Applying for an F-1 US Student Visa: Your Step-by-step Guide

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Prodigy Finance - June, 08 2021

12 min read

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At Prodigy Finance, we're committed to helping international talent to achieve their education dreams. We offer international student loans to qualified individuals attending top master's programmes in the US.

If you’re ready to begin your international student journey at a premier institution in the United States, you’ll be required to obtain a student visa. In this guide, we’ll give you a step-by-step breakdown of how you can apply for the right student visa, how much it will cost, and exactly what documents and requirements you’ll need to submit.

About M or F visas

Generally, applicants wishing to study in the United States will be required to obtain either an F visa or an M visa. In some cases, a student wishing to enroll in a short course may need to obtain a visitor (B) visa.

What are F visas?

An F-1 Visa for Academic Students enables you to enter the United States as a full-time student at a range of educational institutions, including accredited colleges, universities, conservatories, or other academic institutions.

What are M visas?

M1 Visas are intended for students wishing to begin their studies in a vocational or non-academic program - examples of such programs could include mechanical, cosmetology, or cooking classes.

What are B visas?

A B-1 Visitor Visa is used by persons who wish to enter the United States temporarily for tourism or business purposes. Generally, B-1 visitor visas do not enable a person to begin postgraduate studies and only in certain circumstances enable travelers to enroll in a recreational short course.

What visa do I need?

If you’re ready to begin your postgraduate studies with either a masters or MBA programme in the US, you’ll need to apply for an F-1 visa.

A snapshot of the F-1 student visa:

  • Non-immigrant visa for education.
  • Lasts maximum 60 months (or the length of your degree).
  • For non-US citizens or residents who aren’t in the US when they’re applying.
  • Allows you the opportunity to apply for the OPT extension.

The F-1 Student visa: Application Process

The procedure to apply for and obtain an F-1 student visa consists of the following steps:

  • Applying and being accepted for study at a US institution
  • Receiving a I-20 form from your chosen institution, which you’ll need to complete
  • Settling a $350 USD SEVIS fee
  • Completing a DS-160 and potentially a DS-157 form
  • Settling a $160 application fee
  • Scheduling and attending a student visa interview
  • If you’re accepted, you’ll then receive your student visa.

The Requirements: How to get an F-1 visa?

Documents required for US student visa

  • A valid passport
  • Passport photos
  • Your application fee
  • A completed I-20 form
  • A completed DS-160 form
  • A completed DS-157 form if you’re male and are aged 16-45

Additional documents that you may require:

  • The previous academic records that qualify you for further studies in the US - Transcripts or degree certificates, etc.
  • Scorecards of the standardized tests, like IELTS, GMAT, GRE, etc. as required by your program and university

Other things you’ll need for an F-1 visa

  • Guarantee of a foreign residence you’ll return to after your studies are complete
  • Acceptance at a sponsoring institution
  • Financial support
  • Ties to your home country (such as bank accounts, family, assets, or a job offer)

Applying to an approved school

The first step you’ll need to take to study in the United States under an F-1 visa is to apply and be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school at least six to twelve months before your study programme begins.

If you’re considering studying an MBA or masters programme, you can use our handy Where Can I Study tool to find a course of study that suits you.

What documents do I need to complete?

Once you’ve been accepted at an approved school, you’ll then need to complete a series of online forms.

These are the documents that you will need to support your F-1 visa application:

  • The DS-160 form
  • An I-20 Form
  • A DS-157 form if you’re male aged 16-45

The I-20 form:

The I-20 form is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, which you will receive from your designated school official once you’ve been accepted for study.

While it is a multipurpose document, its main purpose is to help you apply for your F-1 student visa to the US.

To complete the I-20 form, you’ll need to supply the following:

  • Your name, address, date of birth and email address.
  • Your country of birth and country of citizenship.
  • Bank statements for the last 3 years
  • Tax records for the last 3 years
  • Pay stubs of previous employment
  • If you have received a scholarship, you also need to submit proof of it
  • Paying a semester’s or a year’s worth of tuition is also a good idea, but not mandatory
  • If you are supported or sponsored by someone else in the US, you will need to submit Form I-134, an affidavit of support and bank statements for the last three years of that person (the sponsor).
  • If you are funding your US education through a loan, you must also show proof of the approved loan. If you’ve applied through us, we’ll help you with that!
  • Your school Code as listed on the Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”
  • Your SEVIS Identification Number as listed on the Form I-20.

