance loan, the Prodigy Finance letter will serve as proof towards “funds from other sources”. 

If you accept loans from other sources, you'll need similar letters from those institutions as financial support documents for I20 form. These letters will need to be in English or be accompanied by a certified translation. Keep in mind that different institutions offer a different version of the loan sanction letter for I20 form, but they must provide specific details before they'll be accepted as I20 proof of funds.

Prodigy Finance borrowers will receive an electronic copy of their loan sanction letter for the I20 form once all the administrative steps of the loan have been completed. Because we work closely with the finance department of supported schools, this is often sufficient proof for the American I-20 form. However, you may want to request an original copy for your visa application.

If you accept a loan from another institution, the hoops you must jump through to receive your loan acceptance or sanction letter will be different. 

  • TIP: if you’re comparing loan products and you don’t have a lot of time, you may want to ask about the timing of this letter before applying for any loan.

Once you have proven sufficient funds according to the Cost of Attendance given by the school and completed any administrative requests the university may have, they'll send your I-20 form. Methods of delivery vary, and you'll need to check with the international office regarding the specifics.

However, please bear in mind that the US I-20 form only covers the first year’s cost of attendance. 

If you are attending a two-year programme, you'll need to demonstrate sufficient assets for the second year to satisfy the immigration officials in charge of issuing your visa. Prodigy Finance’s second-year pre-approval is an appropriate proof of funds for the I20 form.

When should you apply for your F1 visa?

As with everything else relating to international masters study, you want to get started as early as possible. Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to gather paperwork and crunch numbers as soon as you’ve submitted your applications.

Once you’ve been accepted, you’ll need to begin sourcing all the documents required for your I20 form and F1 visa.

You should be in contact with the international student office as soon as you accept an offer to study. They will help guide you through the process, but it'll take time as you need to secure proof of funding and financial documents required for the I20 form, wait for your I20 form, schedule a US study visa interview, and then wait for your application to be processed.

In some cases, it may only take a week or two for visa processing. However, if additional background checks are required, that process can take as long as eight weeks. And remember, the United States advises you not to book your travel until you’ve got your US study visa in hand.

Give yourself as much time as you can… it’s definitely worth it. 

Want to know how to fund your masters abroad?

Prodigy Finance provides loans to international students pursuing their masters at top schools across the globe.

Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on May 31st 2020, and prior to that on October 28th 2019. Originally published on March 16, 2017.

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