Student Visa and I-20 Form
Once you have been accepted into a US school, you can apply for a student visa, which you must have to enter and remain the United States for study.
This page will provide a general overview of the F-1 Student Visa, which you will need for academic study. For important information about the student visa application process (including details on a different student visa required for vocational schools), see Student Visa: Student Visas for International Students, College Study in US and More in the Visas and Immigration section of our website.
Please note that if you intend to participate in an exchange program, you will need a different visa (see J-1 Visa - US Exchange Visitor Visa for US Exchange Programs).
Being accepted by a school does not guarantee you a student visa, but it does start you on the road to getting a student visa…
The I-20 Form and Student Visa
After you are accepted to a school in the US, your school should send you Form I-20, which you will need in order to obtain an F-1 Student Visa. As part of the student visa process, you will need to show that you have sufficient financial resources (scholarships, loans, grants, subsidies, family or personal resources) available to pay your school and living expenses. For some students this may seem an insurmountable task. Do not be discouraged, though, because there are ways to overcome this hurdle to obtaining a student visa. It is possible, for example, to have a guarantor – someone who will vouch for (guarantee) your ability to pay your way through school. Sources of financial aid may also be available to help you. There are ways for determined students to see their way through school. For more details, see: Scholarships for International Students to Study in the US: Financial Aid for Foreign Students in USA.
The completed I-20 form will include all the information the US government needs about your term of study, including your level of study, your field of study, the dates you are expected to begin and complete your studies, and your ability to pay for your education. You will also be issued an I-20 ID with your I-20 form. This second page is your official form of identification and you must have it with you at all times when you are in the United States.
Before you can be issued a student visa, you must have a current passport from your home country, and it is your responsibility to make sure this passport stays valid throughout your stay in the United States. If your visa is due to expire during your stay in the US, you must apply for an extension to keep it valid.
The F-1 Student Visa
With a passport and the I-20 form, now you can apply for an F-1 Student Visa at the nearest U.S. Consulate (for full eligibility and application procedures, see: Student Visa: Student Visas for International Students, College Study in US and More). After you are given this student visa (which will be stamped on your passport), then you can purchase your plane tickets. This student visa allows you legally to enter the United States.
The I-94 Card
When you do enter the United States and show your student visa to the immigration officer, you will receive an I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) attached to your passport. This card indicates the date of your arrival and how long you may stay in the U.S. Your date of departure will probably be marked with the notation "D/S", which means duration of status. This notation essentially means you are welcome to stay in the United States as long as you are a student in school with valid and, if necessary, updated papers.
You will have to remain a full-time student for your student visa status to be valid. For undergraduate students this means enrolling for no less than 12 hours per semester and for graduate students, nine hours per semester.
Additional Student Visa Information
For more details, including information on bringing your spouse and children with you on your student visa, what you should do if you would like to transfer to another school, and more, see Student Visa: Student Visas for International Students, College Study in US and More (in the Visas and Immigration area of our website). For specific inquiries about a student visa, contact your nearest U.S. Consulate.