When you receive your I-20 form, please ensure that it is an up-to-date version as last amended in 2016. You can find the form available online.

TIP: The international student office at your university will guide you through the process of getting your I-20 form and will likely contact you as soon as you accept your admission to your school.

The DS-160 form:

Once you’ve completed your I-20 form, the next form you’ll need to complete is a DS-160.
The DS-160 form is an application form for a non-immigrant visa. You can get started by applying online.

When you begin your application, you’ll want to write down your provided Application ID displayed on the top right hand corner of the page - you’ll need it to sign in again. Save your application frequently, as you’ll need it to either continue your application or sign in again later.

To complete the DS-160 form, you’ll be required to submit the following information:

  • Your name and date of birth
  • Your address and phone number
  • Your passport details
  • Details of your travel plans, and travel companions
  • Details of previous US travel
  • Your point of contact in the US
  • Your family, work and education details
  • Your background and medical health information
  • The SEVIS ID and address of the US school/program you intend to enroll in.

The DS-157 form:

If you are male and are aged 16-45, you will also be required to submit a completed DS-157 form.

Completing and uploading your forms:

You will need to digitally sign and upload your DS-160 form, and if needed, physically sign and upload your DS-157 form - at which point, you;ll be provided with a barcode, barcode number, and an application number which you’ll need to take with you to your visa interview.

Financial requirements for US student Visa: The SEVIS Fee & Visa Application Fee

There are two fees you’ll need to settle when completing your visa application - the first is a SEVIS fee, and the second is your US Student visa application fee.

The SEVIS fee:

Once you have been accepted at your institution of choice and you have completed a DS-160 and DS-157 form (if applicable), you’ll then need to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). You’ll need to settle a $350 SEVIS fee, which you can do by credit card.

You’ll need to settle your SEVIS fee at least three days before you submit your visa application. Once you’ve settled the fee, you’ll need to keep your proof of payment and take it with you to your visa appointment and when you eventually travel to the United States.

US Study Visa application fee:

To complete your visa application, you’ll need to settle a $160 fee. You’ll need to keep the receipt for this payment on-hand with your interview documents.

Once you’ve completed all of the above documents and paid both fees, you’ll then be ready to schedule your student visa interview.

TIP: If you wish to enter the US more than 30 days before your course begins, you‘ll need to apply for a visitor visa and subsequently apply for a change in status before your course begins (or you can be found in breach of your visa conditions and possibly deported). Speak to the embassy or consulate where you apply to learn more about entering earlier, before booking your ticket.

Scheduling your student visa interview

Once you’ve submitted all the above documents and paid both fees, you’ll then be able to schedule your visa interview. To do this, you’ll need to select an appointment slot for your F-1 visa interview on a suitable date and time.

Depending on your locale, wait times for interview appointments could vary. Typically, US Consulates or Embassies advise applying for your visa early - an F-1 student visa can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your intended study start date.

Preparing for your student visa interview

Upon confirming your interview date, you’ll want to arrive in good time and ensure that you have all the above-listed documents and receipts with you to make your interview process as smooth and efficient as possible.

Some common interview questions for F-1 student visa interview

To prepare for your interview, you can expect to be asked questions such as:

  • Why did you choose to study in the US instead of joining the workforce in your home country?
  • Why did you choose this school and why is it the best school for you?
  • What are your test scores (GRE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL, IELTS), your GPA, and your overall performance as a student in the past?
  • How are you funding the entire duration of your education, including tuition, room and board, transportation, and all other expenses?
  • After you graduate, will you return home or will you stay in the United States?

More guidelines for F-1 Visa Interview

Although we can’t help answer these questions for you, here are some handy things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll need to provide bank statements or show proof that you are able to fund the duration of your studies, your accommodation, and other needs, such as transportation.
  • After the completion of your study programme, you will either need to return to your home country or apply to continue living and working in the United States. You can either do this by finding a sponsoring employer that would help provide you with an H-1B visa or apply for a Green Card.

Getting your student visa

In most cases, the processing times for an F-1 student visa are quick - and you’ll most likely be furnished with an answer on your application immediately after your interview.

Should your visa application be accepted, you’ll likely be congratulated, or if your application is refused, you will be provided with a document outlining why your application has been denied.

In some cases, however, it may take a few days to receive a response to your application.

Useful information to know

What is the rejection rate of an F-1 visa?

According to the US Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, in 2021, of a total of 446,422 applications for an F-1 study visa, over 88,583 were refused for various reasons, while 357,839 were issued - meaning that the visa has a rejection rate of about 20%. The visa rejection rate was approximately 35% in 2018 and has significantly reduced since then.

Among the most likely reasons for rejection were the following:

  • Country of origin - with the highest number of rejections for applicants from Afghanistan, Congo, and Uzbekistan
  • Ties - where applicants do not provide sufficient evidence of ties to their home country which indicates that they will return at the end of their study programme
  • Inadequately documented finances - where an applicant has failed to supply enough supporting evidence that they can sustain themselves financially while studying

How long is an F-1 visa valid for?

An F-1 visa, once issued, is valid for up to 5 years. However, an applicant’s residence status with a student visa in the United States is only valid for the intended duration of their study program which is contained on their I-20 form.

When can I enter the United States once my visa has been granted?

Students on a non-immigrant student F or M visa can only enter the US 30 days prior to the start date of their programme as mentioned in the I-20 form.

Is there an age limit for an F-1 visa?

There are no age requirements to successfully apply for an F-1 student visa.

Do I need to have a medical exam to apply for a student visa?

While there’s no need to have a medical test in order to successfully apply for an F-1 visa, there may be vaccination requirements depending on your country of origin and whether or not you have been vaccinated against COVID-19. These requirements may differ based on your state of entry.

Can I bring family members with me on an F-1 visa?

Once you’ve successfully applied for an F-1 visa, you can lawfully bring your dependents with you, which may be your spouse or your children so long as they’re under the age of 21.

F-2 dependent spouses (spouses of a study applicant with an F-1 visa) may themselves may study part-time during their stay in the United States, but may not enroll as full-time students. Children under the age of 21 may enroll at elementary to secondary levels of schooling, or enroll at college or university until they turn 21.

Can I work with an F-1 Student visa?

As an international student in the US on an F-1 visa, you cannot work off-campus. You can surely be part of any on-campus programs or work opportunities, but you cannot find employment outside of this.

How long can I stay in the US after my F-1 visa expires?

You can stay in the US for up to 60 days after the program end date as mentioned in the I-20 form.

F-1 visa renewal: Is there a different process for my student visa renewal?

No, whether you are applying for the first time, or re-applying for the renewal of your F-1 visa, the process remains the same.

Can I reapply again if my visa application has been rejected once?

You can work on building a stronger application, and re-apply again if you have additional evidence or better prospects for the new application.

After you get your F-1 visa

Congratulations! You’re one step closer to your dream degree.

Now it’s time to book your plane ticket and start thinking about your studies and post-degree career.

While you’re thinking about your finances, now’s a good time to double-check your budget.

If you still need an international student loan, check out what Prodigy Finance can offer - or begin budgeting for your second year on campus to make sure everything is in order before leaving for the US.

Once you get on campus, make sure you get to the international office, as they’ll help you stay on top of visa changes and regulations.

When it comes to your internships and post-graduation employment, both the international office and the career center at your university will guide you through the process of applying for your F-1 OPT visa extension or your H-1B employment visa.

And, if your Prodigy Finance loan includes living expenses, don’t forget to open a local bank account as soon as possible so your university can transfer these funds to you.

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.

The purpose of this guide is to provide prospective students with an overview of the application process for a US student visa and should not be regarded as legal or immigration advice or as a substitute for the official information published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from time to time or any instructions and/or advice provided by US embassies and consuls. Whilst we have carefully compiled the guide in accordance with the information published by USCIS, Prodigy Finance Limited does not accept liability for any inaccuracies, mistakes, omissions or outdated information in the guide and we encourage prospective students and other readers to consult the USCIS’s website at https://www.uscis.gov.

Prodigy Finance Limited is not authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to provide immigration services and will not provide any additional information or assistance to any person to apply for a US student or other category visa.

Wondering how to get a 700 GMAT score? Or how you should prepare for TOEFL or IELTS? Visit our Study Centre for loads of great advice on how to accelerate towards your career goals.

For any other information about Prodigy Finance, or our student loan process, feel free to check out or browse through our website, or register yourself for a webinar to have your questions answered by one of our team Student representative experts.

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